Replicating a Successful Authentic Science Research Program: An Interview with Dr. Robert Pavlica
Robinson, George, Journal of Secondary Gifted Education
In this interview, Dr. Robert Pavlica discusses the Byram Hills High School Authentic Science Program, which he founded and directs. This program has been replicated in school districts throughout the country, and the expense to start and maintain it is minimal. Students are self-selected into the program based on their desire to study and succeed, not on their grade-point average. By undertaking this 3-year program, students learn not just about science, but how to do science like a practitioner in the field. First, students identify a topic they wish to investigate by doing an extensive review of articles. Then, they find a mentor to help them do research on their topic. Finally, students publish their results. In 2004, Byram Hills High School, which has only 600 students, was tied for first place in the nation with respect to the number of finalists and semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Research Competition.
The Authentic Science Research Program at Byram Hills, founded by Dr. Robert Pavlica, has been replicated in more than 170 school districts in the state of New York, as well as in districts in five other states. Dr. Pavlica's success can be attributed to student choice, a unique mentor program, and a spiral curriculum. Results of the 2002 Intel Science Talent Research Competition, which were released after this interview took place, reported that Byram Hills High School, which has a student body of only 600, had eight semifinalists and one student who went on to become a finalist.
JSGE: In 2001, your students achieved great recognition. Would you tell us about them?
Dr. Pavlica: At Byram Hills High School we have approximately 600 students. It's the traditional public school. It's not a magnet school. There are 73 students in the Science Research Program. That's more than 10% of the school doing science research. And, if you think about it, that's more students doing science research than are on the varsity football or basketball team. These students are the future of our country. Well, this year, I had nine seniors, and they all, as part of the course requirements in Authentic Science Research, entered the Intel Science Search. Of the nine seniors, seven of them were chosen to be semifinalists and three of the seven were chosen as finalists, which represents the highest amount of finalist of any school in America. This success that I am talking about is doable in other schools.
JSGE: You're saying that your Science Research Program is replicable?
Dr. Pavlica: It's quite replicable. One of my roles as the academic director of Authentic Science Research in the high school is to teach teachers across the country how to replicate this program within their classes. Presently, in New York State, there are more than 170 school districts using the program. In addition, the program is being replicated in Missouri, California, Florida, New Jersey, and Connecticut. There are textbooks that supplement the training for teachers and there are textbooks for the students. It's highly replicable. In fact, New York State's Sharing Success Programs adopted my program as the model for the state.
JSGE: Where did the idea for this program come from?
Dr. Pavlica: That's a good question and a very interesting one. Twelve years ago, I was teaching AP Biology, and a student in my class, Abe Shahim, came up to me and he said, "Dr. Pavlica, I have taken every AP course that Byram Hills has to offer. I'm taking AP Biology now. I've taken AP Chemistry. I've taken AP Physics at Purchase College. I've taken AP Calculus." He went on about his AP courses, and then he said, "I don't know a damn thing about science."
I looked at him and I said, "Abe, what do you mean?"
And he said, "All I've ever done in my life is be a good student--meaning I listened to what the teacher told me, then I memorized what the teacher told me, and then on the next exam I wrote down what the teacher told me. …