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A look at sociology

I primarily teach junior AP English and freshman English 9, but this semester I’ve been blessed to teach the sociology elective to an inquisitive batch of juniors and seniors. As we all enjoy our Christmas break and I wrap up my semester grading, indulge me as I brag about my students’ phenomenal work on their final projects.

For their finals, I asked them to design and construct a written research paper following the parameters of sociological research methods that we’ve discussed throughout the semester: designing a research question and hypothesis, constructing literature reviews of previous research on the topic, and considering types of research (surveys, interviews, observations, etc.). There was no word count, but most papers were 10-15 pages (the high was 33 pages). 

I encouraged them to go in any direction that interested them, and while ideally everyone was able to do some of their own original research, they at least needed to figure out what they could do if they had the opportunity. For example, one student interested in the effect of incarceration on juveniles would have a hard time actually getting into a facility to interview, but she can draft a questionnaire, look at previous research, and consider the ethical issues of her sample.

Their final exam time was devoted to informally presenting their research to their peers in the class, including the background on their interest, their research question, and any conclusions they could draw from their research. Students then voted on the projects they believed were the most interesting idea, most relevant to society, best research design, most “fun,” best use of sociological concepts, and audience’s favorite.

Below are their research questions grouped into topical categories with the peer-selected winning categories noted. I am so impressed with the breadth and depth of their interest and research, and I know each of them created something of which they are proud.

Mental health and policy:

  • How does stress affect the average high school student? [Madison Nahrwold – Most Relevant to Society]
  • What factors prevent a woman from leaving a domestic abuse situation? [Kami Rieck]
  • Are psychopaths and sociopaths born or made? [Alaina Stellwagen – Audience Favorite]
  • What are the effects of incarceration on juveniles? [Mikayla Baumgarte]
  • Why the blue are so blue: mental health and police officers [Kirsten Olsen]
  • How does parental divorce affect child development? [Allison Adair]
  • Can music affect mood, and which genres create which effects? [Ethan Dillman – most votes across the categories]


  • What is the ideal age for marriage in America? [Lia Barger]
  • Do emojis enhance or hinder emotional expression? [Josephana Ma – Tied for Most Fun Project]
  • How do arranged marriages compare to conventional American love matches? [Emma Pynchon]


  • Was the "Miracle on Ice" hockey victory of 1980 indicative of the later fall of the USSR? [Nathaniel Carmody]
  • What are similarities and differences between German and U.S. WWII propaganda, and what implications do they have for today's nationalism? [Cameron Bohnke – voted Most Interesting Project]
  • What is religion and what factors lead a person to adopt a certain belief system? [Dylan Patterson]
  • How do conspiracy theories gain traction? Emphasis on the Moon Landing [Noell Koehlinger – Tied for Most Fun Project]

Pop Culture and Society:

  • How do YouTubers make a living? [Kayla Williams]
  • How does hyper-masculinity affect the American male? [Noelle Turney – Tied for Best Research Design]
  • Is there a certain type of person attracted to church youth groups? [Jacob Bennett]
  • Is hiring bias based on sexual orientation intentional or subconscious? [Drew Amstutz – Tied for Best Research Design]
  • Why are American politics so divisive, and why do Americans seem to favor partisanship in personal party identification? [Katie Gutman – Tied for Best Research Design]
  • "Fat people don't go as high": Perceptions of cheerleaders in American high schools [Morgan Moloney]
  • Are there different generational perceptions of tattoos, and what causes these differences? [Logan Devine]


  • What is the relationship between socioeconomic status and academic achievement? [Makayla Grayson – Best Use of Sociological Concepts]
  • What factors are most important to high school seniors making college decisions? [Katie Wilder]
  • Why do some parents choose charter schools for their children, and what are the key characteristics of these institutions? [Jacob Bryant]
  • What happens to recruited Division I athletes who do not go pro? [Colin Harmeyer]

Note on the survey: students could vote for three projects in each category, but only one category per project. Each of the 25 projects received votes in at least one category, so winners are by a slim margin. 

This shows me how good these projects were overall, that there were no decisive victors of voting!

I am so pleased with the energy they all put in, and as we prepare to send this class of 2017 and 2018 out into the real world I know they are thoughtful, curious, inquisitive, and willing to put in effort to learn what they need to know. 

Elizabeth Hoham,