Students learn real research skills with high school class
Maeve Carrigg collects bugs. Evan Garcia speaks with state lawmakers – and a former governor. Molly Rioux contacts healthcare professionals across the country. Karley Richard and John Kertscher interview their peers.
The Dartmouth high school students are part of a group of 52 juniors and seniors who are carrying out their own research projects as part of the school’s recently revived AP Research class.
AP Research is the second part of the two-year AP Capstone program, which was brought back to school last year after a hiatus of several years.
The program started in 2014 with the aim of developing students’ skills in research, analysis, writing and presentation rather than subject-specific learning.
It includes the AP Seminar – a one-year class focused on foundational research skills, including group work and a final presentation – and the more self-directed AP research class, which resumed this year.
English teacher Will Higgins taught the Capstone program years ago and is teaching it again this time around.
He said he was happy to see him again in high school.
“What I love is that kids tackle things they’re passionate about,” Higgins explained. “You don’t have a lot of opportunities to do it in high school. “
Students develop their own research question and collate their own data to contribute to academia, with an outcome document and presentation of their results at the end of the year.
“They have to create real data from that,” Higgins said, adding that they follow the same rules and processes – including institutional ethical reviews for human investigative subjects – as scientists and professional researchers.
“It’s like an independent research project that you could undertake at the university,” he noted.
Expert advisors for the projects include teachers, professors, scientists and other professionals, and for Evan Garcia, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
Dukakis – along with State Representative Chris Markey – is advising Garcia on his plan to explore how the state government is responding to the Covid pandemic.
“I contact all members of the legislature and give them a survey to fill out,” said the junior. “He asks them how they have responded to Covid so far and what their thoughts are on the state’s response. “
“It’s definitely a very interesting opportunity,” he said of the class. “It’s not something that you traditionally see in education, doing this kind of research endeavor.”
Junior Molly Rioux accepted.
“It’s a really interesting class,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding!
For her project, Rioux is studying the influence of socio-economic factors on women’s reproductive health and interviewed health experts from New Bedford, Arizona.
“I have been surprised by some of the information I have gathered so far,” she said. “That’s the exciting part of it too… Not only is it new to you, but it may very well be new to thousands of people. It’s part of the thrill!
For Maeve Carrigg, who has been interested in science since fifth grade, the pleasure is being able to conduct her own scientific research and use devices in the lab that she has never used before.
Carrigg collects local insects and examines their DNA to see if they have a certain type of bacteria – called Wolbachia – that can prevent the spread of diseases like dengue and Zika.
The class gave her the chance to see what it would be like to conduct her own experiments, she said. “If I want to do this later in life, it gave me a door to do it.”
And while finding the bugs in winter has been the only challenge so far, she noted, it’s not always difficult.
“[One day] I was sitting in class taking notes when a bug happened on my Chromebook, “she said with a laugh.” So I was able to get it back! “
Other students survey their peers or community members as part of their research.
Karley Richard studies informal music therapy, or how young adults use music to feel better if they are having a bad day.
She wants to know if this has a positive effect on mental health and if all types of music are equally effective.
As a member of the school’s marching band and indoor percussion ensemble, Richard said she was “very involved in the music.”
“I really enjoy listening to music to make myself feel better, especially in the car,” she noted, adding that many of her peers did the same.
Meanwhile, his junior colleague John Kertscher is also investigating other teenagers as part of his project on how social media algorithms affect people’s political extremism.
“Especially in this electoral cycle, I have noticed that there is a huge gap between the different ideological groups,” he said. “So I decided to look specifically at the impact of this technology on us. “
He said he appreciates the professional applications of the work they do in the classroom.
“This is really the first course I took that taught me how to format and collect data properly,” he noted. “It’s much more difficult than the other classes. But I think it’s really worth it.
“I thought this class was going to be a burden on the Capstone program,” Richard agreed. “But actually, I’m having a lot more fun than I thought!” “