Critical thinking and scientific inquiry are at the heart of children’s intellectual development at The Little School. Teachers welcome questions and topics that arise from the natural curiosity and interest of children, and often harness them into scientific projects, experiments and opportunities for the research, data gathering and presentation of knowledge. Teachers introduce scientific content, materials, tools and methods that spark the inner scientist and serve as a foundation for future knowledge and inquiry. Our wooded campus provides a natural classroom with endless possibilities for observing, studying, and using all the senses to learn about the environment. We have an environmental science teacher whose role is dedicated to teaching outdoor education, wilderness skills, stewardship and a sense of place. With plenty of time dedicated to play in the outdoors – in addition to formal environmental science – children develop a strong sense of connection, reverence and stewardship for the outdoors, in addition to the scientific knowledge and skills they gain.
In addition to emergent science topics and our dedicated outdoor education classes, we also maintain consistency of program through our use of the FOSS science kits at the primary and intermediate levels. These kits support the important skills of experimentation via the scientific method, as well as knowledge in earth and biological science, physics and chemistry.
Science with the youngest children is centered on observation, sensory exploration and asking questions aloud: What will happen if…? How do you know that…? Why is…? Curiosity in children is understood to be innate, but the focusing of it helps build cause and effect reasoning and other critical thinking skills. Making predictions is encouraged before an experiment is undertaken. Physical experience and play with a rich assortment of materials (e.g., blocks, sand, water, marble runs, magnets, prisms, bones and natural artifacts) provide important opportunities to explore and test ideas and construct scientific knowledge. Teachers scaffold this learning by extending an experiment, asking open-ended questions, guiding discovery, presenting contradictory experiences and encouraging children to share what they learn with their classmates. Exploration of animal and plant kingdoms is often based on the woods, meadow and garden right outside the classroom. Other popular topics at this age include trees, insects, spiders, dinosaurs, space, magnetism, force and motion, mixing colors, and cooking or kitchen science.
The focus at this level is an inquiry-based approach to learning about the physical world. Children are increasingly guided through a more formal process of exploration that includes observation, collection, recording and analyzing of data, creating hypotheses, and generating conclusions and further questions. The FOSS science kits serve as a structured resource to support the scientific method while learning about content; topics for this level include: insects, pebbles, sand and silt, and balance and motion. Emergent themes arise from student questions and experiences. Thematic science units are often integrated with language arts, math and art. Some of the topics/units include: seeds, plants, the intertidal zone, engineering, weather, salmon, microscopes, magnets, batteries, bugs and animal tracks. Children learn to think critically, understand scientific concepts and appreciate the value of science by participating in their own investigations and analyses as they explore the world. The school library, woods, garden and fields on our campus are also important research resources.
Science learning takes place in a social context, enriched by the exchange of ideas and theories, where students have a voice in supporting or challenging the evidence and in generating new questions. Their curiosity and interest motivate increasingly formal methods of scientific investigation, where observation, hypotheses, predictions, data collection, controlling variables, and generating questions are best learned by doing. Students are guided to learn scientific content and vocabulary through direct instruction of science lessons as well as through emergent subjects of inquiry. FOSS Science kits allow for a systematic and thorough investigation of a science topic over time. Kits for this level include: Mixtures and Solutions, Magnetism and Electricity, Measurement, Physics of Sound and Variables. Natural history and environmental science are also an ongoing theme of study, including watersheds, Washington forest ecology, ethno-botany, birds and mammals, tracking, marine invertebrates and geology. In the spring, the oldest intermediate level classes take a multi-day field trip to an outdoor learning center such as NatureBridge on the Olympic Peninsula, Canoe Island in the San Juans or Islandwood on Bainbridge Island.