Careful observation of phenomena is the foundation of the entire High School science curriculum including the natural sciences. For the most part, the students perform experiments in a laboratory or field setting and make their own observations. When this is not possible, the teacher performs a demonstration, describes the phenomena as vividly as possible, or makes a detailed drawing. The day after the experiment, the class is asked to recall the entire experiment step by step from memory. The teacher then leads the class, in a variety of ways, toward the principle or law that the experimental phenomena reveal. The goal is for the students to follow a logical train of thought and thereby arrive at the principle. The teacher then gives examples of ways that this principle is applied in real life, so that the student can recognize the principle’s relevance in the world.
The students’ lab reports form the basis of the main lesson book and provide a written record of the block. These descriptions are augmented by drawings that show the observations. These drawings are also a way for students to express their creativity and individuality. Relationships and principles found within the experiment are clearly delineated as being distinct from the observations. The students write up the relationships and conclusions in their own words or, at the teacher’s discretion, the student may be given some help to state the principle clearly. This written work clarifies the understanding of the concepts.
Life Science is the study of living creatures, from the smallest cell to observing how an entire ecosystem works together. Main lesson blocks include Comparative Anatomy, Physiology, Embryology, Botany, Cell Biology, Ecology, Invertebrate Zoology, Vertebrate Zoology, and Evolution. In ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades the blocks of Anatomy, Physiology, Embryology, and Cell Biology allow students to develop an understanding of the human body from the functioning of the organelles of the cell to the workings of the skeleton and organs. In ninth grade the students also participate in a ten-day farm trip that takes place at the end of the school year. The ninth grade students spend time living and working on a local biodynamic farm. Nature study, construction, planting, harvesting, weeding, animal tending, and other regular farm chores are completed. In eleventh and twelfth grades Botany, Ecology, and Zoology focus outwards to the world, including a trip to study the intertidal zone in Maine, and a focus on the natural ecosystems of southeastern Michigan, including forested areas, river environments and wetlands.
The Life Science curriculum is expanded in the twelfth grade with the offering of an elective River Ecology course.
Teachers: Erica Choberka, Gary Banks, and Judith Erb
Earth Science includes the study of how the earth functions, the meteorological water cycle, and how the earth relates to the cosmos. The ninth grade earth science curriculum consists of a Geology main lesson block and a ten-day farming experience block in the spring. In the ninth grade geology class, topics are studied to create both a global and a local view of geography. Topics include earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock formation and characteristics, and oil and gas exploration. The tenth grade earth science main lesson focus is Meteorology. The interactions of air, water, the earth and the sun’s heating to create the weather are studied, with emphasis on the concepts of low and high pressure and the interactions of cold and warm air masses. Astronomy is the focus of the eleventh grade earth science main lesson block. Students study the observable movements of the sun, moon, stars and planets first from the point of view of an earth observer. From this, the students are then asked to live in to the thinking of great astronomers who helped devise the modern cosmological understanding, such as Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.
Teachers: Geoff Robb
In chemistry, we develop a relationship with the world of matter and transformations and processes that continually surround us. In our chemistry curriculum, we strive not only to offer the atomic model which modern science has developed to such an amazing degree, but also to give the students a chance to observe and live in to the beauty of transformation which can be seen in the chemistry lab. We work with real phenomena rather than computer models of them. Through observation, we develop a deep and meaningful relationship with phenomena, which we then can understand through our thinking. In teaching through a phenomenological method as we strive to do, the material and method take on equal importance. Through the method, we develop our skills in observation, then our thinking capacities come into play as we seek to understand what has been observed. Then a connection is made to understand the theories and models of modern science and where the principles apply in everyday life. This picture is built up steadily over the years of high school.
The chemistry curriculum begins with the most observable chemistry, that of the plants, to the least observable, that of atoms and DNA. The ninth grade chemistry curriculum focuses on experiment-based work that demonstrates plant substances and processes such as the carbon cycle. Tenth grade chemistry involves the study of salts, acids, and bases. Students take up the study of the characteristics of elements and how they behave in eleventh grade chemistry. Experiments demonstrating various types of reactions are performed and understood. Through experimentation, chemical nomenclature, equation writing, and the structure of the periodic table are introduced. The atomic model is thoroughly developed in the 11th grade Physics block, and in Chemistry we seek to make the connection between the atomic model and phenomena we observe. The focus of the twelfth grade chemistry class is the study of biochemistry. The role of molecular structure in regulating biochemical reactions is explored through experiments. A large emphasis of this block is proteins and DNA. Students begin to appreciate the interaction of the organism’s biochemistry in relationship with the environment.
In twelfth grade an elective block is offered that builds on topics introduced in the Chemistry blocks. The course covers topics that would typically be introduced in the first semester of college inorganic chemistry. Students learn problem solving skills and gain proficiency writing chemical formulas and balancing chemical equations and delve more deeply into the mathematical aspects of chemistry.
Teachers: Gary Banks and Erica Choberka
Physics is the study of how things work, from the engines in our cars to the electricity that is so essential to our modern way of life. The principles of sound and thermodynamics are investigated in the ninth grade physics curriculum, leading to how they are applied in modern communications and engines. During the tenth grade, the physics curriculum takes up force, both in statics and dynamics. The laws of force in equilibrium are studied through bridges, both theoretically and through the construction of bridges in the classroom. Newton’s laws of motion are taken up, with many practical examples. The beginnings of modern science are studied through Galileo’s work on motion and astronomy. The characteristics of electric and magnetic fields are investigated and the nature of electricity is studied in the eleventh grade physics block. The important discoveries of early 20th century physics that led to the modern picture of the nuclear atom are studied with emphasis on historical development, including the development of the nuclear bomb and nuclear energy. The twelfth grade students study the lawfulness of optics and color through careful observation of phenomena in the senior year physics block. Goethe’s and Newton’s theories of color are studied and compared, with emphasis on applications.
In the twelfth grade year, an elective class in mathematical physics is offered. This afternoon class examines the mathematical aspects of previously explored physical phenomena. Students learn how to solve mathematical physics problems, with an emphasis on the area of mechanics.
Teachers: Geoff Robb
Computer Science classes in the High School support the students through the process of learning to use modern technology as a daily tool in their practical and academic lives. Over the four years they take on more complex and challenging projects, continuing to expand their skills, including applying them beyond the actual computer classes as they prepare papers, presentations and ultimately their college applications using computer technology. Computer classes in the High School take place in a state of the art computer lab – with 32 mac mini stations, all of which run both a windows and mac environment, and are fully updated, kept current, and have appropriate internet filtering programs installed.
There are two ninth grade computer classes. The first is a typing and internet class designed to ensure that all students have basic typing skills and an understanding of the internet, including its opportunities and dangers. The second ninth grade computer class is an introduction to the use of Open Office word processing and spreadsheet applications. The goal is to enable students to use a computer environment for the completion of homework and assigned papers as they move into the tenth and eleventh grades.
During the tenth grade year all students take a computer course entitled “Introduction to Computer Programming.” Here they are introduced to the Alice Programming Language, which is an object-oriented learning language, designed as a teaching tool. A series of lessons is presented which develops both the conceptual understanding of what a programming language is and how computers are dependent on the code, and develops the student’s actual ability to code in Alice.
The computer curriculum concludes in the eleventh grade with a course called “Introduction to Computer Systems.” This course covers both the history and evolution of computer technology and the architecture of modern systems. Students study topics such as Turing machines, binary and hexadecimal numbering systems, logic gates, and computer memory.
Teachers: Alex Perrin