Children are naturally curious about how the world works, from stars to their little red blood cells. We have notable strengths in meeting students’ curiosity in our science curriculum. That curriculum is of our own design. Our youngest students in grades early K through 2 benefit from the educational backgrounds of teachers Katie Bushma and Arielle Lane. Arielle has 7 years’ experience in teaching young children; Katie is a new teacher with depth and enthusiasm. In teaching the older students, Lou Ellen Kay (PhD, biology, City University of New York) and Vincent Gutschick (PhD, chemistry, Caltech) draw on their deep backgrounds that cover core areas of the sciences. Vince has been cited in a Stanford-led study as currently ranking in the top 2% of scientists worldwide. They both draw as well as on their decades of experience teaching students at levels from elementary through graduate school – over 30 years, each. They also draw on our remarkable scientific equipment and supplies, originating in Lou Ellen and Vince’s long research careers, supplemented by current purchases. The remarkable resources include a vacuum chamber, a spectroradiometer, Geiger counter, hydroponic plant-growth systems, a full array of electronics parts and equipment, a variety of fossils and bones, model rockets, dissecting and staged microscopes, a high-speed camera. and more.
Our teachers have academic freedom, developing their own curricula, not hemmed in by any standard curriculum that cuts inquiry short. We all use elements of the Socratic method, posing questions for the students to create their own framework of knowledge. Students often propose topics, with teachers working in suggestions that build interest. Students have science in 4 to 6 periods each week in the current schedule (we adapted to fewer, longer periods during earlier, more restrictive precautions for COVID-19).
In the early grades, Arielle and Katie introduce topics in an order than keeps student interested, moving, for example, from the geology and geography of continents and oceans to astronomy – the planets by name, order, and orbital period; stars from birth to death; constellations – to how plants develop and grow.
In grades 3-5, Lou Ellen expands lectures with copious imagery – textbook figures, images from scientific journals, videos – as well as class discussions and hands-on work. For the latter, she draws on our abundant collection of samples, especially biological and geological, plus live plants, live and preserved insects, and more. Students watch insects develop in terraria. The use microscopes to examine anatomical features of organisms or rock textures. Segments of a semester cover geology and astronomy; students can examine the long table that Lou Ellen painted with the life history of various classes of stars.
In grades 6-8, Vince focuses on physics, chemistry, and biology in progression, while frequently mixing in concepts from all disciplines effectively, extending from agronomy to geology and beyond. Students particularly relish experiments that have deep technical design (analyzing model rocket altitude as a function of engine impulse), with lots of geometry in the field measurements), and moments of deeper insight or even drama – sodium metal decomposing in water, with a transition to explosion in warm water. Vince imbues the sessions with math, a core of all sciences, in engaging students in calculating results all along the way.