Date of Award

Spring 5-30-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Education: Curriculum and Teaching

First Advisor

Michael Middleton

Second Advisor

Melissa Schieble

Third Advisor

Akane Zusho

Academic Program Adviser

Marshall George


The purpose of this study was to examine ways that long-term interests in high school students could be inspired and facilitated in educational contexts. In particular, it explored how a high school Science Research (SR) program cultivated belonging and supported autonomy in ways that inspired and promoted well-developed individual interests. This type of interest is characterized by an enduring desire to pursue learning out of an intellectual and emotional need to gain understanding; it drives behavior, motivation, and cognition toward particular activities and ideas. Classroom belonging is derived from this sense of connection and purpose a student feels from the other people, goals, expectations, and beliefs established in a classroom environment. Both constructs enhance student learning experiences, motivation and overall success in school. Understanding how they work together and are enhanced through autonomy-supportive instructional practices was the focus of this research study. This qualitative instrumental case study examined both the classroom conditions of and individual student experiences in a Science Research program in a suburban high school outside of an east coast city. Through deductive, inductive and axial coding of semi-structured interviews of ten students and one teacher, classroom observations, and various SR class-related documents, the research showed that individual interests developed when students felt valued and valuable to all in the setting. Sustained individual interests were also cultivated through the intellectual, social and emotional scaffolding of autonomy. Moreover, well-developed individual interests and belonging were symbiotic: belonging bred interests just as interest development inspired belonging. In essence, interest development showed itself to be as much of a social phenomenon as an individual one. Implications for educators seeking to cultivate interest-driven instruction, a high sense of classroom belonging, and autonomous learning skills are discussed.



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