District 86 program lets students do the science
Rucha Deshpande (from left), Neil Chen and Orian Shkrobut measure pH and water temperature of Salt Creek at Waterfall Glen as part of the District 86 Science Inquiry and Research class. | Photo courtesy Mark Wollschlaeger
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:07AM
During his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama stressed the importance of science, technology, engineering and math for students. District 86 science teachers Peter Pintz and Mark Wollschlaeger saw that need as well.
After attending a conference two years ago and realizing District 86 should be a state leader in the sciences, the duo offered Science Inquiry and Research for the second consecutive summer at Hinsdale South High School. The class consists of hands-on experiments and research for the 27 students who signed up for the seven-week summer course.
After a successful first year, 11 students re-enrolled, this time at a higher level and working with a mentor outside of class.
Hinsdale Central junior and second-year student Derek Tu spent a recent Friday wrapping up his research and will spend the next four weeks living at the University of Illinois campus in Champaign. Tu will work to perfect a system of self healing polymers with a mentor downstate and return to the class to present his results in late July.
“The teachers play a lesser role and we’re allowed more freedom in how you approach an experiment and research,” Tu said.
Along with Tu, Hinsdale Central juniors Rahul Ramani and Dania Noghnogh, also in their second summer in the class, will work with professional mentors at the University of Chicago while enrolled in the course.
Ramani will work with Dr. Jerry Krishnan and research nurse Nina Grude to treat misuse of inhalers by asthmatics.
“My mentor did a study on that, but I’m taking it a step further,” Ramani said. “We’re working on how we can fix the problem.”
Noghnogh will work with Dr. Farid Amirouche to study the effects of obesity on individuals who complain about knee pain. Noghnogh wants to know if knee pain is more related to lower back issues rather than excessive weight.
“We get so many opportunities that not many high school students get,” Noghnogh said. “Working with a mentor in a real lab with real equipment opens so many doors for us.”
The class includes individual and group projects. Students recently took a five-hour hike to Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve to make their own observations and look for intriguing experiments.
“The experiments ranged from water quality, algae changes, different species of insects and the study of human impact at the site,” Wollschlaeger said. “The students are not reading what other scientists did through a book, they’re actually going out and learning science.”
First-year student and Hinsdale Central junior Katherine Kiang was unable to take the class last year, but jumped at the opportunity this year.
“I like that we can go out on our own,” Kiang said. “The teachers guided us, but didn’t tell us which way to go. We get a lot of independence, as opposed to a more structured summer school course.”
Both Pintz and Wollschlaeger hope the increased interest in the course will lead to its expansion into the normal school schedule.
“This is the way science education is headed,” Pintz said. “We want to support it, get more kids into it and continue to grow the program.”