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New RHS Science Course Opens New Frontiers

The idea of the science research course is to cultivate an interest in science by allowing students to, in their sophomore year, become acquainted with a subject they will carry into their senior year through research and professional contacts.

"Graphite oxide as it pertains to water purification."

It's OK if that's a little above your head. It's only a project taken on by a Ridgefield high school student.

"Locating pulsars using gamma rays and radio frequency."

Too much? Wait for the next one.

"Cause and cure of immune thrombocytopenic purpura."

Subjects like these, and many more, are part of a new science research course this year at Ridgefield's high school that gives students the opportunity to be creative in the sciences and to make their own choices in terms of field and scope.

Students begin in their sophomore year by designing a research project and carry that project into their senior year.

The outside-the-book curriculum was designed by teachers Patrick Hughes and Michael Yagid, who took cues from other districts and are already visibly proud of what their students have accomplished in just half a year of a three-year program.

The idea of the science research course is to cultivate an interest in science by allowing students to, in their sophomore year, become acquainted with a subject they will carry into their senior year through research, professional contacts and national competition.

"It's just as much their classroom as it is ours," teacher and organizer Yagid said. "They're excited to have the opportunity, and their energy grows exponentially."

The titles of the students' prospective projects (they may change over time, Yagid said) threw the Board of Education for a loop, but with three years to devote to a single subject and with access to some of the top researchers in those fields, the course's trajectory is promising.

"We have extremely high expectations," Hughes said. "They're studying things they're passionate about at this point."

A hope lies in the possibility of taking these projects to the Intel International Science Fair, one of the most prestigious high school science accomplishments there is. (A big moneymaker, too, as it offers millions in scholarship dollars each year.)

"We're going all the way," said high school principal Jeffrey Jaslow.

Right now, though, it's about creating a climate ripe for scientific creativity.

"Right now, they're becoming well-versed so they can talk to professionals in their field who might be mentors later on," Yagid said. "In the first year, we're working on the background research and communication."

Some students are taking on personal projects that pertain to family illnesses or close passions. They will get to carry these from their sophomore year to their senior year, becoming experts as they go.

"These are very sophisticated topics," said board member Rich Steinhart, a medical professional. "I'm very anxious to see where they continue with this."

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