Data Devotees

Experiments, Focus Groups, Interviews Begin for AP Research


Photo by Anthony Whiting

Working independently in class, AP Research students create follow-up emails to participants. The data collection period is currently open, running until Feb. 25. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a student in the AP Capstone program,” junior Kaci Craddock said. “I especially appreciate the class environments cultivated by the Capstone teachers and my fellow peers that allow for continual conversation and growth. It is a collaborative and challenging class that allows me to improve my writing and research skills while also pursuing topics that I am interested in and want to learn more about.”

Anthony Whiting, Reporter

The sound of typing hands fills the classroom with the minds of students turning in gear. Watering jugs full and group space exploration discussions ready, student researchers observe participants’ thoughts and actions. With its launch in 2016, the AP Capstone Program has grown in size, encompassing four classes and 30 given graduates each year after the culmination of writing an independent research paper spanning topics from the humanities to the sciences.

At the start of each spring semester in AP Research, the data collection process begins as students share their surveys, experiments, interviews and focus groups across the school demographic or larger. Sufficient data allows these students to make academic conclusions to their research question.

“I think one of the things that is the most exciting is that students have crafted some sort of real research question and for the first time perhaps ever in their school or educational career, they are getting to really understand and see a real research process unfold,” AP Research teacher Lauren Madrid said. “After they have created the methods they believe will answer their question, they actually get to see and gather real data and find an answer to a question that perhaps has never been asked before.”

Junior Eliana Garza’s topic entails American public perception of space exploration and how it impacts the American perception of humanitarian crises. She pulled inspiration to research this due to common interests between her parents that are discussed as a family.

“I first wanted to do something about how the impact of one idea affects another, looking at many examples and eventually coming to space exploration and crises,” Garza said. “My dad is particularly into space exploration and constantly updates me on upcoming events and things like that, so I already knew a bit about space and commercial companies in the industry today. And, interestingly enough, my mom is really into the environment and climate change issues so I am constantly reminded in my house about the difficult times our world is in.”

Another student began with a broad topic that they were equally passionate about, gardening, that evolved over time due to findings and implications in the existing body of literature. Junior Kaci Craddock chose the method of an experiment to collect data that aims to determine whether being involved in a school garden — through maintenance, watering and planting — improves a student’s perception of academics and performance in class.

“I discovered that much of the research examined the direct academic effects of student involvement in garden-based settings through cognitive retention tests and traditional grading systems. Much of it did not concern the mental and psychological benefits of gardening and the potential for gardening on school grounds to promote student wellbeing,” Craddock said. “Originally, I wanted to focus on how vegetable gardens in suburban areas affected homeowners, but while reading and gathering more studies, I decided to shift my focus to school gardens.”

Last year, conducting research within the program was all  completed virtually. Similar incentives to encourage school-wide participation remain for this year, including community service hours for clubs and honor societies.

“To have students in person, even following COVID-19 protocol like wearing masks, during an experiment or focus group will just make that whole process easier,” Madrid said. “The fact that we actually have people in person and can meet during DEN or before or after school, will make it easier for both the researchers and the participants to actually participate. “[For the majority of students, this is] their first chance to participate in some real research. The fact that your answers to a survey counts toward data for a real research question, I think is really interesting.”

Craddock is working with both Timberwolves for the Environment and Student Council to continue the Garden Initiative for continual restoration of the school gardens even after her research is complete.

“Currently as I begin my experiment, I hope to interest as many student volunteers as possible to participate in my experiment,” Craddock said. “I also hope to end with conclusive data that will help substantiate my research paper. [The aim for the Garden Initiative] is to be successful and promote more involvement and interaction with the school gardens going forth.”

Topics can also show concern for greater world issues facing humanity today. According to Garza, her topic will be evermore present in the future where both political involvement and education could play a role.

“I’m hoping to understand the thoughts behind people who have a current say in politics,” Garza said. “I want to know how educated they are on these topics and how much concern there is for their future. Because both, space exploration and climate change, are very much going to be in our future.”

Students looking to participate in any and all research can find all survey links on the Capstone Research Website. Future sophomore and juniors interested in the research-based diploma program will find both courses available on their class course selection.

“With this school being as competitive as it is, it is one of the best ways to distinguish yourself from your other classmates on your transcript and on college applications,” Madrid said. “Secondly, every single student that has graduated with the Capstone certificate or diploma and gone off to college has said it is the two singular classes that they took in high school that prepared them to take any of their classes in college because it really helps them to understand how to write longer, academic papers and to present academically [for more] than just a few minutes in class.”