As a teacher, we know you have many goals for your students. First and foremost, you are helping your students develop an understanding of your discipline’s fundamentals. But we know that you do so much more than that! You work to create opportunities for students to be creative and curious, effectively identify and solve problems, think critically, set goals, make decisions, communicate well, express confidence, and actively participate in their communities.
The goals you have for your students are abstract, so you create actual experiences in your classroom to help students develop and demonstrate these behaviors. But you’re busier than ever, and resources are scarce. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to promote the many goals you hold for them through a single project?
The good news? There is. It’s student research.
When you support students in conducting original research projects, you are creating an environment for them to be curious and identify problems that spark their interest. You are requiring that they think critically about what questions are fruitful to ask and evaluate what can be investigated given their constraints. You are expecting them to solve problems that arise while designing and implementing their methods, determine how they will collect and analyze data, generate conclusions that make sense and determine the extent to which those conclusions are trustworthy.
Designing and implementing a research project helps students accomplish many of your goals, but presenting their work empowers students to really bloom. Many avenues are available for Iowa high school students to present their research projects, including the Iowa Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium (Iowa JSHS).
When students participate in Iowa JSHS, they write scientific papers detailing their investigations. Any high school student in the state of Iowa can submit a research paper to Iowa JSHS at no cost. Each one is evaluated by a panel of judges at the University of Iowa, creating an authentic audience for whom students must develop a written product. The paper submission deadline also creates authentic space that imposes the need for students to set continual goals throughout their research project.
All students who submit papers are invited to attend the spring Iowa JSHS competition. The top 15 finalists are invited to deliver oral presentations to a panel of judges and a ballroom full of their teachers and peers. This differs from all other regional- or state-level science competitions, where students typically present a poster to individuals or small groups. Teachers tell us that the oral presentation component of Iowa JSHS deepens their students’ understanding of their project and helps them develop strong communication skills and confidence in their own abilities.
It’s not all business at Iowa JSHS, though. Research is a collaborative experience, so we work to foster a sense of community. Students in attendance have the opportunity to meet trained researchers, from undergraduates to professors, during presentations and University lab tours. They also have a chance to get to know other high school student researchers through meals together, swimming in the hotel pool, and even a trivia night! Students tell us that they value developing friendships with peers from other districts who are also interested in STEM and research. In these ways, Iowa JSHS invites students to actively participate in their newfound community.
While you are planning for next year, be sure to consider how implementing student research into your classroom can help your students reach the goals you have for them. (Bonus: It also aligns wonderfully with the new Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] and helps students develop 21st-century skills!) It doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor – students can mine open data sets that already exist, find a problem to solve on their family farm, or work with a local expert. Whatever their project, we guarantee that you will see growth in leaps and bounds.