Health & Medical Adolescent Health

How Students Can Use Action Research for Class Projects

Groups of students in schools are often assigned a project by their teacher.
They may find themselves sitting around in a small circle wondering what to do, how to go about getting it done.
Teens would not normally think of using research to solve their problems, but that would be the best course.
The basic steps of action research work as much in this context as they do for large corporations trying to solve the problems they face.
This article will take you quickly through the steps of action research and discuss what the students might do in each step that would get them to their final result, in this case a report to their class on how they improved water quality in a nearby stream.
Discovery Every action research project starts with discovery and in this part of the cycle the students asked questions.
What have others done in similar circumstances? Who knows the most about our subject and what are they saying on the web? What tools do we need to use? Has anyone written a book at the library that would be helpful? Who can we talk to that might help us with our problem? Etc.
The students took out a big piece of paper and wrote "Discovery" on the top.
They then listed all the questions that had come to mind about water quality and how to measure it and listed all the places they would search out the answers to those questions.
They divided the tasks up amongst them and agreed to come back the next day everyone having made progress on their work.
A cycle of little steps of discovery, discussion, discovery, discussion continued for a few days.
Every day the students noticed that they understood more about water quality, how to measure it, how to filter it, what kinds of impurities to look for, etc.
what they had not found yet is what it made the most sense for them to do to measure it accurately and improve its quality.
They discussed ideas about actions they might take but no one agreed on the ideas and so they continued to look for more information.
Finally, on day four or five, one of the students brought in a report of how someone else investigated water quality through using different types of filters.
They discussed it, became quite excited about the possibilities and decided to move ahead.
This moved them into the next phase of action research: Measurable Action Before a person can take an action for which they need to measure the outcome, the first step is to measure where they are when they start.
This is called their baseline or starting place.
For these students the starting place was the overall water quality on the first day they took measurements, prior to installing any filtration systems.
The research they had found showed rigging a net across the river made of different materials caught the impurities, and purified the water.
They then tracked water quality each day upstream and downstream from the net showing the difference.
Through experimentation as to the types of materials they used, they were able to show differences in the quality of water over time.
The students had their baseline.
They also had the description of the other students project.
They then divided their project into a series of actions:
  • they listed and then gathered the materials they would use for filtering
  • they assigned people to add new materials to the net each morning
  • they assigned other people to measure the water quality in the afternoon
  • they designed the order in which the materials would be used, and the data would be tracked
When the students completed their week of activities, they were ready to move into the next phase of action research: Reflection Of course these students learned things as they went along.
Reflective practice however is more than just noticing your circumstances.
Realizing this, these students set up several protocols for tracking evidence and ideas as they went through their measurable action phase.
They: took notes at their meetings, wrote a paragraph after a meeting about what they thought went on and how they felt about the project, gathered data and proceeded with the project while they took good records noting the date and time of everything.
All these types of information they brought to their reflective practice.
Then they read all their notes, sorting the evidence into piles.
Reflection has four steps:
  1. Set up a protocol for gathering evidence (in this case the students took good notes).
  2. Spring all of your evidence together, read it, and look for similar characteristics across different kinds of information.
  3. Sort all the evidence one way and another, following your intuition, and looking for patterns.
  4. Write out for yourself, and discuss with others, what you think it all means.
In this case, the students noticed a few things -- that certain kinds of materials were much more effective at catching the kind of particles they found in the water than others.
They also saw that some materials continued to clean up the water days after they were put in place, while others worked only for short periods.
When they compared their evidence to the question -- What would it take to clean up our water? -- They found that they could make a case for some of their materials being effective.
The bringing to bear of their evidence on their question in the reflection phase of action research had given them enough of a feeling of expertise that they were ready to write the report.
The students had two conclusions.
On the one hand, they had more questions and could have gone through another cycle of discovery measurable action and reflection.
On the other hand they had successfully answered the question that the teacher had assigned within the time frame and were ready to write a report on their findings.
While not perfect, they all felt really good about what they had accomplished.
Asking the students later how they felt about action research they sent, "You can use it for anything.
" "It gave us a process that helped our work go more smoothly.
" "I really like it, I'll use it again.

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