Posted on March 4, 2019
Starting college has made me think about what I want to do with my future more than I ever did before. I worry about whether I’ll be a good fit for the career path I eventually choose to take, and whether what I’m studying is truly what I’m passionate about. I know what I like to learn about the most, but I have my doubts like every other human being — and then I spiral into an existential enigma of “Do I even know why I like this in the first place?” I watch as many of my friends switch majors and career ideas every few months, figuring out that what they thought was right for them ended up not meeting their expectations at all. What is it that makes us choose what we want to study, or what we will not ever open up a book about?
I had a conversation about this with my best friend and she told me, “I don’t know how you could enjoy chemistry. I had Ms. __ for chemistry and I HATED it.” Then came a striking realization: if I hadn’t had absolutely amazing biology and chemistry teachers, would I even be studying biochemistry right now? Would I have the same love for writing if I hadn’t had challenging and inspiring high school English teachers who pushed me to always do better?
One area I want to investigate is the impact of students’ experiences with teachers on their interest in a particular subject. It seems like common sense that students with bad learning experiences in a certain subject area are bound to become biased toward the subject itself, yet I don’t think many of us realize the extent to which this impacts students’ career choices and studies. There are a bunch of scholarly articles and peer-reviewed studies that relate to this topic. One talks about how teachers in the UK noticed that students were taking less and less science exams for their optional GCSEs (standardized tests you take at 15-16 yrs old). They conducted student interviews to match up students’ learning experiences with science to the levels of their interest in it, and sure enough, the “non-science” students had more regressive or stagnant experiences rather than progressive ones. Not wanting to take science GCSEs is like a first step in recognizing that you don’t want your future career or degree to be related to science. It would be interesting to see how this has impacted literacy in various subjects and how we can improve learning resources to allow students to enjoy subjects despite having negative learning experiences with them in the classroom. I think there are many students out there who think they don’t enjoy a certain subject because they had one teacher they disliked, or one class they did poorly in — but they actually could like the content itself if they learned more about it.
Another topic I have in mind is something that I’ve been hearing about lately on social media. I see lots of memes and tweets where people say that they were the smartest kid in their class as a child and now they don’t have motivation whatsoever. I hear things along the lines of “I was told I was smart because I could read and I got an ego so now I don’t work hard enough;” or just how stress made them lose motivation. I would like to take a look at the effects of placing children in these “gifted” or “advanced” classes so early on in life. This one is a little bit more difficult to tackle — there are many studies on “gifted” children and their character traits, likes and dislikes, future career interests, and so on. However, not many of them are longitudinal: they don’t track gifted children’s lives over time to observe their academic and social journeys. There are, however, many popular sources like Bustle, the Guardian, Psychology Today, and of course, social media, that shed light on the issue. If I were to write my I-search paper on this, it would be more of an investigation of what the possible reasons behind this phenomenon could be, based on general research studies on higher-achieving children.
Finally, another area of my interest in education is the impact of out of school learning resources. This one is important to my life because I always remember my mom buying me math, reading, science, and “brain game” books, which I always found fun in my free time. I think that without lots of the learning enrichment I got at home and through clubs and after school activities, I wouldn’t know as much and I wouldn’t be as willing to learn as I am today. Learning outside of the classroom is especially beneficial and important to students in less privileged communities, where being inside the walls of the school building may not even feel safe. There are many available research articles, studies, and E-books about the short-term and long-term impacts of extracurricular learning. It would be interesting to look at how it impacts different kinds of communities.