What Lights Your Fire? Surveying Student Interests to Drive Curriculum

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SWBAT summarize their science interests and passions in life.

Big Idea

Engaging students in science requires creativity and relevance. Who better to ask than students themselves?


5 minutes

I've had a few days where I relentlessly prepared (what I thought to be) a highly engaging lesson centered around (what I thought to be) students' interests that never takes off. The lesson is solid on paper, but in practice, it is a dud. How can I make a dud lesson reignite? How can I light students' minds on fire with curiosity? To engage students in everyday science, I developed an interest survey to give to students at the beginning of the year.

In order to ENGAGE students in this lesson, I ask them about themselves by presenting two prompts:

Think of three science-related topics you are very interested in.

Think of the three things in your life that you are most interested in or excited about.

These prompts can be asked of students as part of class discussion or for homework. For students who struggle to generate ideas (especially about the science-related topics), a good strategy to try is to use the topics they are most excited about in life and ask some probing questions to help them identify the link to science. For example, if a student likes dancing, asking them about which muscles need to be strong or how much energy it takes to practice can help them realize connections to human anatomy and the physics of energy.


10 minutes

The EXPLAIN stage provides students with an opportunity to communicate what they have learned so far. In this lesson, students respond to a survey where they summarize their top three ideas about the prompts.

This survey can be completed on paper, but it is more efficient for students to complete a Google Form called "What Lights Your Fire". The results are immediately available for review, can be organized in a spreadsheet format and are searchable. I post the link to the form on a my classroom website, so students can easily access it when we are ready to complete it. If technology is limited in the classroom, students can complete the survey for homework.


15 minutes

The EVALUATION stage is to determine how much learning and understanding has taken place. Since this lesson is designed for surveying student interests, the evaluation looks different than a lesson with learning objectives. I evaluate the process in several ways:

1) We conduct an informal discussion as a class to review the responses of the class. We use a crosscutting concept of looking for patterns as a way to identify common and unique interests. Playing "Stand Up If" is a fun way to visualize the patterns. This game is great for getting to know each other and building rapport in the classroom. Students simply "stand up if"...for example, they are interested in atoms, or dance, or rainbows as seen here:

2) The second part of the evaluation is done behind the scenes. I spend a little time organizing the student responses to find common areas of interest that I can use during curriculum planning. I also identify students who may struggle with motivation or engagement in the class and highlight their responses.

What I do with all of the information, is find creative ways to inject what students are interested in into our daily practice. Here are examples of ways I've used what I learn from the survey:

1) Assign Articles for Scientific Literacy

2) Create Warm-Up Activities

3) Design Extension Projects

4) Interject References to Student Interests During Discussion

5) Center Discussions around a Topic

6) Design Investigations with Real-World Application