Some Approaches to Research-Based Learning
On this page we outline some possible approaches to research-based learning. Some of them are student led, whilst others are teacher guided. Possibly the simplest way to get into research-based learning is to begin to look at what you already do in the classroom where students begin to take on some responsibility for what happens in an investigation. This might be the sort of thing you let them do when they are doing coursework for official examinations, or it might be something that you already do in your classroom as part of your existing schemes of work. Don't be surprised if you suddenly find that some or many of the things you do start to look like research-based learning. It is possible that you have been doing this sort of work with students all along.
Teacher Guided Investigations
These type of investigations are generally set by the teacher. That is, the problem, topic or nature of the investigation is defined by the teacher to a greater or lesser extent. Depending on the age, ability and experience of the students, the teacher can take more or less of a part in guiding the students as they explore the ways in which they can complete the investigation.
Student Devised Investigations
Here the student defines the investigation as part of studying a particular topic that is taught in a curriculum or scheme of work. If the investigation is part of an ongoing curriculum topic the teacher may have to define the broad science area (i.e. light, energy, forces) but the student could devise the investigation themselves within the boundaries of the topic and resources available. Some level of difficulty may have to be specified by the teacher so as to ensure that the task is demanding enough.
Investigations carried out as an extra-curricular activity can of course have many of these restrictions removed and can be much more open-ended or longer term endeavours. This leads to the next two types of investigations, collaboration with other students and collaboration with scientists.
Collaboration with Students
Science is generally a collaborative field of work with many scientists from different organisations and different countries sharing resources and knowledge in order to achieve a single aim. As such, it is good for students to work with other students in a collaborative way. Investigations can be defined by the student group or by the teacher (see above). Collaborative work such as this helps students develop an understanding of how a team can work in an interdependent way to achieve a specified outcome.
Collaboration with Professional Scientists
The opportunity to work with professional scientists has some very real benefits for students and for their teachers. Scientists are experts in their areas of research and have a passion for their subject like nobody else. This enthusiasm can be a very powerful motivating factor for students. In addition, students can see for themselves that not all scientists are men in white coats! Through the Faulkes Telescope Project students and teachers have access to research astronomers and other scientists who they can call upon for help and advice when carrying out an investigation. Many of our projects are the result of ideas from research scientists who had a particular interest and wanted school students to help them gather data and do analysis. Our training programme also gives both students and teachers access to professional scientists.