UPDATE: Evelyn was honored with the Rising Star Award at Broadcom MASTERS! She will represent the Unites States as Broadcom MASTERS International delegate and will travel with the Colorado Science Fair's delegation as a student observer to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in May 2016. These rising stars will be among a select group of Broadcom MASTERS International delegates from around the world.
Evelyn Bodoni wasn't interested in building a mock volcano or creating a foam-ball model of the solar system for her school's science fair.
Instead, the 13-year-old 8th-grader from the Challenge School wanted to tackle deep-seated ethical issues. Bodoni was interested in exploring a difficult question rooted in the behavioral sciences, a quandary that's touched anyone who's ever occupied a desk in any kind of classroom setting.
"I've seen in the classroom some students who have cheated and I always felt like it was wrong," Bodoni said. "Most people believe that only struggling students cheat, but that's not true. My study was designed to investigate the prevalence of cheating in my school and some of the reasons that motivate students to engage in this behavior."
In other words, Bodoni wanted to conduct a behavioral science experiment to get to the root cause of cheating for students of all backgrounds and success levels. In addition to conducting plenty of background research, Bodoni set up her own experimental test situation. She gave a 10-question test covering math, science, history and other subjects to one control group and three experimental groups. Here's the twist: the answers were printed on the back, giving test-takers an easy cheating option.
In the reward group, participants were promised a simple prize for a good score. In the positive peer pressure group, the environment included students who discouraged cheating, while the opposite was true in the negative peer pressure group.
"The peer pressure is so essential to young people's behavior. They see others setting positive or negative examples, and it could change their behavior."
-- Evelyn Bodoni, Challenge School student and Broadcom MASTERS winner
The results indicated the heavy influence of such factors on the prevalence of cheating. For those promised the seemingly insignificant rewards of a fancy pen, the temptation was great – 81 percent of that group looked at the back of the test or discussed the answers with the rest of the group. Positive peer pressure had the opposite effect – only 19 percent of that group peeked. The negative peer pressure had its own effect, with 69 percent of the test-takers cheating. All of these results compare to the test group, where 40 percent snuck a look at the back of the test.
For Bodoni, all of the data helped clarify her questions about the motivations behind cheating.
"I concluded that cheating is not only detrimental to the student, because they won't learn the material, but to society as a whole," Bodoni said. "The peer pressure is so essential to young people's behavior. They see others setting positive or negative examples, and it could change their behavior."
Bodoni wasn't the only one impressed by the results of her experiment. She's a finalist in the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars) competition, a national contest that recognizes outstanding middle-school student achievement in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
As one of only 30 finalists for prizes totaling up to $25,000, Bodoni will travel to California next week to compete with students from across the country. During the event, Bodoni will present her findings and participate in high-level STEM activities.
It all stemmed from Bodoni's simple concerns about the impact of some of her fellow students taking the easy route when it comes to education. She credits her investigation in part to the discipline and ethics she picked up as a student at the Challenge School, where she's been enrolled since kindergarten.
"I feel like Challenge has taught me a lot about how to be organized and meticulous," she said. "It's shaped me in to a better person. I've learned so much here. The school has taught me that grades are important, but also that learning is very important. They stress learning here."
As for the possibility of impressive rewards at the competition in California, Bodoni is taking a page from her experiment. She won't let the possibility of prizes impact her academic integrity, she insists, and she's intent on looking in to other important issues for future science projects. Beyond her middle-school and high-school career, Bodoni is considering becoming a lawyer. It's the best way to make sure her ethical concerns make a real difference, she said.
"I believe strongly in ethics, and I want to make a positive impact later in life," she said.