Today’s post is to provide you with a progress report on how my doctoral dissertation research is going.
Please read through this to the end, as I have a request to make of you that could be very beneficial for your students. I would like your help in implementing my dissertation research in your STEM classes, including trying out my new website: https://science-creativity.com and the types of STEM projects and software training videos I’ve put together there.
Over the past 3 ½ years I have been working toward a Doctor or Education (Ed.D.) degree through the University of Northern Colorado. In May 2022 I completed my coursework and comprehensive exams and started the process of developing my dissertation research. The first phase is writing the first three chapters, which include a rationale for the study (Chapter 1), a literature review and reasoning why this particular study will fill gaps in previous research (Chapter 2), and a planned methodology (Chapter 3). It is February 2023 and this first phase is nearing completion; I have written drafts of these chapters and have tightened up my research questions with the help of my committee chairperson. Now I need to make revisions to the chapters and submit them to the full committee for scrutiny before getting the final approval of the university’s Institutional Review Board. Then it will be time for gathering the actual data before the school year ends in May and writing up the results and conclusions (Chapters 4 and 5) by August. I hope to defend this dissertation by the end of October.
By the middle of last summer it was apparent that the proposal writing process was harder than I had anticipated and required setting aside enough time each day for thinking and pondering about what I was reading in order to achieve any kind of insight. In fact, one of my major areas of research is into the process of gaining insight as one definition of creativity. Altogether, I have identified at least ten different definitions of creativity based on approaches in the literature, ranging from the ancient Greek concept of the daimon through to modern multi-factor, multi-level theories such as Kaufman and Beghetto’s 4-C model.
To give myself the time I needed while also providing a new platform through which to conduct part of my research, I left New Haven School in mid-July, attended the second year of the Teacher Innovator Institute at the National Air and Space Museum for two weeks (which I will write about in the next few posts), then found a part-time teaching position at a private school near my home. Because I need to keep the school’s identity private as part of the requirements for my dissertation, I will not provide its actual name here but will call it Westview School. I am mentoring the science teachers at the school to train them on project-based learning strategies, hands-on activities, and student-centered teaching pedagogies. The school has been moving into a high school program, building the grades upward and installing a new science lab, which I helped to design and which is almost complete, so I have ordered supplies, equipment, and chemicals that will arrive this week.
Meanwhile I am writing and writing, but also editing videos. Since part of my research is how STEM teachers can teach concepts through student-created digital media projects, part of what I have to investigate is how to best teach the media design software. We can’t assume that our students already know how to do video production or computer programming or 3D animation just because they are digital natives, and most STEM teachers have neither the time nor inclination to learn it themselves and develop lesson plans for teaching it, given all the standards they already have to meet. The alternative is to provide online training for students through flipped video instruction. That has been a major part of what I am working on over the last seven months. I used TII grant money to purchase a new cell phone with a better camera and equipment (lights, a good microphone with plosives filter, etc.) and took it with me (it all fits into a small suitcase, which was why I bought it) to TII to start recording the videos during the evenings.
I have continued to record and edit these videos on how to use browser-based free software for digital media creation. Altogether I will have 16 videos completed this weekend. More importantly, I have created the new website ( https://science-creativity.com ) to provide links to all of the YouTube videos and to write blogs specifically on my dissertation topics. It is still a work in progress, but I did complete a major portion of it this week which was to create a kind of choice board with descriptions and examples of different types of projects that students can choose for each category of software. Through their digital media creations, students will demonstrate their mastery of STEM concepts, their creativity and quality, and their ability to teach other students. It has been and continues to be a major focus and needs to be up and running by the time my research proposal is approved. I hope that it can be a major resource for STEM teaching and student-centered learning.
At Westview School, I am now implementing a series of projects is each class that will lead to my ultimate dissertation research:
In-Class Projects: This final in-class only project is the culmination of several projects they did last semester designed to lead up to the last two large projects described below. In this project, I am using different levels of choice and structure for the three classes to provide comparison and research data. The biology students will be creating an animation on one of three topics: DNA replication, DNA transcription and translation, and protein synthesis. They have three choices for software usage: do a stop-motion animation with video software to compile the images; use MIT Scratch to program a linear animation or game; or use Wick Editor, which is a linear animation program similar to an older version of Adobe Flash. I am finishing up the second Scratch video today and will get it posted to YouTube and my website tomorrow. Their third dimension of choice is the type of project they choose to do – it can be a linear animation, a branching information program, or a game or quiz. Altogether, since you cannot do a branching program or game using stop-motion animation (which has to be linear), there are 21 possible choices for each group. The entire project has fairly high structure and limited choice, which is needed for this group of students.
For the chemistry class, they are creating a project on chemical reactions. They have four topics: balancing reactions, the five different types of reactions, stoichiometry, and limiting reactants/percentage yield. They can choose any category of software and any type of project, giving them something like 160 possible choices, allowing high choice with moderate structure. At the end, they must have some type of media-enabled product they can use to teach the other students and demonstrate their mastery of chemical reactions. A PDF version of their choice board with short descriptions of each type of project is provided here:
For physics the students are finishing up classical mechanics with a complex machine project. Here the possible projects can be a Rube Goldberg device using all six types of simple machines, eight steps, and as many consecutive repetitions as possible (the record last year at New Haven was 25 times). Or they can choose to do a cardboard marble run with six types of machines and a method to get the marbles back to the top without touching them, looking for at least 25 cycles. Or they can create a perpetual motion machine that has to go through 25 rotations without any extra energy added. We are now in the design phase after I showed them great examples, such the Rube Goldberg device music video created by OK Go for their song “This Too Shall Pass” or Mark Rober’s squirrel mazes or the Wintergarten marble run music box machine. The students must show a 3D diagram of the device and create an animation of how the objects will work. I am encouraging them to use Wick Editor, Scratch, or Stop Motion but they are independent enough that they are probably going to use dedicated iPad animation and drawing software such as Procreate instead. Although I would like them to test my recent videos, I want this project to have moderate choice and low to moderate structure so I will not force it as much as I will for the biology class animations.
