Long Beach IB Students Conquer Advanced Research Topics Based on Scholarly Interests

Senior year of high school is filled with many social milestones for students: prom, driver’s licenses, increased independence and fun with friends. For more than 60 Long Beach High School seniors, these traditional milestones co-exist with the demanding academic work of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. These IB Diploma candidates are completing the Extended Essay, a 4,000-word paper with topics which may sound like doctoral theses to those unfamiliar with IB.

Here is a sampling of the challenging topics that this year’s Long Beach IB Diploma candidates researched:

•    How is Kurt Vonnegut’s style effective for conveying the theme of religion as a means of control in “Cat’s Cradle?” - Jennifer Arnaud    
•    To what extent was anti-Semitism in the United States’ responsible for an ineffective response to the persecution of Jewish people from 1930 to 1945? - Eric Ricci
•    What is the comparison between the botanical diversity of artificially treated lawns to natural lawns using DNA barcoding? - Melissa Baldeo                

IB Diploma candidates are introduced to the Extended Essay process during their junior year and wrap it up by the midpoint of their senior year. With graduation on the horizon, each Class of 2017 Diploma Program candidate has successfully completed an essay that corresponds with one of their IB courses, such as Environmental Systems and Societies, English or Visual Arts.

Some of this year’s seniors chose to write papers related to their future aspirations. For Iain Wall, who researched artist Wassily Kandinsky, the experience supported his plans to study art in college by requiring him to analyze art techniques and describe them in depth. Kaitlyn Murphy, who discussed the effect of allusions in Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor &  Park,” shared that she is considering a career path in editing. After multiple visits to rural Mexico, Fey Villagomez, who plans to major in agricultural and biological engineering in college, chose to investigate the question “How does the addition of chitosan to a PVA based hydrogel affect the amount of iron and copper ions adsorbed from water?”

Other students took advantage of the opportunity that the Extended Essay offered to delve deeper into the IB program’s curriculum. Christian Jovel-Arias addressed the research question, “To what extent did ethnic superiority play a role in the Rape of Nanking?” after learning about the topic in his History of the Americas class. Cassidy Zawatson welcomed the chance to investigate the relationship between two areas that interest her – sports and politics – for her history essay, which involved the Olympic Games of the 1980s. Mashiyat Ahmed compared organic and conventional farming in her essay, after finding inspiration in previous research she conducted that investigated reversing the effects of global warming.
Students like Robert Del Prete (who investigated the question, “How do the characterization and conflicts of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes shed light on Holmes’ spectrum disorder?”) saw the essay as a chance to combine their personal interests with their areas of IB study. Sam Miller incorporated his interest in the rock band Queen by analyzing the song “Bicycle Race” for its effects of rhythm, melody and harmony.

Reflecting on the past year’s work, the seniors shared some of the individual obstacles they encountered. Robert faced the logistical difficulties of narrowing the dozens of short stories he had read down to three for his essay. In addition, “[structuring his essay] was a long process that involved making each short story connect into one essay with common themes and organized thoughts.”  Fey discussed the challenges of modifying pieces of other procedures and determining how to carry them out in a high school laboratory setting. “It was a big learning process in figuring out what works,” she said.     
Completing this process requires persistent effort not only for these students, but for the team of faculty members who guide them through it. Each student is assigned a mentor: typically a teacher from the department that houses their subject area. They check in with them at different stages via email or during in-person meetings at school. “It’s a good way to involve teachers from different grade levels in the IB Diploma Program,” said Extended Essay Coordinator Toni Weiss.

Students are also encouraged to attend workshops that are held in the summer prior to their senior year. Led by Ms. Weiss and IB Coordinator Jennifer Quinn, these sessions are offered at the high school as well as the Long Beach Public Library as a way to further the research they began in their junior year and to kick off the composition stage of their essays.

In the final leg of their Extended Essay process, members of the Class of 2017 benefited from the district’s technology initiatives. Thanks to the efforts of the school’s library staff, their avenue of research expanded to include the invaluable Questia Schools database. Drafting their essays and sharing each stage with their mentors became even easier due to the students’ acquisition of Chromebooks, funded through the Smart Schools Bond Act.

Now, with this momentous journey behind them, the seniors are able to offer advice to younger peers who are just getting started. “Make yourself aware of what’s required and of certain guidelines,” said Cassidy. “It’s easier if you plan in the summer,” said Mashiyat, adding that students should “figure out a topic and start the research, [and then] make a skeleton outline with headings and subheadings.” When it comes to editing, Kaitlyn suggests, “Read your work aloud, especially in sections, so you’ll hear errors.”

The students in the IB Diploma Class of 2017 expressed gratitude for the experience of participating in such a significant project. Rather than viewing their senior year as “light” in academics, these students accepted the challenge of reading academic journals, analyzing documents and conducting research. They are well prepared to enter the next chapter of their academic careers. According to Ms. Quinn, “We expect great things from these students in the years ahead—they may well become the scholars and experts of the future!”