I interviewed middle school boys and girls separately. The boys were all interested in making the learning more competitive by creating and using games to learn content. Their idea of what constituted competition ran from winning at games to grades given by the teacher. They like hands-on activities. For math classes, they suggested creating "fun games to play and create" to help them learn. The boys also said that science tests were difficult for them because they felt like there was too much time between the experiments and the tests. They felt like if the teacher required them to make "flash cards," that would be very helpful. When asked if they could have made them on their own, they said yes, but then they wouldn't have gotten a grade for them, reinforcing the idea that competition helped to fuel their engagement.
The girls were a surprise. I asked them if they would prefer all-girl classes, and they all said no, that "girls were mean and that boys helped to break-up "mean girl syndrome." (When I asked the boys if they would prefer single-gender classes, the boys admitted that girls "were sometimes a distraction," but if the class were all boys, "it would be nothing but chaos.") The girls lamented the lack of their ability to use their own creativity in what they produced to prove learning such as building a diorama or poster. They wanted more choice. They also stated that they much preferred when presentations were in color instead of just black and white. They preferred classes that used humor and jokes in the lesson. They came back to the use of humor several times. One of their most memorable lessons was when a math teacher created a multiplication grid with tape on the ground, and they had to hop to the correct answer. They specifically said they liked working in Sketchup when the project allowed them to use their own imaginations instead of creating something given to them by the teacher. One of their biggest complaints about some classes was that their teacher "did not keep personal things personal." For instance, "the teacher would call out test scores or when walking around the room, observing them at work, would loudly say, "You misspelled that word, or you did that [problem] wrong." They felt like they needed more time to process in order to learn new information.