Symposium highlights independent student research
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 13:12

Local students showcase their research projects

by John G. Bailey

    Ever wonder about “The Effects of Video Gaming on Society?”
    Dundalk High School junior Cesar Ricardo did, and after completing an independent research project with that title, he came up with some answers.
    Ricardo was one of four Dundalk High School juniors and several other Baltimore County high school students showcasing their work at the Student Independent Research Symposium at Dundalk High School on May 21.
    The students had completed research projects on topics of their own choosing as part of a semester-long independent research course available to juniors and seniors.



The upside of gaming
    “Video games have a positive impact,” Ricardo said standing next to a poster board display that summarized the results of his research.
    “Video gaming draws people out, helping withdrawn people become more social. Players get to know each other [in team games] and make new friends,” Ricardo explained.
    According to his research, other benefits of video gaming include the development of empathy through interaction with game characters and a greater aesthetic sensibility through exposure to the artwork in the games.
    Ricardo chose his project on the basis of self-interest — he is an avid video gamer — and a desire to investigate the claims of critics who warn of the negative impact of video gaming on society, particularly the charge that gaming triggers violent and other anti-social behaviors in players.
    Ricardo found that though there is a correlation between gaming and these negative behaviors, no direct causal relationship has yet been discovered.
    He knows two of the critics his research debunks very well. “My parents say that video games are bad for you. But I play all the time, and I’m an A student.”
    Ricardo wants to design games for a living and hopes to attend the Art Institute of California to further that goal. “The whole [video game industry] is in California,” he said.
    “I want to design a game that makes people feel good.”

Different perspectives
    Dundalk High junior Brooke Hairston researched the effects of school censorship and book banning.
    Part of her display showed covers of reading material  currently banned from schools somewhere in the U.S. Pointing to one, she said “I was shocked that Captain Underpants was banned.” [The comic book portrays the positive exploits of a hero of the same name.]
    Opposition to censorship and book banning motivated Hairston. “Censorship denies students the opportunity to be exposed to different perspectives and to great literature,” she said.
    Her research revealed the major instigators of censorhip. “I was surprised religion played such a large part [as a reason for censoring material], she said.
    Hairston, though, does not oppose all censorhip. She agreed that Fifty Shades of Gray — which is currently banned from Baltimore County schools — should be banned from schools.
    “But not from public libraries,” she added quickly.

Get some sleep
    A project entitled “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Students” was motivated by researcher Summer Nevins’ own difficulty with getting enough sleep.
    When asked if she thought students got enough sleep, Nevins responded emphatically. “I don’t think they don’t, I know they don’t.”
    Nevins discovered that teenagers need as much as nine and half hours of sleep nightly to function fully.
“The brain is growing more [during this time] and the body needs more rest.”
    Sleep deprivation causes lower grades, difficulty in dealing with emotions and other problems, according to Nevins’ research.
    For Nevins, who takes four Advanced Placement classes and works after school, the problem is finding enough time for the sleep she needs.   
    She is a strong supporter of schools that have pushed back the beginning of daily classes to give students more sleep time. She cited statistics that show better grades, fewer behavioral problems and other positive benefits from the later-hours policy.
    Nevins is aghast at rumors that the Baltimore County school system is considering pushing the start time of schools to 7:30 a.m., a move that contradicts all her research results.
    [The Eagle subsequently learned that Baltimore County Public Schools has no plans to change start times.]

Cutting the cord
    Dundalk High junior Grayson McNew recently lost a close relative to brain cancer. His conviction that the death could have been avoided through  advances in stem cell science led to his project, “The Morality of Stem Cell Research.”
    Despite the weighty biology involved in stem cell research, McNew confessed, “I’m not a big science person.”
    A current member of the school’s student government and a candidate for next year’s presidency, McNew was more interested in exploring the negative attitudes of people on the controversial topic. “I wanted to find out why people look at stem cell research and think it’s bad,” he explained.
    McNew grew passionate when he decried the link between the controversial research and abortion, which opponents frequently claim. He explained that human embryos are only one source of stem cells.
    “An infant’s umbilical chord has tons of stem cells,” McNew pointed out.  He favors storing the cells harvested from each baby’s umbilical chord for later use, in case a person later needs the regenerative properties of the cells due to sickness or accident.
    For McNew, the stem cell research issue is a medical one, not a moral one. “How can we be so divided on a science that has no negatives?” he asked.
Learning about learning
    During the second hour of the symposium before individual presentations began, Fran Glick, supervisor of the county schools’ Department of Digital Learning, lauded the effects the independent research projects had on students in the program.
    “Students benefit in ways that are hard to measure,” she said. “What happens [to students in the program] is that they learn about themselves as learners.”
    Glick related what she called a “project killer” moment for a Loch Raven High School student in his research project this year. “That’s when during your research you turn up something that forces you to change the direction of your project completely.”
    The young man’s preservation and completion of the project “demonstrated the incredible persistence and grit that results from independent research,” she said.