I started this project last year, and I was amazed at the results. I modified a project I had done in previous years to allow students some room to use math to explore something that they were interested in. (Believe it or not, analyzing the amount of homework they got didn't do much to get them excited!) The vast majority of my students got really into it, especially ones that otherwise were not very motivated.
For this project, students find data online that they are interested in comparing. (Sales of video games v sales of movies, Wins of their favorite sports team v wins of their friend's favorite sports team, Women's race times v Men's race times, Success of movie with many sequels v another, Sales of Abercrombie v sales of American Eagle, etc) They graph and find best fit lines for each set of data, then answer some thought provoking questions about the results.
The most time consuming part of this project was having students find good data. Anything sports related is easy, finding movie sales is easy, but other things got pretty difficult to find. When things got difficult, students often wanted to take the easy way out and pick something they didn't really care much about, but could find easy data for. I discouraged that heavily because the key to this project is bringing in their specific interests and showing them how math is involved. When students worked hard, but couldn't come up with data, I did my best to point them in the right direction. (Try this search or website)
I used 3 40 minute classes for this, but that's because I only expected students to do work at home if they were getting behind. You could significantly cut the in class time down by giving most of it as homework. If you decide to do this or a similar project with your class, I would highly suggest making your students check their data with you before they continue onto the rest of the project.
See the project description here.
One of the coolest things about this project was that I stuck excellent projects on my back wall and a number of times saw students from other classes thumbing through and actually reading the results on their own!
Any suggestions for more conclusion questions? What kinds of things do you do to get your students working with what they are interested in? Let me know.