Pandemic Inspires Science Teachers to Experiment

In the spring of 2020, the JK-12 Science Department donated a year’s supply of nitrile gloves and safety glasses to local hospitals, and under the leadership of Brian Purlee, Upper School Theater Technical Director, Maker/Robotics Coordinator, deployed a Maker Team to use our 3D printers to make PPE devices of many designs to donate to the local response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

That was just the beginning of the Science Department’s outstanding response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During a year when many schools stalled or retreated, MICDS science teachers met a variety of challenges, exceeded expectations, and moved forward on every front.

The 2020-2021 academic year began with a daily rewrite of how the science program was delivered, depending on the ages of the students and whether they were fully in-person, hybrid, or fully online. As the School’s response to pandemic safety guidelines evolved, so did the teachers’ pedagogies. “Shifting back from the hands-on Inquiry Learning Model to virtual or physically distant teaching, in particular, was the heaviest of curricular lifts,” said Bob Shaw, JK-12 Science Department Chair. “Online labs were not only implemented to replace wet lab experiences, but they were unpacked, chunked, and used more intentionally to explain phenomena and quite complex science standards.” Virtual science lessons and labs provided formative feedback and, in some cases, were the performance task used as the summative grade to measure mastery. “We have taught through the deadliest days in American history by adjusting our content, the amount of our content, and our teaching and learning models all while balancing the physical and mental health of students, then each other, then ourselves—servant leaders all,” said Shaw.

A Vanderbilt doctoral candidate studied our 10th grade science program this year and noted that while high-performing student knowledge grew, lower-performing students had more room to grow, and did so. He noted that “online learning did not severely affect student learning,” and that the virtual environment allowed for more 1:1 time with students to provide social-emotional support and help with content.

Our science teachers also connected with colleagues to foment collaboration with other subjects and across divisions. Just a few activities involved hatching chicks, launching rockets, mining asteroids, abating honeysuckle on campus, modeling the digestive system, using specialized software to review content, finding success in robotics, collecting carbon sequestration data on campus, creating bio-ethics podcasts, and learning from guest speakers who were often also alumni. These programs illustrate the carefully scaffolded content and the pathways that encourage MICDS students in all grades to continue exploring the world around them.

Congratulations to the JK-12 Science Faculty for successfully planning and executing these lessons, courses, programs, opportunities, and extracurricular events throughout the year for our students. “This team has truly been the bright and shining star throughout this hazy school year for each of their students,” said Shaw.

Lower School

3, 2, 1, Blast Off! – Beasley Pop Rockets Explain Newton’s Laws of Motion

In 3rd grade science, Beasley students explored forces and motion—and pop rockets provided the perfect setting for their celebration of rocket science that included the landing of NASA’s new Mars Rover, Perseverance. Students used rocket science to also experience Newton’s Three Laws of Motion:

Newton’s First Law: Every object in a state of uniform motion will remain in that state of motion unless an external force acts on it.

Newton’s Second Law: Force equals mass multiplied by acceleration (f = ma).

Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The mere act of launching connects to Newton’s First Law of unbalanced forces. Newton’s Second Law of Motion states that acceleration is connected to the force applied on the object and its mass. The success of the pop rockets and their launch height was directly connected to the amount of gas formed in the canister. Finally, in Newton’s Third Law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The rockets traveled upward with a force that was equal to the downward force of the water, gas, and lid.

These budding scientists had a blast building and launching their rockets, all while learning about Newton’s Laws.

First Graders Create Biomimicry Inventions

MICDS 1st grade scientists were surrounded in the study of plants and animals this year. They explored external structures of organisms and how these structures help a plant and animal survive in the wild. This study led them to think about biomimicry, the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. They connected what they learned to invent things to solve human problems, and came up with some clever and helpful designs, including:

A coat that can shed just like that of a dog—you pull off velcro layers when you’re too hot and add a layer when you’re too cold.

A cooling system designed after large tree leaves.

An armored flying car designed after birds and the armor on an armadillo.

A cozy cup with a furry exterior—comfortable to hold and keeps your cocoa or coffee nice and hot.

A fish trap designed with every fishing adventure in mind—it looks like a plant and simply needs to be lowered to catch the best fish.

Middle School

A 5th Grade Mission to Collect Asteroid Samples  

Middle School Science Teacher Branson Lawrence presented his 5th graders with an engineering mission: collect core samples from an asteroid! 

Fifth grade scientists designed their own asteroid sampler machines using straws, elastics, binder clips, popsicle sticks, skewers, and cups. Their machines were tasked with collecting core samples from the surface of the asteroids, which earthlings know as potatoes. Students had to design machines that could store potential energy to be released as kinetic energy, driving straws into the core of their potato asteroids. The activity also helped students engage with the practices of engineering: collaborative planning, prototyping, testing, and redesigning to find the best solution possible. “It is so exciting to see the students engage with these types of challenges where there is no one right answer,” said Lawrence. “Their creativity really has a chance to shine!”

Seventh Graders Learn About the Digestive System

Seventh grade students conducted a lab experiment that served as an introduction to their study of the digestive system. The students were given saltine crackers, plastic baggies, and a small cup of water. They placed the crackers in the baggies and crushed them up, then poured in water and mushed the mixture around with their hands. Soda further broke down the crackers, and then students dumped the slurry into coffee filters and squeezed out the liquid, simulating how food is digested. “Watching kids make connections in their learning is one of the things I enjoy most about teaching,” said 7th Grade Science Teacher Michelle Bouchard. “One of the easiest ways for students to remember information is through experiences.”

Upper School

Using Our Campus as a Science Lab

Tenth grade science students were asked to work in groups to create an infographic that illustrates the carbon cycle and how carbon is sequestered—all by studying a single tree per group on MICDS’ campus. “They started by choosing a tree on campus and calculated how many pounds of carbon are stored in that one tree,” said Laura Bradford, 10th Grade Science Teacher. The students then compiled data from their chosen tree to complete a variety of calculations that, when coupled with additional research, allowed for them to create an infographic explaining carbon sequestration and its relevance to the global community. The project also frames the environmental issues we face with increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. “I learned about the extent to which humans are altering the carbon cycle and what we can do to reduce carbon emissions,” said Erica Engelhardt ’23. “It was really interesting to make the connection between a single tree and how much it can do for the Earth’s atmosphere,” added Henley Danforth ’23. Some of the students’ infographics is displayed in the STEM building.

Landscape Architect Speaks to Environmental Science Class

Landscape Architect Felipe DeNarvaez visited with 11th graders both in-person and online for Upper School Science Teacher Andi Galluppi’s Environmental Science class, discussing the decisions made when developing the landscape plan for the McDonnell STEM building. DeNarvaez had the challenging task of developing a landscape that was both functional and beautiful—although that beauty may not be the typical short-grass lawns and manicured bushes that are common around most homes and businesses. “Some people may look at this piece of landscape and think of it as messy,” DeNarvaez said, referring to the native Missouri plants chosen for the area in front of the STEM building. “People are used to seeing clean and organized landscaping.” But those native plants have their purpose: to stop water runoff from quickly flowing over the land. Slowing down water runoff increases retention, which promotes a healthy ecosystem. The water ultimately returns to the water table. “I thought it was really interesting that they had to figure out a way to include the water from other neighborhoods and areas around the school,” said Joshua Borja ’22. “The plants out front filter water from different areas around the campus and they help collect water and drain it into the river and streams, directly from our school. I think it’s pretty cool how something so simple—like some plants in front of the school—can have a big impact on the community we live in.”