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Prep Magazine: Harnessing the Power Within

Prep Magazine: Harnessing the Power Within

Above: Brendan Cirino ’27 (left) and Bryan Henroid ’27 at the Grade 8 Science Showcase.

Harnessing the Power Within

PBL is short for project-based learning, a teaching method that allows students to drive their own acquisition of skills by engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. The goal for this science unit? For students to encounter and internalize enduring, good-for-the-earth behaviors that they—and adults, for that matter—can employ in their everyday lives. PBL is jam-packed with research-oriented skill set development and puts a premium on student voice and choice, data-based investigation, collaboration, iterative design thinking, and communication.

“The overarching question we ask students to answer is, ‘Why should I care about this?’” says Davendonis. “We want them to find a way to make climate change—which can be scary or existential, or something people can be skeptical of—meaningful and real based on their experience and individual interests. You don’t have to be a hardcore environmentalist to want fewer plastics in the oceans and in our bodies. Or, to want cleaner air and cleaner water or reliable, sustainable food sources, or access to energy and a good quality of life. You can simply be an informed citizen trying to make things better for everybody, which closely aligns with the Xaverian values.”

In preparation for the six-week research experience’s culminating event—a public showcase on campus—one student might study tidal power, while another might examine wind energy. Their subject matter is different, but the skills they develop and employ bring about parallel work around a common theme. Each individual experience, however, is unique to that student’s interest and the research they perform. A student who enjoys fishing with his family might investigate climatological impacts on the seafood industry or local beaches. Another who’s an avid skier could explore how a changing climate is impacting snowpack in New England. Almost any climate-related link is fair game. Like researching the economic implications of the corporate divestment movement or the financial impacts of insufficient coastal infrastructure, or private and commercial property threatened by sea level rise.

“We examine various types of sources, we look at long-term datasets, and live datasets,” says Davendonis. “Students might look at ocean acidification levels or ocean temperature data from buoys out in the Pacific Ocean. We meet with [our librarian] Ms. Muhilly, who explains how to use those databases that the library has access to. We mobilize a lot of fundamental graphing and data-visualization, which builds on the work they did with variables and data collection in seventh grade.”

Brendan Cirino ’27 (left) and Bryan Henroid ’27 at the Grade 8 Science Showcase.

For the 2023 Showcase, collaborators Cormac Barry ’27 and Devlin Murphy ’27 demonstrated the impact of tourism on Icelandic glaciers. Classmate Peter Manning ’27 spotlighted advances in geothermal power plant technology. Meanwhile, project partners Brendan Cirino ’27 and Bryan Henroid ’27 learned about micro wind turbines, which are smaller versions (typically between five and 10 feet tall) of commercial turbines that can be placed on houses or in a field. “They’re mostly used in rural communities that can’t be connected to a power grid, so they’re replacing diesel generators, which cause a lot of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere,” says Henroid.

The duo’s biggest challenge for their presentation was proof-of-concept. They designed a turbine that would drive a motor to light up a Christmas tree bulb, but the electricity transfer step failed until the last of multiple attempts at constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing the power station. Ultimately, their perseverance paid off with a eureka moment just in time for the public showcase open to the Prep community.

“To present to adults in the community, they really have to know their subject and be prepared to answer questions; that adds a little healthy pressure,” says Davendonis. “They have to distill the message they want to share and believe will be most impactful to the audience following weeks of research, revising ideas, and pivoting when they reach a dead end. Obviously, there’s a ton of skills required for that as well.”