Self-Propelled Research

When reflecting on my high school history courses, one specific learning experience never fails to stand out amongst the rest. This experience developed my overall interest in history and gave me the opportunity to engage in historical thinking in ways I never had before.

In my senior year of high school, I took a two-period course simply titled “Humanities”. One period was dedicated to studying historical events, and the other exposed us to literature related to these events. For example, one of our first units focused on ancient civilizations. We would spend one part of the class gaining overall background knowledge on these civilizations. In the other half, we would read texts from this time period, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and relate the texts to the background we had built prior.

Throughout the year-long course, we were made to complete one major assignment from which the majority of our final grade was based upon. For this assignment, we were asked to think of a specific person, concept, place, or event from any point in the past to write an academic paper about. The first half of the year was dedicated to research. We were expected to find copious amounts of primary and secondary sources that helped us not only understand our topic, but also gave us enough understanding so that we could make a hypothesis about the topic from which we could explore. For example, I first chose to study Akhenaten, an Egyptian pharaoh. As I gained knowledge about this person, I developed the hypothesis that Akhenaten’s rejection of polytheism to pursue the worship of the sun god, Aten, was a direct influence on the creation of Judaism.

We spent the second half of the year writing and rewriting our papers. We reviewed one another’s and quickly came to understand the content of every other students’ writing. Towards the end of the year, we presented our work at a conference where the students of other schools were present. When we were not presenting, we sat through other’s presentations and engaged in academic discussion with the presenter.

This experience was the most engaging and effective work I participated in throughout my academic career. After years of learning from others, I was finally able to choose something that I was interested in without any restrictions on what I chose. I was then able to conduct the research that I believed was the most relevant to my own learning. Then, I was able to form my own ideas and opinions, strengthen these with research, and teach others what I knew and how I got there. The end product was something I was extremely proud of and confident in. Five years after the completion of this assignment, and I can still confidently defend my thesis. I believe the autonomy and the support I was given throughout the project made it successful.

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6 Replies to “Self-Propelled Research”

  1. What an awesome example of self determination theory proving to be useful a class room setting. Being given the option to incorporate your own interests into your research project, and then forming your own opinions based on your project seems analogous to some of the benefits that I highlighted in my response. I know you love studying ancient civilizations. It is neat to see where some of your passion for the subject might have derived from.

    1. I wholeheartedly believe that this project helped spur my love for ancient history! I was already somewhat interested in that area, but being allowed to openly explore built my confidence and excitement about the subject.

  2. Wow, what an amazing experience! Had you not said this was high school, I would’ve guessed this was a college capstone course for history. My history capstone followed a similar structure to your humanities class: we spent approximately the first half of the semester researching our topics, then we spent the last half writing sections of our papers and peer-reviewing. Like the thesis you are proud of, I am very proud of my capstone paper.

    In my post for this week, I wrote about a research project that I remember fondly. Rather than taking an entire school year to produce one, well-researched paper, we had a little under two weeks to create a newspaper and brochure on any topic relating to a broad prompt. We did lots of research in this project, but your example is much more in-depth and even collegiate! Regardless of the depth of our research, it’s clear that we both enjoyed researching history in a high school setting. I hope to implement SDT-fulfilling research in classes that I teach!

    1. I probably should have mentioned that this course was one that we could receive college credit for, so it was a bit more advanced than a typical high-school level class. I do think this type of project is seen most often in higher education, which makes sense why it was unique in my experience. I’m glad to see that you had good experiences with research-based learning, as well! In my view, the main task of a historian is to complete research in an attempt to answer a hypothesis. I think it’s essential that students complete research projects in their social studies classes because it replicates real life!

  3. This sounds like a really informative and useful experience. I have to admit that while my history class was just an AP high school course, yours sounds very college preparatory. I also like that your experience was very research driven. It’s something I wish we got to do more of in my own class. I did do that, don’t get me wrong, but the amount of detail carried out in your classroom experience is definitely admirable.

    Also interesting that you managed to craft an experience that utilized SDT. Glad to see that this allowed you to foster a passion about ancient history as this is a subject that many might be tuned away from if they have a bad experience. Seeing that yours was so positive, it gives me hope that others can find interest in history.

    1. I really believe that finding interest in a subject, no matter what it is, requires some level of self-guided learning. Students need opportunities to follow what their interested in! This (at least in my experience) is what leads to intrinsic motivation within a discipline.

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