The intent of the Lower School science program is to have students learn science by doing science. Lower School students are full of enthusiasm for discovery and their natural curiosity is an essential element of scientific exploration. The lab activities are generally hands-on investigations that center on questions the students themselves can find the answer to by experimentation. The goal is to “teach” as little as possible, but to provide students with the tools to discover for themselves how the world works. The lab activities help students to become scientific skeptics and critical thinkers, capable of questioning evidence and confident in their ability to find answers on their own. The topics for each grade revolve around strands of life, physical, and earth science. Where possible and appropriate, the lab science class integrates with the classroom unit studies in each grade-level. Some flexibility is intentionally left in the science curriculum to follow topics that particularly interest the students.
The Middle School science program is predicated on the belief that students learn best when they are provided with opportunities to investigate questions about the natural world through minds-on as well as hands-on investigations. Through consistent participation in inquiry-based activities, students are encouraged and challenged to reflect on their initial beliefs and prior experiences, generate questions and curiosity, make and test predictions, and undertake the thinking processes necessary for the development of understanding. Computer applications are used throughout the course to graph and analyze data, explore topics through simulations, and utilize on-line resources and databases in order to conduct research. Each grade level investigates at least one earth, life, and physical science topic per year. Areas of focus for sixth grade include rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, glaciers, paleontology and the evolution of life, and simple machines/projectile motion. Areas of focus for seventh grade include structure of matter, cell biology, genetics, and living systems. Areas of focus for eighth grade include motion, force, and energy, solar systems and galaxies, chemistry, and the periodic table.
FIRST Lego League (FLL)
All 5th and 6th grade students at McGillis participate in FLL. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League (FLL) is a robotics program for 9 to 14 year olds. It is designed to get children excited about science and technology and to teach them valuable skills. Each year a thematic challenge is presented that guides the student work.
Some of the most important skills for students to learn in school are the ability to work in teams, to problem-solve, to think critically, to reason, and to communicate. The FLL challenge motivates students to master these skills. Students engage passionately with their robot design and invention project, staying after school to be able to put in more time. Their most difficult challenges and best learning experiences come not from learning to program robots or to invent engineering solutions, but from pulling together as a team to work toward a common goal. Competition with other teams is part of the motivation, but we keep the focus on fun, learning, and sportsmanship, rather than on winning.
Click here to watch a video describing FLL.