Every year, based on their interests, each senior undertakes an independent research project that culminates in an essay, an activity (usually related), and an oral report. Seniors strengthen skills that last a lifetime—including the ability to think for themselves and work on their own. Examples this year include everything from qualifying for a pilot’s license to investigating the issue of fracking.

This year’s Senior Project Presentations will be held Saturday, February 27 from 9am-2pm in the PWHS Music Room.

Below are excerpts of reports written by two of our seniors about their projects originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of our High School Newsletter:

Cardiology Research, by Sydney Churchill

Last summer, knowing I wanted to intern at a lab and conduct research for my Senior Project, I spoke with a cardiologist about opportunities for high school students at Oregon Health and Science University. He put me in contact with a lab that often has high school students working in it, and I began the process of becoming certified to conduct research at OHSU, taking online courses on the ethical guidelines around research, completing paperwork and attending an orientation. Then I began.

The first day I was intimidated. The high school and college interns had already begun their summer research and they moved around the small lab with a strong sense of purpose, suturing plastic models into pig hearts, imaging these hearts with ultrasound machines and analyzing futuristic-looking data on computers. I thought I was out of my league. After talking with my mentor, Dr. Muhammed Ashraf, two other high school students and I formed a research team to research ultrasound imaging of aortic stenosis. Aortic stenosis is the narrowing of the blood vessel (the aorta) that supplies our bodies with oxygen-rich blood. We compared two- and three-dimensional ultrasound in their ability to accurately classify this narrowing of the aorta.

First we built a model to fit inside dead pig hearts that would mimic the narrowing of the aorta. This challenge, building nine different-sized polyethylene models, reminded me of the various craft and woodworking projects I had done at Waldorf. The patience required to glue balloons to polyethylene tubes took me back to the skills I learned in Mrs. Pomeroy’s bookbinding class. When these models were complete, we sutured them into the pig hearts. Suturing reminded me of the minute stitches I’d used on the dolls we’d made in 7th Grade and on the felt animals we’d made in 6th Grade.
Then we hooked the hearts up to a pulsatile pump that pumped water through them in the rhythmic way blood flows through our hearts. The hearts had to be hooked at just the right angle to properly image the heart. I was right at home once again, reminded of the visualization and planning of angles I had been taught by Mr. Myers when I made my mechanical tool work in 8th Grade and my dove-tail box in 10th Grade. Once the hearts were hooked up to the pump, we imaged them using an ultrasound.

The ultrasound machine consists of a screen as well as a small probe attached by a cord. The angles required to image an object tend not to be intuitive; once again I was helped by my Waldorf education. Perspective Drawing in 7th Grade and the Alternative Geometries block in high school were at my disposal and I could picture the necessary angles. After imaging nine hearts, we analyzed the images and data we had collected, wrote a scientific abstract outlining our results and submitted it to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

When the study was complete, I thought back to the first day, and how intimidated I had been. All the skills I had learned throughout my years at Portland Waldorf School allowed me to adapt to a challenging research environment, provided me with useful skills, and allowed me to complete the Senior Project of my dreams.

Sydney hopes to go to medical school, specifically an MD/PhD program which would allow her to learn about both medical research and clinical medicine.

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A Music Education Project, by John Paul Takacs

Over the past several years I have developed what I would consider a healthy addiction to music. When the time came to commit to a senior project I knew that I wanted to incorporate my love of music and in particular jazz improvisation and theory. I also enjoy teaching and striving to find creative and individually tailored ways to present information, so a project in music education was the perfect fit.

I value the integration of subjects and the ways in which we are exposed to diverse curriculum material at PWS. My goal in this project was to learn how to structure private and group lessons in a way that would be fun for students but also challenging and fast-paced. I wanted to organize material that was age-appropriate and with a good progression of theoretical and musical concepts. I already had the beginnings of an understanding concerning this, but my classroom management skills were severely underdeveloped, as my work with an after school band last spring illustrated. I took what I learned from that experience and applied it to the group of students I am working with now.

I have gained the most insight through teaching private music lessons. It’s fascinating how profoundly different students are. I never teach the same lesson twice. There is nowhere near as much lesson planning possible as I had expected, but rather, excessive preparedness to assure I can meet whatever needs arise. I try to integrate theory at every opportunity in a way that isn’t intimidating. If I introduce something such as the relationship between seventh chords and their relative major keys and how to deduce the proper pitches to play against a chord progression, it often slips into their subconscious, then pops up with relative ease.

I try to keep everything as clear as possible. It is so different to play with someone and listen to their tone, watch how they are breathing, and ensure that they are using the correct valves or slide positions, rather than simply play the song next to them. It is different to play in a guiding rather than a leading way. I don’t want a student to become dependent on my slide positions, so I do what I can to help them feel confident on the instrument. Through confidence they increase their airflow and thus their quality of tone.

I am very happy that the logistics of my project have worked out so well. I was concerned that I might not have a large enough student body at first. Thankfully enough young musicians have taken up lessons. I find I have almost no time left for anything else during weekdays. As hectic as this has made my schedule, it is rewarding and worth all the time spent, not only with the students but at home spending hours arranging pieces of music and writing out parts specifically tailored to the needs of individual students.

John Paul plans to pursue a career as a music and anatomy/physiology teacher. He has been accepted to Pacific University and hopes to double major in music education and pre-medicine.