For curious learners who seek subject matter beyond the core science curriculum, the Independent Research and Design (IRaD) Program affords them the chance to explore.
Students are invited to submit a proposal to the science department if they are passionate about a topic that does not fit into a current course offering. In order for a proposal to be accepted, it must include an abstract of components, a description of scientific topics, no fewer than three high quality sources and why the topic represents a significant learning stretch among other requirements.
Some proposals are submitted by individuals while others come from small groups of students who wish to work together. The science department then reviews all proposals and assigns a faculty member to each accepted project as an advisor. The student(s) pursue their own research independently and the advisor is essentially a coach.
Students are required to meet weekly with the advisor for the duration of the project and are expected to attend monthly collaboration lunches. Collaboration lunches provide an opportunity to discuss issues common to all independent projects and give students a chance to present ongoing work.
While many students choose to join robotics or pursue problem solving through engineering and computer programming, recent IRaD projects included Neuroscience, iOS App Development and Marine Biology among others.
Forensic Sciences was the choice of Sophie Witkes '14, who gained inspiration from watching Crime Scene Investigation (CSI).
Witkes' final project involved investigating a fictional crime scene where a faculty member had been murdered. There were six possible suspects, and she had to use her knowledge of blood spatter, finger printing and luminal to gather enough information to solve the case.
For the project's completion, Witkes solved the case, submitted research papers and entries, conducted experiments and achieved a list of goals.
What helped make this project a success was the commitment of Witkes and her advisor, physics teacher Christine Carpenter. Witkes spent half the academic year in Israel with many of her junior classmates, but that did not deter the project as the two spoke via Skype to stay in touch.
The IRaD Program, which upon completion is part of a student’s transcript as an additional course, encourages students not only to learn a topic or subject in great depth, but it forces them to master time management and embrace autonomous learning.
"I gained the extreme understanding of how to be in charge of your own learning [and] I believe that is one of the most important things an upperclassman in high school can learn before they go to college," said Witkes. "It's a program that allows you to take full responsibility for your learning controversial to the classroom environment where a teacher must teach in order for you to learn."