At the end of each of these in-class projects, the students will use the critique process I have trained them on last semester to evaluate each others’ projects. They will also complete a reflection assignment, which we haven’t done much of yet but is essential for project-based learning to be effective.
STEAM Showcase projects: The next project will be the same for all classes: it is the STEAM Showcase, which I am resurrecting here at Westview School. They have already begun to choose topics and I have talked with our elementary and middle teachers to know what topics they will be teaching at the end of March. Student teams of 2-3 people are choosing a topic, writing a script/outline, creating a presentation, practicing an activity or demonstration, and designing a handout. This will require using several different types of online software. They will first present their projects to their peers in class at the start of March and receive feedback from them, then make revisions. At the end of March they will visit the K-8 classes and present their topics and receive feedback from the teachers. The purpose of this is to provide them with a real audience, plus if they can explain science concepts to kindergarteners, they really them them down. The bonus is that this will get the K-8 students excited and begin drumming up some positive PR.
On April 27 we will hold the final showcase. We will take over 4-5 rooms and run simultaneous sessions of 20 minutes each just as I have done before. We will video and photograph all of this and I will write about it here and compile a YouTube video. After that showcase night, students will complete a reflection assignment and survey to provide me with research data and to cement their learning.
Stanford Innovation Lab project: The final big project is happening in what we call the Stanford Innovation Lab class. All high school students take this class, which is for two hours each Friday. It is basically an engineering design class focused on human-centered design, based on classes taught at Stanford University. Teams of students are working with different organizations locally to identify problems, design prototypes, and propose solutions. Westview School is private and focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation (a good match for my dissertation) and this is all about learning through collaborative problem-solving. Each team’s situation is unique, but as they get further into the design phase (they are in the problem-finding and ideation phases now) they will need to use more design principles and software. They are working toward a final presentation day in May when all the participating businesses/groups will bring representatives and judge which team has the winning proposal, and the winning team members will receive cash prizes.
To provide structure (and an additional research source), I created a choice board/checklist of each step in the process with requirements that the teams complete so many (say five of eight) possible tasks for each step. Some of them are required, others they can choose, so that there is a good combination of structure and choice involved. As soon as we introduced this choice board last week, the teams started making measurable progress. I will videotape the final presentations and photograph the teams as they progress, collecting periodic surveys as data points for my dissertation.
All of these projects, put together, should be enough to gather both quantitative and qualitative data sufficient for my research requirements. It will be a mixed-methods study, and should provide some important insights in how to combine student-created digital media projects, choice boards, critique and revision, and STEM education.
There is a major weakness here, of course, which is that this is just one private school and it is highly unique, just as New Haven was, so whatever conclusions I draw from this research will not be very generalizable to a larger population of public schools. This is another reason for the website: to create a resource for other teachers, then recruit them to try it out in their own classes, fill out surveys, and add to the data of how well this program will work in other schools and without my direct instruction/involvement. I call this Phase 3 of the larger project, which will ultimately go beyond my doctoral dissertation and become part of what I do as an Ed.D. and what my future books and papers will discuss. I will be presenting at two different conferences in March on the subject of my dissertation and hope to recruit some teachers there. I will send out emails to the TII teachers to ask for volunteers, and I will scour all the contacts and teachers I know in Utah to help out. I hope for 8-10 teachers to participate, but even more would be great.
If you are a STEM teacher interested in project-based learning and teaching creativity in your classroom, you would be an ideal person to help out. I know this because you are still reading this post! What this would entail is looking over the https://science-creativity.com website, including the training videos and project ideas, then setting up a similar project to the ones I have described above. Give your students three dimensions of choice: Choice of specific topic, choice of software, and choice of approach or project types. Use the choice document I posted above, and have your students look through the website – it may need to be unblocked – and make their choice of software and project, then plan it out. I am also posting a PDF of my biology DNA animation project presentation and my chemistry reactions project here so you can see the level of structure and requirements for each. Then provide your students with the scaffolding, structure, and support they need while allowing them the freedom to choose and to create. At the end, I will provide a survey for you to complete as the teacher and a consent form and ask that you share some of your students’ projects with me.
I realize this is quite a bit to ask so late in the school year, but if you are planning a project-based learning experience anyway this could be a great way to increase student engagement, content mastery, creativity, quality, and choice. I hope that you will try this out, or at least provide some feedback on how to make the new site more useful.
To provide your students with descriptions of possible projects I am posting a PDF of the choices at the bottom. More detailed descriptions and good examples of each type of project, from graphic novels to interactive games, can be found at the website.
Thank you for reading this. I hope to hear from you! My contact information is: David Black, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the PDF for project choices listed by software category: