Scientific Breakthrough at Greenwich High School

Stock image: science class“This is likely to be the most significant building block that these students will have in science,” said Dr. David Moss, an associate professor at the Neag School of Education at UConn, who specializes in environmental education, teacher education, international and cross-cultural learning, and curriculum studies.

Moss is referring to the new Integrated Science class being offered for the first time in September to Greenwich High School freshmen. About 100 9th-graders are set to take the class in its inaugural year, which will meet seven times in a cycle and includes an additional lab.

Initially, the district projected four sections of the class, however, due to the number of students who have subscribed, there will be five sections this fall. The course was presented to the Board of Education at the Nov. 4, 2010 meeting and approved it unanimously 8-0 two weeks later.

According to the course description, Integrated Science at GHS is a “timely and innovative course (which) will offer students rigorous learning opportunities across the life, physical and Earth sciences by providing engaging and authentic experiences in the interdisciplinary connections which bridge science and society.” The class is meant to present different fields of science, not isolated concepts, and give students the opportunity to work hands-on with materials.

Certainly the class has a different appeal versus other classes and its availability was communicated last year to parents through middle school presentations and to students via their teachers.

The initiative to develop the Integrated Science course came as a result of a wish to increase student interest in science as well as to create a course, which had better alignment with the state science standards. A final contributor was an analysis of the Science CAPT trends over the last five school years, which failed to show progress in scores.

In creating the class, the district looked at other school districts but was not impressed with what they found. The title “integrated science” is not a new one and there are many such courses throughout the State of Connecticut.

However, the curricula in those classes mainly offer sections of biology, chemistry and physical science, for example; teaching science in silos rather than true integration. There are also several canned curriculas out there, which are marketed as integrated science, but not in the manner in which Greenwich was looking.

John DeLuca, GHS science program administrator and an advanced placement biology teacher in Clark House, was one of the lead facilitators in the creation of the new course. DeLuca was joined by fellow GHS science teachers Aimee Farnum (Sheldon House), Jason Goldstein (Cantor House), John Vellardito (Sheldon House) along with District Program Coordinator for Science, Sheila Civale and

Moss, who directs the Neag School of Education London Study Abroad program and pursues a reform-minded research agenda throughout Connecticut as well as in London, England, consults for districts that show what he believes is a real commitment to science.

Fortunately, he has been doing so with Greenwich since 2009. TLast school year, Moss met with the not only the science teachers at GHS but with those in all three middle schools as well as every 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-grade teacher in Greenwich.

What Moss brings to this equation is, in his words, “the perspective of a scientist and a science professor” as well as being someone that “advised conceptually from the beginning.”

The team met extensively and looked at models from all over the country, including for example the Integrated Science course offered at Princeton University. Moss says that the GHS class is “forging new trails for a high school.” He believes that the Integrated Science class will give the students a “scientific literacy” that will transcend “disconnected factoids of science” and work beyond “traditional disciplinary barriers.”

According the course description, the “four core units of the course: Survival, Human Performance, Space Explorations, and Sustainability, demonstrate to students how science affects their own lives, as well as the global community.”

DeLuca, who is as passionate about the new class as Moss, said that the uniqueness of the class lays in the lessons themselves. In the Survival unit for example, “students will be measuring the effectiveness of water purification utilizing different mechanisms such as an UV lamp, different filters as well as a variety of chemicals. The students will conduct experiments in different ways to purify water and determine if the water has been sanitized and how to measure the levels of purification.

In the Sports and Human Performance unit, DeLuca explains that one of the lessons will examine different types of sports drinks. The beverages will be analyzed for their various levels of electrolyte stimulus and its impact on the body.

Another groundbreaking aspect of the class is in textbook. Moss said that there are many integrated science books on the market that offer one- third life science, one-third physical science and one-third earth science, which is really not the kind of integration that Greenwich was looking for. Both Moss and DeLuca expressed the difficultly in finding a textbook that met the need of the class. So, they determined that they would need to create their own, resulting in a custom designed textbook published by Pearson Publishing.

In addition to a custom made curriculum and textbook, the students will be utilizing the latest technology as well. The GHS PTA very generously bought 80 iPADs for the students taking the Integrated Science class, which will be incorporated into the daily activities of the course.

While Integrated Science is strategically aligned with CAPT standards, the course is “rich with inquiry-oriented activities, where students collect, analyze and share data with each other, as well as with an international network of schools and scientists.” As well as its better alignment with CAPT standards, Moss believes this class is cutting edge.

In fact, on July 19, the National Academy of Sciences released a new report to guide K-12 science education in which they call for a shift in the way science is taught in the United States. The report identifies “key scientific ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school.” The framework will “serve as the foundation for new K-12 science education standards, to replace those issued more than a decade ago,” according to the National Academy of Sciences website.

Moss said the new GHS class definitely puts Greenwich High School in the “top percentiles of forward thinking high schools” and it is in “bold steps” like this class that we will really yield achievement. GHS has great success with its advance science classes, but Moss and others have asked, what about the hundreds of other students who are not in those classes?

Integrated Science is meant to engage those students and help them to achieve. A bold step, which may result in some true break-through learning for the 100 students who have decided to enroll in the course.

DeLuca adds that “students will have the opportunity to take the honors option,” which will have additional curricular expectations and allow the students to receive honors credit for the course. DeLuca also shares that the introduction of Integrated Science will have a ripple effect at GHS as the District is also “developing an honors Biochemistry class for students who took Integrated Science their freshman year and want an honors level class their sophomore year.”

Reprinted with permission from the Greenwich Patch.