Written by Lauren Richardson '16, Alumna and Randolph Communications & Marketing Office Consultant
Each year, every student in the Junior class completes what is known as the “I-Search” Project. This is a research paper that is unique to each student in terms of topic, research questions, and research methods. The purpose of the project is to investigate a specific question about oneself, one’s life, or the world. With topics ranging from the benefits of music therapy to ecological conservation to video games, each paper is truly unique to the student who poses just the right question.
“During first semester, students practice annotation and interpretation of literary texts; then they compose personal narratives of description,” describes Upper School English Teacher Jennifer Rossuck.
Over the first two months of second semester, students come up with a unique question, complete research, conduct interviews with relevant experts, visit a place relevant to their research topic, and write all about it, including their own personal thoughts on what they learned during the process.
“The juniors combine analysis and storytelling in an investigation of any question deemed personally significant,” says Rossuck. “The most rewarding thing is hearing their passion for the topics that they have chosen.”
I-Search is created to prepare students for future research, no matter what the topic may be. Next year, they will be writing college-entry essays, and then completing various research projects at the collegiate level. Starting with a project about a topic they are passionate about lays a strong foundation for projects in college and beyond.
Susanna Ryan, Randolph's Interim Upper School Librarian, adds, "My favorite part of the experience is certainly seeing students 'light up' when they talk about their topics. My hope is that this project not only helps prepare them for college but also for life, as it asks them to consider what matters to them and why. It’s not often that high school students get to pair their passions with the practice of scholarly research."
Students from the Class of 2023 shared their personal experiences and reflections regarding the I-Search process.
What does it take to open and sustain a financially successful boutique?
Hannon Bulger chose a niche topic that initially presented some challenges when finding traditional sources, which led to her some alternatives, and ultimately more of an open mind about the research process as a whole:
Before beginning the I-Search process, I expected to learn skills that entirely revolved around how to research and write a paper. To my surprise, these skills were only few of many I was able to obtain. My niche topic of how to successfully open a boutique failed to yield a lot of results in terms of sources, so I decided to go visit Mrs. Ryan, the Upper School Librarian. She was able to point me in a different direction, suggesting I look at general business textbooks the Randolph Library had readily available for student use. These textbooks gave me a solid foundation of business and entrepreneurship that allowed me to understand higher level content about the retail industry. This experience helped me learn the importance of searching for help when needed. Going to visit Mrs. Ryan was something nearly all the juniors did more than once. When researching anything, taking advantage of your resources is crucial. I am so grateful to have had this experience before I go to college because now I feel prepared to tackle any research project and seek out the help of others.
To complete my custom computer, which graphics card would be the best choice and how can I acquire it amid a global shortage?
Finn Dwyer chose to research computer graphics cards for his I-Search Project. In reflecting on the project and his work, Finn explained what he learned throughout the process and how this project has impacted him:
“While the I-Search Project will undoubtedly reveal many pieces of information that were unknown to you prior to your work, as well as challenge many of your preconceptions about your chosen research topic, the most critical knowledge that you will accrue during this experience has to do with yourself as a writer and student. The I-Search brings to light certain habits or tendencies that not only benefit your efforts during the process, but that will also help you strive for greater success in other areas of life. For example, performing my daily work, chipping away at research notes, interviews, site visits, essay paragraphs, citations, and revisions, all helped to show me that I perform at my best when I do my work in small, bite-sized pieces every day. Not once was there an issue with procrastination or rushing to meet deadlines, as everything I needed was submitted on-time or early. I have carried this approach of “chunking” my homework and studies into other schoolwork as well as my preparation for the ACT, and my efforts have been greatly rewarded.”
How was the universe created? Where did it come from, if not God? Is the Big Bang the scientific start to the universe?
Quinn Moore was curious about the origins of the universe, and posed questions about the scientific knowledge on this topic. Quinn echoed Finn’s sentiments on the paper and spoke to the challenges of working through a long-term research project, saying:
“Writing a research paper on this scale was an experience that was nearly entirely new to me, and at first it felt daunting. I have an issue with procrastination that often leads to stress or hard challenges that could have been avoided with a bit of preparation ahead of time. So, a new type of paper that was supposed to be worked on over several months seemed like a recipe for disaster. However, Ms. Rossuck’s schedule, combined with my own excitement about my topic, showed me how to improve my time management. Instead of writing and cramming in work the day or night before a deadline, I would do my research throughout the week, organizing my thoughts and making revisions ahead of the deadlines. While it definitely wasn’t a perfect system, and definitely not a perfect paper, I am very proud of the result and even more proud of myself for the work I did and the maturity with which I did it.”
How does pollution in parks and nature reserves affect local fauna and wildlife? Have environmental conditions in Huntsville gotten better or worse over time?
Abby Conway, who researched conservation and the impact of pollution in Huntsville, discussed the impact the project had on her confidence as a writer:
“Over the course of the I-Search project, I was challenged to become more independent in my writing. We were on our own when it came to topics, sources, and even the outline (to an extent). The I-Search project gave me a chance to make my paper unique in a way that normal research projects couldn’t, but it challenged me to really think about the format, pacing, and clarity of my work. I was constantly forced to adapt and change my paper with the flow of new information, and while I struggled at first with the added expectations, I was quickly able to find my voice and no longer needed to rely on the rigid structure of past assignments. Looking back on my work, I think it’s safe to say that the I-Search helped me come out of my shell as both a writer and researcher, giving me the independence and confidence to create a paper I genuinely enjoyed.”