This year’s incoming freshmen class was required to complete a summer assignment for their science classes. The freshman had to read a 350-page novel titled “Microbe Hunters” by Paul de Kruif, create a vocabulary list, and write a single-page summary of the book.
According to Dr. Hemal Pathak, the assignment was created not to teach the students information, but rather to help them realize what would be expected of them in their upcoming science classes. The assignment is also part of Writing Across the Curriculum, a policy that Principal Stanley Teitel implemented last year to improve students’ writing by having them write in every major subject class.
“There’s a big transition to be made from eighth grade at a regular middle school to ninth grade at Stuyvesant,” Dr. Pathak said. “Hopefully, students that read the book will learn to appreciate that the facts they see in textbooks, and maybe take for granted, are the results of work done by real, and sometimes very interesting, people.”
The book is a series of 12 short stories about scientists, bacteriologists, doctors and medical technicians who create vaccines to fight off different types of bacteria.
Although the novel is biology-oriented, freshmen taking physics were required to complete the assignment as well.
The idea for the assignment was proposed during a biology department meeting. The teachers were concerned that “students are coming in not really ready to work,” Dr. Pathak said. “Microbe Hunters” was chosen because some of the biology teachers had read it when they were in school.
Some students, however, questioned the effectiveness of the assignment.
“Teachers [shouldn’t] judge the students just by how much work they do on one assignment,” sophomore Wendy Chu said. “Some students will do the minimum, and others will read it cover to cover.”
“There was an overflow of facts so it was sometimes hard to keep track of it all,” freshman Stephanie Yakoubovitch said. “I understand that it’s supposed to be a transition from junior high to high school, but I thought we would have some time to have a vacation from it all.”
Teitel, on the other hand, said that the vacation policy, which prevents teachers from assigning more than a single night’s worth of homework over school vacations, does not apply because summer is 10 weeks long. As a result, students are not exempt from doing summer work. “I do not see [summer vacation] in the same way as a 4 day vacation,” he said.
Freshman Christina Zeng agreed and said that she didn’t mind having to do the assignment. “I’m used to doing summer assignments because my middle school had them too,” she said.
“We had to do a summer assignment [in middle school] where we had to read six books and write a report on them,” Freshman Shearyar Khan said. “This [assignment] was a little bit easier, even though it was 350 pages long.”
In addition to the assignment, the incoming freshmen were also required to take a new science placement test during the first phase of Camp Stuy, held on Thursday, June 4. The purpose of the test was to determine which students would take honors biology or honors physics.
In the past, students who scored within the top 100 on the math placement test were put into the honors biology class. The new science test will place the students in “a more precise way,” Dr. Pathak said. The exam tested students’ knowledge of basic concepts in biology, chemistry, and physics.
Chu said the new placement test is a huge improvement. “Somebody great at math isn’t necessarily great at biology,” she said. “And many people that aren’t so great at math may be great at biology.”
Biology teacher Anne Manwell administered the placement test to some of her honors classes last June in order to create results the department could compare to those of the incoming freshmen.
However, Chu, who took the test in Manwell’s class, said the results might not have been accurate because the test covered more than one subject. As a result, she did not do as well as her teacher expected, despite receiving good grades in the class.
For freshman Patrick Loi, on the other hand, “It wasn’t that hard”. “It was just a mix of all the material that we learned in middle school,” he said.