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Middle school students explore their interests through independent research projects

Middle school students explore their interests through independent research projects
Middle school students explore their interests through independent research projects

You may have heard the term before, but what is a blockchain? What is money worth in the metaverse? What is the actual value of an NFT?

These are the questions Isa asked herself as she embarked on a project-based research project that would carry on throughout her 7th grade year at Harpeth Hall. Isa knew that real estate prices in Nashville skyrocketed over the last 10 years, and, at the same time, companies began selling virtual land in metaverses. She wanted to find out more.

“We know how to value properties in the real world,” Isa said, “but how do you put a price tag on land in a world that lives on a server?”

Through the Scholars Engaged in Extending Knowledge (SEEK) program, Isa worked with her mentor, middle school social studies teacher Cathy Richarde, to create an educational website resource that helps unpack the complicated digital real estate landscape.

For the past 18 years, Harpeth Hall has encouraged 7th and 8th grade students like Isa to further explore their academic curiosities through SEEK. This year, 24 middle school students participated in the premier program. They built codes and websites, filmed documentaries, recorded podcasts, wrote plays, told a story through a quilt, and so much more. The astonishing results of the SEEK students’ research show that nothing can limit the curiosity of a Harpeth Hall girl. 

A SEEK student first enters the program with the desire to know more about a topic not covered in the middle school curriculum. She works with a faculty mentor or an expert in the field who helps her formulate questions and guide her research. All scholars complete a final product that they present to a faculty committee as well as the middle school student body.

The evolution of technology in the digital world also inspired 8th grade student Piper Thompson. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) inspired Piper to write code to create her own AI machine. She researched the advantages and disadvantages of AI. She also independently worked through the curriculum of the upper school’s Introduction to Computer Sciences class, teaching herself how to learn Python, a programming language. She then built a program composed of approximately 500 lines of code that can play tic-tac-toe against a human opponent by blocking the human’s twos in a row and prioritizing moves that will increase the computer’s chance of winning.

"Throughout the SEEK process, I strengthened my ability to persevere through challenges," Piper said. "For example, one of errors I had to debug in my code took over two hours to fix. Once my code was working correctly, I felt accomplished and was glad I didn’t stop trying. Taking this experience with me, I will be able to have a stronger resolve against challenges in the future."

This innovative program encourages interdisciplinary modes of thinking to help students develop knowledge, empathy, and the capacities with which to act. Through SEEK, students build upon the academic foundation learned at Harpeth Hall in real-world situations that will help them thrive in college and beyond.

Visit our SEEK website to learn more about the work produced by our scholars.