Independent Study Presentations Kickoff!

Independent Study Presentations Kickoff!

Simon Schackner, Staff Writer

Functions and syntax trees: Acharjee unites math and linguistics

Dylan Acharjee (12) conducted their first Independent Study Project (ISP) presentation this Thursday on the intersections between math and linguistics and how their commonalities are used as foundations for our world.

Linguistics, which is the study of language and its structure, uses mathematics as its logic, Acharjee said. The logic behind math functions and the format in which they are written is quite similar to the grammatical structure of common global languages, they said.

Their presentation was on syntax, the structure that is used to make comprehensible sentences. “It turns out that syntax is quite a mathematical topic,” they said. In their presentation, they explained and taught people how to make syntax trees, which display the bases of sentence structure.

Acharjee began the presentation by explaining the definition of a syntax tree and showing a diagram of how parts of a sentence, such as nouns and verbs, come together to create the whole.

Additionally, they taught the class about determiners, which are articles and possessive pronouns that refer to specific nouns. For the first half of the project, they explained in-depth the basics of grammar, they said.

After that, Acharjee provided example sentences to their peers so they could practice creating syntax trees. “Syntax trees help us better understand how to make grammatically correct sentences,” they said. To close the presentation, they explained how syntax, and the way that sentences are structured, relates to mathematical principles.

Thus far, Acharjee has enjoyed exploring this connection between the two fields, rather than studying them independently from one another, they said. “Although I could study linguistics and mathematics separately, if I can study how these fields intertwine and intersect, that would result in a much more intriguing topic for me to spend the year investigating.”

The ISP course offering was the perfect opportunity for Acharjee to pursue their interests through a course at the school, they said. “The fact that I get to study math and linguistics at the same time and for an academic credit is just amazing.”

In preparation for the course, Acharjee participated in an online class about linguistics that was offered through Udemy, a site that allows instructors to build and offer courses based on their personal interests, they said. It taught them the basics of linguistics, a great starting point for their ISP research, Acharjee said.

Acharjee also took an online course on logic and mathematical reasoning through Brilliant, a not-for-profit website that offers STEM-based courses and interactive lessons, they said. Aside from these programs, they have relied heavily on the school databases and Google searches to lay the foundations for the project. “This is still the very early stages of my project,” they said. “I am still doing a lot of surface-level stuff at the moment.”

Acharjee ultimately hopes to create a new language with their knowledge of math and linguistics. However, the year-long project is not fully fleshed out yet. Every week, they meet with math teacher Brianne Gzik to discuss what they want to do in the following week. “I like to set goals that are accomplishable and stay relevant to my topic,” Acharjee said. In the first few weeks, that meant researching the idea of syntax, which is the logic behind how sets of words are used and put together to form comprehensible statements, they said.

It has been difficult to maintain a schedule and stay on top of goals, especially without a definitive timetable, they said. Vague tasks are challenging to follow through with, even if there is a certain end goal in mind. So, working with their mentor to make as strict of a schedule as possible has been a priority. “If you give me a specific, detailed task, I will dive in and know what to do,” Acharjee said. “I’ve been trying to make those for myself every week.”

Acharjee had been interested in mathematics and linguistics long before this project, they said. Their father is a mathematician, and they have been passionate about math from a very young age, they said. Since preschool, they studied math with their father outside of school and loved learning about math ahead of their grade level.

The linguistics side of the project was inspired by their mother, a native Bulgarian speaker. Acharjee, who wanted to learn the language, began to work with a tutor and realized that they were fascinated with how the participles and grammar structures of Bulgarian compared to that of the English language. “It wasn’t about the end goal of knowing the language; it was about the process of getting there,” they said.


Highlighting disabled voices: Mavrides-Calderón investigates accessibility in education

This Thursday, Isabel Mavrides-Calderón (11) conducted her first Independent Study Project (ISP) presentation on the accessibility of education in U.S. public school systems before and after the pandemic. She hopes to focus on the issues that face disabled students, whose experiences are often under-represented, she said. 

During the presentation, she discussed the first interview she conducted for her project — a conversation with a public school student who wished to remain anonymous and was given the name Taylor for the presentation, with whom she discussed their experience of remote learning before and after the pandemic.

According to the presentation, Taylor, a student of the San Diego Public School system, had received straight A’s in ninth grade but was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a chronic stomach condition, in 10th grade. Throughout her time in the hospital, the school did not allow her to join classes over Zoom, claiming that it would take away from other students’ education. 

During the pandemic, Taylor was able to rejoin school via virtual learning, which was offered to everyone. However, since virtual learning is not an option this year and Taylor cannot risk her immune system, she was again left with no way to attend school. 

Mavrides-Calderón wanted her presentation to make clear the flaws in the legal protections for disabled people. “There are so many loopholes in legislation that can make it hard for disabled students to have accessibility to education,” she said. For example, the law says that accommodations must be made for disabled students as long as it is not a burden on the school. This term is broad and can be interpreted in so many ways, she said.

For Mavrides-Calderón, her project is part of her engagement in the disability rights movement, which she has been involved in for a few years. After suffering from back injuries and ultimately being diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, she quickly began to realize how those with disabilities are often mistreated, she said.

She has organized protests for disability rights and educates the public through social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter.

During the pandemic, remote learning options that were historically denied to disabled students became available to everyone, she said. The realization that remote learning is possible and that it can be consistently offered is a huge step forward for disabled accessibility in education. Before the pandemic, if a disabled person was stuck in the hospital, they would not receive any sort of remote learning, Mavrides-Calderón said. Now that it has become an option for all students, she wants to learn why it took a pandemic for this change to come and how we can use what has happened to further disability rights as life goes back to normal, she said.

Mavrides-Calderón is working with Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, who is her official faculty advisor. She feels fortunate to have worked with him on this because he knows a lot of information about the policy that deals with disabled students, whether it is at this school or others, she said. He has shown interest in Mavrides-Calderón’s activism outside of the ISP and asked to attend a conference about disabled rights that Mavrides-Calderón organized with the ACLU. “He has also given me access to disabled students of Horace Mann to interview,” she said.

At the end of the course, Mavrides-Calderón hopes to complete a full research paper about her topic by gathering information from interviewing disabled students and their experiences with accessibility. “From all my experiences working for disabled rights, I have never heard anything from the disabled kids’ perspective,” she said. “I want to amplify their voices through my work.” 

Along with the research paper, Mavrides-Calderón hopes to propose a new policy regarding accessibility, she said. To accomplish this, she has been reading Federal laws and policies, notably the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which aimed to protect civil rights for those disabled. She also read the book Disability Visibility, a collection of stories about people’s experiences dealing with disabilities.

Out of the entire project, Mavrides-Calderón has most enjoyed the interviewing process, which she feels has opened her eyes to the difficulties that disabled people face in the public school system. 

Although disabled herself, coming from the school makes it hard to understand the entirety of the problems that most disabled people face. “Through interviewing, I’m really uncovering a unique, unheard perspective,” she said.