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Students delve deep into researching topics of interest

Cedar Springs — At Cedar Springs High School, one of the Advanced Placement classes students have the option of taking is AP Research. Over the course of the year, students in this class focus on a specific topic of interest and do an in-depth exploration of the research surrounding that topic. 

“The goal is to understand the body of knowledge that exists, as well as to identify a gap in the research,” said teacher Chris Painter. “Essentially, they are trying to find something that has not been fully researched and a way to contribute to the body of knowledge. … The process is very similar to a master’s thesis.”

After identifying the gap in research, students develop their own research question or topic, identify an appropriate research method and design a study to address their research question. After collecting and analyzing data, students write a research paper and give a presentation on their findings. 

School News Network spoke with two AP Research students to learn more about their research topic and how they went about gathering information and analyzing data.

Senior Mitch Metiva practices his AP research presentation

Mitch Metiva, senior

Research topic: Sleep deprivation and academic performance in middle school students

Mitch’s mother is a middle-school teacher, and her stories from the classroom inspired his research focus. 

“She’s told me countless stories about her class and some dysfunctionality she’s experienced, especially with daytime sleeping, like kids falling asleep in class or not participating or doing their work because they’re tired,” he said. “I thought it would be a good thing to study because it’s something that could benefit her and the rest of the teachers at her school, but it’s also something that could benefit teachers all around Michigan. Because if we’re seeing this problem in one suburban district, then it’s probably occurring elsewhere.”

To structure his research, “I thought about what ways I could compare sleep quality to different types of academic variables,” Mitch said. 

“A main contributor to the problem is bad sleep hygiene in general — things like using technology at bedtime, or kids not going to bed on time as they should. Like, bedtimes are going later than 11 (p.m.) or 12 (a.m.), and they still have to wake up at six or seven (a.m.). And at that age, that’s a really important time that they should be getting more sleep.”

A key part of his research process involved observing actual middle-schoolers in the classroom. He visited his mother’s classroom, took notes on their behavior and observed them as they completed a short survey. 

“I could see that a lot of what (my mother) told me was pretty accurate,” he said of those classroom findings. “I feel that students should be capable of completing small tasks, but a lot of them weren’t even able to, like, mentally focus. It was a struggle for them.”

Because his research is only a correlational study, Mitch said, he can’t definitively prove causation. However, he planned to give his mother and other middle school teachers the data he uncovered that indicates a strong connection between sleep deprivation and classroom behavioral issues. 

“If we’re going to attack this issue, we should do it when the problem starts to impact their lives a lot more,” he said. “We have to start implementing programs or encouraging kids to get on the right track in their sleep hygiene, because that’s a key part of their academic success. Obviously, we all want to push for high academic performance in high school and college, and if we want to be on that track, we gotta start in middle school.”

Junior Savanna Maki explains her research process to the class

Savanna Maki, junior

Research topic: How can the “stream of consciousness” literary technique be applied to the creation of a novella to accurately represent the realities of living with anxiety for teenagers

“Anxiety is something I deal with on a daily basis,” Savanna said. “And most of the people I know also struggle with anxiety, and a lot of them feel like people don’t understand them.”

That’s why she chose to make anxiety the core issue of her research: “I wanted to find a way to help other people see what it’s like to be anxious and understand how badly it can affect every aspect of your life. I feel like it could help people with anxiety feel like they’re important — feel like they’re being seen.”

Savanna describes herself as “not a science person,” and appreciated that their class research did not have to be science-based. In fact, she went in a different direction entirely, choosing to write a 20,000-word novella as part of her research process. 

“STEM is not my thing — I can do it, but I don’t enjoy it. So with the opportunity to choose whatever we wanted to (research) in this class, I immediately went to literature, because I also want to be an author when I’m older,” she said. “When I thought about representation of anxiety, I find that a lot in books, and that can be a good way to connect with people. So I wanted to look at writing techniques, apply my own technique to the story and see if I could create a good representation of anxiety.” 

Essentially, they are trying to find something that has not been fully researched and a way to contribute to the body of knowledge,”

— teacher Chris Painter

She began work on her novella first by researching what sort of literary structure would work best to achieve the goal of accurately representing anxiety. Through this process, she settled on the stream of consciousness technique, a style of writing that tries to capture a character’s natural thought processes. 

“The creation (of the novella) allows you to explore unexplored territory the same way that a (science) experiment would,” Savanna said. “For example, you learn to work around roadblocks — like initially, my (writing) structure had so much text on a page that it was completely incomprehensible … The creative process to make it better helped build my writing skills and explore the creative side of research.” 

For her final project, Savanna was planning to do a thorough literary analysis of her novella, along with a final edit for clarity and possible publication one day.

“For the analysis, I’ll explain the technique or pull out points of (the story) to explain how it emulates a symptom of anxiety, a certain kind of anxiety thought process or how it mirrors the experiences of the people (with anxiety) that I interviewed,” she said. “I want that to be really thorough, because there’s a lot of people who said they wanted to read (the novella), and that’s pretty fun.”

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter (covering Cedar Springs, Grandville, Lowell and Rockford), editor, copy editor and social media manager. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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