Independent studies grant academic flexibility, explore possibilities outside classroom

Imra Tajuddin, asst. features editor

Have you ever felt like exploring an interest or learning more about a certain subject? Have you found that your classes don’t cover what you want to know? At South, a student or a group of students can create their own independent study classes to learn about a topic outside of their daily courses.

According to Dan Rhoades, social studies teacher, a student of any grade can take an independent study course as long as they have teacher supervision, are able to show sufficient academic progress (although a grade is not required) and the course presents some challenges.

“[Sometimes], a student really wants to take a course that we don’t offer, and [we try] to find a way to provide them with the supervision so that there’s academic rigor but also make sure they have the freedom to go after something that they’re really interested in,” Rhoades said.

Israel-Palestine Independent Study

Rhoades supervises the independent study course that focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. According to Rhoades, this study was originally proposed to better inform high school students about the history behind the struggle.

“The goal of the course is to provide students with a historical context for understanding the present day conflicts in Israel and especially the conflicts between the Palestinians and the Israelis over the [territory] in that region,” Rhoades said. “And the goal is to make sure that the students really understand where those disputes and where both sides […] are coming from.”

According to Rhoades, the Israeli-Palestinian independent study students meet every other week on Tuesdays to discuss documents and texts that they have read and work through their understandings of the conflict and its origin.

“[At the meetings], the conversations are pretty wide ranging,” Rhoades said. “Since everyone is really eager to participate, it’s been wonderful because everyone does the readings [and] does all the homework, but they come in and then the conversations are then geared by that week’s topic.”

According to junior Austin Sulejmani, who participates in the Israel-Palestine independent study, the course has allowed him to learn more about current events that he would otherwise not have known much about if he had not taken the course.

“Learning about the development of this problem and seeing all the actions that led to it [becoming] what it is today, that really sparks a light for me,” Sulejmani said. “I really enjoy […] accumulating all this knowledge that I wouldn’t have learned taking another course at GBS.”

Number Theory and Cryptography Independent Studies

In contrast to the Israel-Palestine independent study students, senior Isabella Kang took an independent study course during first semester on Number Theory in Advanced Topics and this semester she is taking an independent study course in Computer Science on Cryptography. According to Kang, the independent studies that she has taken are more self-reliant and individual.

“It’s pretty independent,” Kang said. “We do most of the work on our own, whether it’s writing the code for the labs in Computer Science or studying Number Theory in math. We do it on our own and we can sort of go at our own pace, and I think it’s sometimes challenging, and I like that.”

In addition, according to Kang, she often finds connections between her independent study courses and her other classes and between the two independent study classes themselves.

“Computer Science, especially Cryptography, has a lot to do with Number Theory,” Kang said. “A lot of the time when you’re coding something, it’s very helpful when you know certain ideas from Number Theory, such as modular arithmetic. [It’s] very helpful in many algorithms.”

Biology Research Independent Study

Junior Sarah Erickson is taking an independent study course in Biological Research, where she creates and performs an experiment and then proceeds to write a paper based on her discoveries. Erickson believes that although there is a significant amount of work that comes with taking an independent research course, it is an opportunity for students to explore their interests.

“It does take a lot of time outside of school, but it’s not excessive,” Erickson said. “[…] Right now, I kind of feel like it’s more than just a class because it’s something that I’m really interested in, that I’ve put so much effort into [and] that I’m really proud to share with other people, […] so it doesn’t seem like homework. It just seems like something that I get to do.”

According to Erickson, she is testing which antiseptics are the most effective against certain bacteria in the hopes of using both to prevent infection after surgery. Erickson said that she was first introduced to the idea of antibiotic resistance while working as a lab aid with Science Teacher Marianne Gudmundsson.

“One of the things I did was [create] E. coli that was penicillin-resistant last year,” Erickson said. “I really liked doing that, so she suggested that I could do independent research and that she would do it with me. She’d be my mentor teacher, [and] it sounded really cool to me.”

Taking the independent research course, according to Erickson, helped her discover more about her future plans and her interest in biological research.

“After doing [the experiment], I want to do [biological research in] my life,” Erickson said. “I want to do research in college and after college, so getting the opportunity to [have an independent study at South] was really amazing.”