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At the beginning of second semester when we return from Winter break I hold a class discussion with my AVID Biology

students regarding the importance of completing research and preparing for college. After they have espoused their views on the importance of structured research, I give them the opportunity to earn Honors credit in Biology by completing their own independent research project that is of their own interest but it must be presented to their class, it must be peer reviewed, and it must earn a summative score of 2.0 or better. These are two essential criteria for project based learning. The students conduct research based on personal interest and they want to do well. The students can choose any topic that interests them but it must be based on life sciences or they can choose a topic of interest from a list that I provide for them, but each student must research a unique topic. This choice is important because some students become overwhelmed with trying to make a choice of topic on their own so a list can ease their anxiety in making a topic choice.

For the list that I provide, I also give the students current newspaper articles that relate to the topic and short video clips that they can watch to peak their interest in the topic. The topics normally relate to our second term units such as the Blue people of Troublesome Creek Kentucky or Genetically engineered spider goats. After they have a topic the students work

in groups to develop their hypothesis and to design their research based on the research (investigation) template that I give to them. I give them time in class to discuss their interests, develop their thesis statement (driving question) and to collaboratively design their research projects in small groups.

The entire project is set-up so that they learn skills of collaboration, communication, combined with the use of technology, and they are provided with the necessary supports to be

successful throughout the project. Also, we have a media specialist who helps them with any form of technology they choose to use after school in the media center. They can also borrow digital cameras, video cameras or I Pads.

As a class we go to the computer media lab and we show the students how to use EBSCO HOST to find scientific journals and resources that will support their research from reliable sources. The students are encouraged to visit local community services, conduct interviews and to explore outside sources for their projects but they must be approved by the teaching staff. The students can also use technology resources to contact experts in the field or to join discussion blogs. They are provided with college tutors to help guide their research and tutorial groups which meet twice weekly to assist them in problem solving during the semester. We also have a class Edmodo site that is protected for our class and the students can post questions to their classmates so that they can engage in collaborative problem solving and discussion about issues that they are facing on their individual projects. Collaboration with their peers sometimes stimulates new ideas and perspectives that they have not considered. The tutors and teacher also monitor the site so that we can provide continued guidance and suggestions for students who need help. We can also assess their understanding of their research and provide meaningful feedback and new resources as required.

In AVID all students must write a research paper in APA format providing references for their research and we expect that their papers will be peer reviewed. I set-up a class Wiki page for this purpose so that students can post their projects to the wiki and we then have them peer review each others work based on a rubric. The students write a second draft of their paper based on this feedback and then submit their papers to the college tutors for final review. A final

paper is then written and scored based on a rubric. Students are provided with constant feedback and support for every aspect of their project. The teachers and tutors monitor their progress on a weekly basis and the need for a high-quality final product is reinforced through feedback and revision of their work. At the end of the year the major final pieces of the project are saved for the four-year student portfolio which is submitted in the AVID 12 class.

As this is a science class the students must then present their work and research to the class, provide their evidence and backing, and share their learning with others. At least two science teachers and a class of students are required to complete their presentation audience. If possible they are also encouraged to invite a person from the community that is related to their research or used as a resource to also evaluate their project. They must present their project verbally in a 15 minute speech, answer questions and they must use media to support their verbal presentation. They have a choice to how they will present this material, for example via Prezi, website, PowerPoint presentation, video, podcast or storyboard. They must also provide a handout in a format of their choice and they can also provide other learning experiences such as a question answer period by Skype with a guest speaker or they can invite a guest speaker to come and speak to their class. The students are not limited to how they will present their material but they must have guest speakers approved by the main office and teaching staff. I have learned from these projects, as well because they are very interesting and always from new perspectives. One that I will always remember is the student that researched stints for heart attack victims. She brought a guest speaker who actually showed us the stints they use, and demonstrated the procedures, including ultrasound from actual patients. It is truly amazing what students can accomplish if they are allowed to research their own interests.

Students find these types of projects very interesting, engaging and innovating. When their research is related to community interest and their data can be used to assist current issues that will better their own community then the students become much invested in the real-world events that they are working on. Teachers need to provide many resources for these projects and it is important to network with people and to find opportunities. I have one student this spring who will be volunteering at Sherman Hospital and during her independent study she is going to build a website to document her experiences and provide resources for her peers who are interested in a nursing career. These projects meet the criterion for learning authentic skills and allow the students opportunity to reflect on their learning and to share their learning with others. Many of my students projects have received feedback from local government officials in water monitoring, restoring Raceway Woods Conservation Authority, PETA projects on animal abuse, zoo projects for abandoned animals, animal awareness, and building wells in Africa. The students have been inspiring and we encourage them to share their projects with other schools, younger students and the community. The students were empowered by knowing that they actually made a difference in the real-world. The students were doing the projects for more than just school and a grade and the feedback that they receive from real people in the field is more meaningful than a grade in my classroom, and is from people working in the field of their interests. Some of the projects have extended over many years of their school career, resulted in senior projects and presentations, then eventually career choices. Some students continue to volunteer and to work for the community associations that they built their research on which develops community relationships with our school that are long lasting.

When we include the power standards from the core curriculum into the student interest problem-based learning assignments and community service projects we build academic endurance, 21st Century skills, and leverage of knowledge. This makes learning more meaningful, lasting beyond the classroom, and the most reluctant learners become motivated, interested and engaged.