The Key School has officially earned Maryland Green School Certification by the Maryland Association of Environmental & Outdoor Education. This designation comes after a lengthy application process that required an in-depth review of the School's programs and philosophy as well as substantiation of a sustained dedication to environmental initiatives.
Developed over the past two years by members of the Upper School Science Department, the Integrated Science Program will incorporate aspects of chemistry, biology and physics into each of Key's required science classes in lieu of teaching them separately. Through purposeful integration, the meaning and relevance of abstract topics will become evident because students will apply their learning as they explore topics traditionally found in other disciplines.
In one of many examples, Key’s Integrated Science Program will enable students to immediately apply what they learn about the force of collisions (currently learned in ninth grade Conceptual Physics) to understand the behavior of gases (studied as gas laws in tenth grade Chemistry).
While a common teaching practice internationally, Integrated Science has been embraced by forward-thinking schools and colleges in the United States including Princeton University, Greenwich, CT, Public High School, and now, Key School.
Click below to see the scientific topics/principles taught in Key's Integrated Science Program and for a comparison with the traditional Physics First sequence.
Through a series of explorations students will experience various aspects of the scientific method from making careful, specific, and quantitative observations to the mathematical analysis. They see how the scientific methods leads to the formation of hypotheses and theories. The course begins with questions about the northern lights and how myths and stories are essential to our understanding of the universe. Of course, what distinguishes science is that its stories are validated through observations and experimentation and they are abandoned when the evidence demands it.
One of the early steps in the scientific process is observations. Students learn the difference between observation, inference, and expectations by observing a series of objects at a variety of scales. For example, the way a leaf looks very different from 2 meters away is very different from how it looks under a dissecting microscope.
When designing an experiment, a scientist must learn how to narrowly define his or her question, determine the experimental variable, and determine what factors must be controlled. Students gain experience with these aspects of the scientific method as they design experiments to test factors that might influence the rate of a chemical reaction.
In the next phase of the course, students gather quantitative observations about position, velocity, and acceleration. Using graphs and equations, the students will derive Newton’s laws of motion. They will use similar techniques to look at the properties of gases and how pressure is a direct result of molecular motion and Newton’s laws at a molecular level.
Throughout the course, the students will be cultivating Brassica Rapa plants. They will plant, pollinate, and cross breed their plants, keeping careful track of the occurrence a series of traits. Students will come to appreciate long term experimentation and eventually analyse the data to rediscover Mendel’s laws of heredity. As they encounter examples of codominance and incomplete dominance they confront the limitations of simple models and see the need for continuous refinement of scientific theory. A theory on the pattern of gene movement begs the question of what are genes. Students will answer that question through a historical study of the experiments that have established DNA as the genetic material. Finally, they will look at microscope slides of mitosis and meiosis to understand how that genetic material moves as cells divide.
Just as incomplete dominance seems to violate Mendel’s laws, so the elliptical path of planets seems to violate Newton’s laws of motion. Of course, the apparent contradiction leads to a deeper understanding of matter and the theory of gravity, the last topic of the year. Again, students will gather data and derive, through their experiments, the equations and constants Newton developed in the 17th century. Those equations will be the basis of the first unit in the sophomore course, Energy
That understanding of electrostatic attraction will open the door for students to understand the fundamentals of atomic structure, particularly electron structure. Electron structure is reflected in the organization of the periodic table and understanding both allows students to predict what elements will react and which will not. The natural tendency for stability allows us to exploit oxidation-reduction reactions in batteries and explosives, forces us to counteract them in corrosion, and powers natural systems through cellular respiration.
As student come to understand the basic equations for cellular respiration and photosynthesis, they will explore the cellular mechanisms for carrying out those processes. Particularly, they will focus on the different ways in which energy is stored and transferred, especially the creation of electrochemical gradients within the mitochondria and chloroplasts. They will also discover the crucial and limiting role that the molecule NAD plays in cellular respiration which will lead to a more general study of quantities in chemical reactions.
Of course the reactions of cellular respiration are not abstract principles; they are employed to do all kinds of work and much of that work happens in the cell. Students will learn the full range of structures and organelles that make up typical cells. Particular attention will be given to the machinery needed to make proteins, a process that like many other cellular activities, consumes the energy produced during respiration. Moving from general cells to the specific functioning of muscle cells students will see how energy is used to prepare the cell for action and how a muscle cell uses energy to contract.
When those muscles contract and create forces, those forces can be unbalanced and create motion (Newton’s 2nd and 3rd laws).
Finally, students will study how energy moves through ecological systems. Why are there so many plants but so few lions? The reason seems to contradict all that we know about the conservation of energy, but actually reveals a deeper truth about the universe.
The final course in our integrated program examines dynamic systems. Picking up our discussions from the previous course we look at ecological systems and how the organisms competing for scarce resources find the balance to become an enduring system. We also look at how disturbances in those systems will cause the organisms to evolve until a new equilibrium can be reached.
As part of the study of evolution, we will revisit the structure of DNA, looking at how it replicates, how mistakes are made and corrected and the intermolecular forces involved in maintaining the distinctive helix of nucleic acids. Intermolecular forces also feature prominently in issues of solubility and membrane structure.
Simple harmonic motion is a physical representation of a system at equilibrium. Acids and bases are an example of a chemical system in dynamic equilibrium. Particularly in the case of buffered solutions, the system changes in response to various inputs.
For students interested in taking advanced science electives, their options will not change. By junior year, students will be qualified to enroll in Physics, Experimental Design, Astronomy or Chemistry. As seniors, students will be able to add Advanced Biology to their options.
Whether they have gone through Key's current Physics First curriculum or its new integrated curriculum, Key faculty are confident the students will be well-prepared for those demanding electives. Students also will be able to take AP exams in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
Science is not three distinct disciplines, but rather a mosaic of interrelated topics that inform, support, and enrich each other.
This year, researchers investigating how cells protect their genetic heritage by repairing DNA received the Nobel Prize. However, the prize was awarded not in biology, but rather in chemistry, and that designation highlights the arbitrary nature of the divisions found in science.
The electric current produced in batteries is the result of chemical reactions. Why is electricity traditionally taught in physics classes and the reactions in chemistry classes?
Cell membranes form spontaneously because of the solubility properties of the constituent molecules, yet in most high schools, solubility is discussed in chemistry courses while the cell membrane is an important part of biology courses.
Having the opportunity to learn sequentially about the interrelationships among scientific properties and topics through Key's new Integrated Science Program will give its students a more meaningful learning experience. Additionally, by presenting the holistic picture of science, Key teachers will be able to incorporate more iterative and experimental design projects throughout the courses than previously possible in the segmented curriculum.