Taking high school scientific research to next level

high school scientific research expedition

Maya, on the far left, was the first SRHS student to go on a field trip, seen here in Honduras

An innovative scheme that promotes scientific research in American high schools (SRHS) is taking the course to the next level by linking up with Operation Wallacea to enable students to include field work as part of their studies. Students will have the opportunity to undertake research work at one of 25 sites across 11 different countries.

The scheme is run in New York State and nearby New Jersey and Connecticut, enabling well over 500 high school students annually to undertake real scientific research to a high level. The course is open to a broad spectrum of the student body.

Starting out

Students begin by choosing a scientific topic of interest. They read extensively on their chosen topic, first from commonly available literature and then from peer reviewed journals. In this early intensive reading stage they also develop skills in bibliographic research, database usage and Internet communications.

As the students progress in their journal readings, they choose an article of particular interest and present it to the class. Their presentation must include a review of literature, a hypothesis or problem statement, methodology and materials used, analysis of results obtained, and a discussion on the author’s conclusion.

The scheme enables well over 500 high school students annually to undertake real scientific research to a high level

This presentation is followed by a class discussion with questions on the article and comments on the student’s presentation skills. This makes the scientific method, which is the essence of the course, explicit for the presenter and the class.

As the students become quite knowledgeable about their topics, two significant events typically happen in no specific order. Questions begin to arise that are not yet answered in the readings. The students focus on a few researchers who are currently predominant or well known in the chosen topic.

The students then prepare statements of what they intend to study based on their bibliographic research. They may even propose a tentative hypothesis at this time.


Honduras expedition

Students will undertake research work at one of 25 sites across 11 different countries

Students are then encouraged to contact the authors of those articles of particular interest. They ask for answers to the questions that they have come up with. They also ask for suggestions for future research that they might undertake. As their relationship with the scientist develops, they ask the scientist to serve as a mentor or to help them find an appropriate scientist mentor to assist them in carrying out a research project.

Students then engage in an original research project under the guidance of their scientist mentor and their classroom research teacher. During this time the student reports back to the class on a regular basis. This keeps the whole class aware of their classmate’s progress and gives the other class members a chance to participate, if only vicariously for the moment, in one another’s research.

Students also must make presentations of their findings to their school district at local year’s end symposia. They also attempt to enter various student research competitions. Often, with the aid of the mentor, they publish their findings.

Throughout the course, each student keeps a detailed logbook/lab notebook of all research related work. In addition to this, each student builds a loose-leaf bound portfolio during tenure in the class. This contains all of the bibliographic searches, readings, communications, presentations and other materials as deemed fit by the instructor.


The Science Research in the High School course was designed by Dr Robert Pavlica of Byram Hills High School in Armonk, New York. Dr Daniel Wulff and Leonard Behr of the University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY) worked with Robert through the 1990s in developing and disseminating the course. Dr Pavlica died after a protracted illness in 2007. Continued development lies with the more than one hundred teachers who have implemented successful research courses in their schools and with Leonard Behr and Daniel Wulff who continue to share information on best practices with all of them. 

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