Advanced Open Research at NSCDS

Advanced Open Research (AOR) is informal, yet one of the hardest-working courses at NSCDS.
It may be compared to a second-semester Junior or Senior capstone course, where success comes from dedication, independence and individualistic curiosity. Every student in the class is working on an entirely different curriculum by their own discourse. “We figure out a topic and gauge their passion to make sure they’ll be successful,” said Upper School Science Teacher Jen Pfannerstill. Students in this class must grasp the elements of chemistry, physics and biology. The breadth of knowledge and connections between those sciences is key to the research they do and experiments they perform.

Katie Abrams ‘17 asked the question, “does tone affect memory?” in a project that required working through how to use North Shore students in her experiment. Katie is passionate about a complicated thing to study, requiring her to test her idea with audiobooks, relationship-based learning disabilities and the NAS Memory Test.

Tommy McHugh ‘17 is working to figure out how animals become immune to viral infections. He brought his interest in bioinformatics to AOR, the place where he can funnel his education into research, which helps him sift through a complex topic. His experimentation included looking at mosquitos immune to viruses, but able to carry them to humans, and put viruses into zebrafish to see if new animals could be born immune.

Andrew Potter ‘17 finds value in being an independent thinker, and AOR allows exactly that. He used the the process of having an idea, furthering it and realizing it will change to succeed in AOR and his project about technology addiction.

Pierce Hourihane ‘17 had the goal of educational integration – using his own experiences in the class. “Once you have a passion, you can run with it in AOR,” he said.  “You have to stay interested, where not exploring your topic is a missed opportunity.” He knew he wanted to study concussions, and began with trying to redesign a football helmet. But instead of looking at the problem by its preventative measure, he turned to the concussion test, looking at how to mend its flaws and minimize room for error.

Samantha Weinberg ‘17 approached her project interactively, using an interest in dance to study the relationship between exercise and cognitive activity. In AOR, she created her own experiment using a control, jump rope and jogging to get organic results.

Andrew Conlon ‘17 demonstrated learning with computer science programming. He embraces the freedom of independent studying to focused on what he can use computer science to do. “AOR makes me inherently curious,”  he said. He’s used a Big Data machine, feeding a computer to create a model and an output, then trained it to eliminate errors. In AOR, he learned how to keep the important information emphasized while working through many results.

Upper School Science Teachers Jen Pfannerstill and Joan Ryder are the instructors of AOR, though they eventually set the students free of instructions at all. The two are there to help the students dig deeper and support them in challenging themselves and asking questions. “They teach us to be more inquisitive than what we know to be true,” said Katie.

“They become good at reaching out for help – it's how they learn. With science, there are far more disappointments than successes. They have to be willing to work through that slow process,” Joan said.

“Outside of these school walls, there are resources and networks, and we try to tap into those that are as equally-passionate as the students to give them mentors,” Jen said. “This group of seniors invested not only in their work, but also in each other, and maybe that is why, when they walked out the door one by one, we all sighed, smiled, and felt varying degrees of accomplishment.”
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North Shore Country Day School is a junior kindergarten through 12th grade, college-preparatory school founded in Winnetka, Illinois in 1919.  With rigorous academic pursuit as the cornerstone, North Shore provides many opportunities for all students to excel – in the classroom and the laboratory, on the stage and the playing field, in their communities and beyond.

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