After hearing students complain that the tone of a new school bell was disruptive to learning at Huntley High School, sophomore Kyle Ockerlund decided to investigate -- scientifically.
As the founder of the school's experimental science society, Kyle devised tests to measure concentration. His findings, which the school administration vows to follow, determined that students exposed to the sound of the new bell did worse on tests.
"The pitch is noticeably higher," said Kyle, 16, of Lake in the Hills, who was bothered when the bell rang out during his roughly 90-minute Advanced Placement chemistry class.
"We have to stay in class through the passing period bell," he said. "When that bell goes off in full volume in a silent room it is a very piercing sound."
So Kyle worked with science club members and teachers to develop and administer concentration tests to a group of 50 freshmen while playing the old and new bell sounds. And within a 0.1 level of significance, he showed student performance was adversely affected by the new bell.
"We found a statistically significant difference," said Kyle, who also is taking an AP statistics class, "that the new bell does in fact lead to a decrease -- 10 percent -- in student concentration."
Students took 8 seconds longer on average to complete the test when the new bell was sounded, he added.
The new bell was part of an upgrade to Huntley High School's public address system completed during spring break.
"I didn't realize it was an issue," said Principal Scott Rowe. "Nothing that I really noticed other than it being slightly louder. I've received no complaints other than his study. It was really enlightening that his results came out the way that they did."
Administrators are using Kyle's research as a guide and will get his input on what tone is optimal for student learning, he added.
"He is an amazing kid," Rowe said. "We are really trying to give our students a voice. We want them to feel ownership in our school and want to create a communication pathway from students to the administration. This is an example of how our school will receive some positive change because of how our student took this upon himself. Hopefully, we can find a tone that sounds good."
Kyle, who recently published a book on TI-BASIC, the programming language used by Texas Instruments graphing calculators, said the ability to pursue research and have it effect a change is a testament to the school's culture.
"I didn't expect anything," Kyle said. "Certainly the response was more than welcoming, more than I had imagined it would be. We're basically working together to get it switched. That's extremely exciting."