It’s Spring Break and actually about time for Spring, Break or no. Afterwards comes the incredibly hectic run to the end of the year, a time filled with angst for the students (APs, finals, leave-taking) and faculty (planning for AY16 while finishing AY15).
For us, too, it’s a time to plan next year (did that research project go as well as it could? are the teachers open to more collaboration? if not, what can we still do to support the project/students/teachers? what new needs to be added to the collection so that we’re ready to go in September? etc.) as well as supporting what we can over the next couple of months. One of the things I’ll be thinking about is what happened earlier this year, during a program we call InterMission.
The program is akin to a January term, or Winterim, where students forgo academic classes in favor of a mini-term. We had something like this when I was at Emma Willard and when I was at Hamilton, although the Emma courses were two weeks at the end of December. What was/is wonderful is that the students have the opportunity to really delve deeply into something for a period of time, knowing that there’s no graded outcome (like Emma, unlike Hamilton). There were many courses where you could feel the excitement and engagement on the part of the students, something that doesn’t always feel as though it’s happening when they come in to do research. There were also several seniors doing “capstone” projects that allowed them to really engage with a topic on their own, touching base with their faculty advisor early each day then going off to do research, think, program or whatever.
The question for me is how do we get the students that excited about research overall? Not just when they get to pick the topic, but when they’re assigned something by their teacher. When they sign up for an elective, they must have some interest in the topic – so why don’t I see that translated into their research projects? Is it because of the way it’s approached, in terms of timing and expectations? Is it because they have never really experienced the joys of research before? Is it me? For me, knowing how to cite sources accurately is the least exciting part of the process – the most exciting is the time spent searching for the resource, the answer to the question or some obscure piece of information that will make it all perfect. The actual writing comes somewhere in between those two poles.
Last semester, a student was quoting an English translation of a German poem. Because time was tight, I told her to watch what I was doing as I looked for (and ultimately found) the original English translator and publication information. She was amazed at the tricks I was using to find the actual source, jotting down some hints for future reference. We talked about how much fun that can be, knowing the answer is there and not stopping until it’s found. If only we could build in time for them to just play with finding these things, but on topics they choose not proscribed topics based on the course they’re taking. If only we could do this early on in their careers here, so that they could – as they progress through the years – have one such moment during each project.
How to make that possible, given time and curricular restraints, is what I’ll be thinking about over the next couple of weeks as I wait for the Mad Dash to the End to start.