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A student in Lucy Singletary's STEM class performing his own experiment

Grant Kinghorn is growing radishes to music in hopes of finding out which genre spurs the vegetable’s growth: classical, rock, pop, or jazz.

The Providence Day junior’s experiment - studying the effects of Beethoven, AC/DC, Britney Spears, and Dave Brubeck on the root vegetable - is being conducted in his STEM Research and Design class.

Students in Lucy Singletary's STEM class performing their own experiments

“Two of the radishes have sprouted,” Grant says. “I’m waiting on the other 13, but the two that have sprouted have been in the classical and pop groups.”

Grant and seven other students in Lucy Singletary’s class are conducting experiments to understand better how much goes into scientific research and how difficult and impactful it can be. Students are learning how to read scientific papers and sort through science jargon to help build reading comprehension skills.

They’re also designing and running experiments that require flexibility, problem-solving, and creativity.

“It shows them what real science looks like,” Ms. Singletary says. “They're learning hands-on lab skills that will be useful in college-level labs and beyond. They'll have to present a summary of their work in the end, which requires organization and the ability to communicate clearly and concisely. I hope that designing their own experiment, which requires so much ownership, helps them to build their confidence that they can create and implement something from start to finish.”

Experiments run the gamut from Grant’s radish investigation to others that reflect student interests. Another explores how changing the center of mass on a model rocket impacts its average velocity, maximum height, and stability.

Yet another experiment looks at how the amount of nitrogen present impacts the fermentation rate of yeast. Another student explored how different amounts of neurons and layers in machine learning impact the ability to learn to park a car.

“All of them started by exploring some of the literature related to their topic of interest,” Ms. Singletary says. “This meant figuring out what they needed to know and reading a lot of research articles to find those answers. They then wrote up a proposal, including what their methods would be and why this research project was important, and turned in a budget for what would need to be bought.”

Junior Kendall Liles conducted an experiment on the effects of standardized diets around the world on the growth of strep throat, Caucus, and mutant bacteria on teeth. She plans to pursue dentistry and open a charity dental clinic for low-income individuals.

“I’ve always been really interested in dentistry, and I wanted to see if good dentistry in first-world countries is a direct correlation with positive oral health or if your diet really makes a difference,” Kendall says. “I’ve learned to persevere and remain positive in this class. There have been points during my experiment where I didn’t think that certain things would work out, but through trial and error, I have been able to overcome those things and continue with my experiment.”

Grant says analyzing and learning how to understand the contents of various research papers has helped him across all of his academics.

“It’s a skill that’s had surprising value in other classes, as well,” he says. “I’ve also really appreciated learning how to conduct an experiment with extreme precision and specificity.”

Students came up with the methods for their experiments while paying special attention to why they were choosing the different procedures and keeping controlled variables consistent across all trials.

Grant believes the STEM Research and Design class has given him clarity about the realities of being a scientist.

“It has 100% taught me something about real science,” Grant says. “The main lesson I’ve learned is that science is hard and oftentimes, messy. The pristine lab with instant results you see on television tends to be far from the result. I appreciate that this class has taught us how to reach out for help and have the ability to solve any problem that may arise creatively.”

Ms. Singletary says that’s the goal of the class.

“I hope they gain confidence in their abilities,” Ms. Singletary says. “And then the goals of the course: the ability to read scientific research, the ability to design and run an experiment, the ability to present their research in written and oral forms.”