Science is an area of study that has the potential to be incredibly open-ended for students in school. It presents immeasurable opportunities for students to not only learn new things about scientific topics, but to strengthen research skills that apply to life outside of the classroom.

Dayton’s independent science classes are witnessing exactly that.

Independent Marine Biology is a science class taught by Carrie Carden, introduced for Dayton High School students last year. In this class, students have the resources, time, and freedom to delve into any marine topics they want to. These topics can range from studying the ocean at the complex time of Earth’s conception, to simply learning more about an interesting deep sea creature. All the same, students are surpassing conventional school expectations with their research projects.

In the beginning, the high school offered a few advanced science electives for interested students who weren’t in need of the credit. Today, Marine Biology is an independent, credited science class for students from all different educational backgrounds and levels of interest.

In Marine Biology, students have the opportunity to pursue projects that take them anywhere from two weeks to months to complete. This flexibility allows room for a wide variety of different projects, all with the potential for students to integrate subjects outside of marine biology – like math, or even art.

Last year, a student painted a poster detailing a collection of coral reef fish and their diverse color patterns. Along with this, she also wrote a thorough research essay on the history of these fish, including how evolutionary patterns gave them such vibrant pigments. This essay required that she studied data sets and statistics, which incorporated math into her project. These elements made her project, as well as her learning experience, unique. It wasn’t something she could’ve completed in a structured science class.

In any one of these student research projects, students must seek out reputable information, analyze data sets, and interpret research. By learning independently, students can receive skills applicable to areas of study that stretch far beyond marine science. Mrs. Carden says: “Every high school in Oregon should have science classes that focus more on students’ interests.” This truth becomes clear when witnessing what students are capable of learning amongst themselves as well as each other.

There is a core concept in allowing students these independent educational opportunities, which is respect. Independent classes value students’ interests, rather than their ability to follow direction. This mutual respect from teacher to student is a crucial piece of Dayton School District’s culture.

At Dayton, student interest is seen as an important piece of any learning process. Because of this understanding, the school has become a beacon for student-led learning. As Dayton continues to reshape and reimagine education, students will continue finding new and inventive ways to develop their own academic paths.

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.