Science: Curriculum

If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.
– attributed to Isaac Newton, 1676

The Science Department aims to lift students to the realm of intellectual Giants by providing the necessary tools and skills, be they binoculars, graphs, or pulleys, to reach great heights. Science is an enterprise that ideally transcends boundaries and belongs to the whole of humanity. The primary mission of our faculty is to create a collaborative, positive classroom experience driven by curiosity and passion, where students experience science as an engaging and uplifting endeavor.

We are conscious of the importance of broad scientific literacy in a world in which science and technology play an ever-increasing role. We seek to prepare students to engage in scientific conversations that bear on global policy, as well as the arts and humanities. Students will become familiar with the large issues of our time, and will develop the critical, scientific skills to evaluate new challenges. Students begin to appreciate the joys–and prevalence–of multidisciplinary work.

The science curriculum at Saint Ann’s leads students to realize that science is not simply an ocean of memorized facts, formulae, and unfamiliar terminology, but a way of looking at the universe, a mode of asking and answering relevant questions. At every age, experimentation is stressed. Throughout the varied disciplines, students design procedures and gather, analyze, and interpret data. Mathematical, statistical, and effective science writing skills are consistently emphasized. Field trips are taken to supplement classroom learning. Lessons are enhanced by the professional expertise of guest speakers.

In the younger grades, the emphasis on science is gradually increased from preschool through the third grade. In the Preschool, the Kindergarten and in first grade, science is integrated into the curriculum by the classroom teachers with support from science faculty. Second graders have a science lesson each week in their home classrooms taught by science faculty. When they reach third grade, students begin to travel to science labs in the Bosworth Building once a week for classes with science faculty. The topics covered are as varied and inspiring as chemistry, entomology, electricity, and botanical classification.

Beginning in the Lower Middle School, science is a full-time academic class, meeting four times per week. Fourth grade science introduces many subjects, including anatomy, evolution, geology, chemistry, and cell biology. Highlights include an owl pellet dissection, chemical demonstrations, and a field trip to the American Museum of Natural History. Fourth graders begin to use microscopes, balances, and other laboratory equipment. They also keep a detailed lab binder–a practice that they will continue throughout many middle school classes at Saint Ann’s. As a culmination of a year of scientific experimentation, fourth grade students design independent research projects, and present their research in lively in-class “poster symposia.”

In fifth grade, the general topic of concern is water. Students spend the first term investigating the chemical and physical properties of water through rigorous experimentation. Surface tension, buoyancy, and factors affecting boiling and freezing points are just some of the topics considered. The water cycle and weather are also explored as a way to observe the properties of water. We also investigate water quality and the natural and manmade influences on our waterways. During the spring, students concentrate on a study of oceanography and marine biology, and come to appreciate the diversity and the delicate balance of life in the oceans. The year culminates with a visit to Fulton Ferry Landing, where students have the chance to review what they’ve learned about NYC geography, water chemistry, meteorology, and plankton.

Sixth grade science takes students on a tour of the physical world, from the motion of distant galaxies at one extreme to that of electrons at the other. Major units include astronomy, kinematics, electricity, and magnetism, which are explored through research projects and experiments in addition to class discussions. There are various engineering assignments throughout the year, such as a series of egg-drop competitions, and the much-anticipated house-building project in which basic electronics principles are utilized, with the opportunity for some fabulous architectural designs. Recent inter-class projects have also included a Rube Goldberg contraption demonstration and the Pinewood Derby. Sixth graders take an annual field trip to the New York Hall of Science.

Chemistry and the intricacies of the periodic table are studied extensively in seventh grade. The class goal is to connect chemical theory to everyday life experiences and applications. Students explore atomic theory, boat building, and chemical and physical transformations. Armed with this knowledge and the many lab techniques they practice throughout the year, students end the course with a thorough and independent separation and analysis of a mixture of chemical components we affectionately call “sludge.”

Human biology, in all of its complexity and detail, is presented in the eighth grade. The major organs and body systems are examined from the standpoints of both their morphology and physiology. Moving from the microscopic to the macroscopic, students are introduced to how these systems work together to create a functional whole. Many genetics, health, and pathology topics are investigated over the course of the year, augmented by dissections and other labs, as students work to understand the human body in a manner that satisfies their immense natural curiosity.

In addition to their regular science class, students in the fifth through eighth grades may also elect a physical or biological sciences elective. Some specific course topics have included forensics, earth science, food science, and engineering.

In high school, students take a minimum of three years of science, one of which is general biology and at least one of which is a physical science course. Most students, however, take at least four full-year science courses, and many take more than one per year. The comprehensive biology course is generally taken by ninth graders, who spend the year in rigorous investigation of the living world from molecules to cells to entire ecosystems, studying organelles, cellular respiration, mitosis and meiosis, genetics, and plant biology, among other topics, with evolution serving as a unifying theme. Students work with microscopes and are introduced to the fundamental lab techniques of molecular biology and modern genetics.

Students are encouraged to take both chemistry and physics early in their high school career, as these courses are often prerequisites for advanced study in the sciences. The department offers advanced second-year classes in biology, chemistry, and physics, and a wide array of electives in each of these disciplines as well. Elective courses vary from year to year, depending on student interest and faculty expertise. They may be either one or two semesters long and differ in their level of difficulty. Recently offered electives include Animal Behavior; Astronomy; Advanced Biochemistry; Organic Chemistry; Chemistry of Cooking; Advanced Physiology and Medical Ethics; Environmental Science; Sustainable Design; Molecular Biology; Marine Biology; Oceanography; Neuropsychology; The Science of Music; Introduction to Quantum Mechanics; and Classical Mechanics and Relativity.

The high school independent research program provides an additional opportunity for students to choose their own paths of scientific exploration. Individual students or groups of students seek out science faculty advisers with a particular area of expertise to guide them. The topic and pace of the research is set by student motivation, experience, and time constraints. Research students attend scientific lectures and exhibit their findings at our in-house Science Research Symposium held annually in May.

Students occasionally participate in outside research or academic programs, and competitions such as the New York City Science and Engineering Fair, the International Brain Bee sponsored by the Dana Foundation, or the Science Olympiad. A group of our Independent Science Research students has participated in the Multi-School Independent Science Research Symposium each year as well. Our department has also had a marine science team participate in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl since 1999, taking first place at the New York State level Bay Scallop Bowl in 2014.