Some of the words used by a pair of students describing the Montville Township High School Science Research program seemed to confuse nearly a room full of attendees at Tuesday's board of education meeting. But while board members may not have fully known the terminology the students were using, they were proud of the work being completed by the researching sophomores.
"We are so proud of our students and of this program. This program is really cutting edge education and we have Dr. [Paul] Fried to thank for bringing it to the high school," Board President Dr. Karen Cortellino said.
The program, which was approved for the first time this year along with the 2012-13 school budget, involves three years of research beginning sophomore year with a limited number of students. The students who entered the program this year selected several topics to investigate and will essentially choose one topic each to focus their research on. They will also each select a mentor and by the time they graduate the high school, be able to continue their study as they move on to college.
Teacher Dorine Starace described the program as "a student-driven course." As one student, Noah Weinflash, described, the program's participants are able to work at their own pace in their research.
"This class is, above all, about us having to discipline ourselves," he said.
Weinflash described about half an hour of research that is completed by students each night in addition to the work that is done in school. At the end of this year, on June 3, students involved in the program will be able to show the district and community their work during a symposium.
The topics students will focus on range from quantum physics and cancer research to animal research. Paige Hammell, another sophomore in the program, said she has chosen to focus her research on how the sense of smell can impact animal behavior.
"I wanted to look into whether that was really true or if it's just a wive's tale," she said.
Hammell said one of her fellow classmates is researching stem cells while another is exploring computer science to seek a way to store infinite data.
Weinflash said that even though the students are working at their own pace in the program, taking their time is helping them develop their ideas and decide which topic to choose.
"While we're doing this, whether we know it or not, we are honing in on the topic," he said. "By the end of the year, we will have a topic picked that we can explain eloquently."
Board of Education Member Carmela Novi asked Hammell to describe the mentor process. Hammell said the students are trying to get to know the professors and science professionals before asking them to be mentors. She said they are working on this by first studying the potential mentors' own research and publications and reaching out to them with questions and for conversation.
"First, we want to have a couple email exachanges with them and really develop a relationship," she said.
Starace said once the students are knowledgeable in their topics, they will then ask the professionals to be their mentors so that they can continue on in their research with more support.