To say that the final scores in the We the People state competition on Saturday were close is putting things mildly. With final scores in the 900-point range, there was a just a 12-point difference between the top two teams.
“It’s like being one point behind in a 90-point basketball game,” said Peter Gunn, faculty advisor for the school’s We the People team. “That’s how close it was.”
“Are sports connected to what’s happening in the classroom?” It was their search for the answer to that question that lead Smith College professors Don Siegel and Sam Intrator to found an innovative, Springfield-based program called Project Coach.
In early December, the two professors, plus two others from their program, brought that question to students at The Williston Northampton School.
“There’s a notion that what’s going on in the playing fields connects to what’s going on in other parts of kids’ lives,” Siegel told the students. “The way to the boardroom leads through the locker room.”
The same question could be applied to the class—a new Williston Scholars program called Sports Studies. Created by Diane Williams, a history and global studies teacher, the course features a large slate of visiting speakers and is designed to give students local examples of “sports being used in a meaningful way to impact people’s lives.”
On a blustery day in late fall, science teacher Paul Rutherford herded a class of physics students onto a school van. While Rutherford clambered behind the steering wheel, the students put blindfolds over their eyes.
The van started moving. Could the students tell how fast the bus was going? Rutherford asked. They could not. He turned a corner. Suddenly, his passengers could feel the movement, even if they couldn’t see it.
The students had just learned a lesson in the physics of motion, and had learned it in a way that kept them actively engaged.
Science Department Head Bill Berghoff relishes this type of hands-on learning. By next year, he hopes to see quite a bit more of it happening around campus.
“There’s going to be a lot of physics experiments, a lot of light and sound and dropping objects,” he said, adding with a grin, “There’s going to be lots of weird stuff going on, I think, next year.”
An outbreak of fungal meningitis. That’s the problem that University of Massachusetts Professor of Chemistry Dr. Scott Auerbach asked AP Integrated Science students to solve when he visited The Williston Northampton School on November 15.
As the students settled into groups of three and four, Auerbach outlined the grim statistics: 438 cases in 19 states with a death total of at least 32.
“Today’s goal is to understand the role science plays in making sense of understanding this outbreak,” Auerbach said. “Your job is to be Beth Bell, the director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.”
This was one problem that the students weren’t going to be able to solve by looking in the back of their textbook—and not being able to immediately find the solution is the point. When Science Department Chair Bill Berghoff put together the pilot program for the integrated science class, his aim was to encourage collaboration and scientific creative thinking.
“I’m really big into inquiry-based learning,” he said. “You have to do experiments, you have to do activities, to really understand what’s going on.”
“Do you really want to think that someone with a contagious disease drank from your bottle?” read the advertisement. The ad, which used pictures of bacteria, urged readers to throw out their plastic bottles instead of recycling them. “Out with the old, in with the new!” it read.
Very tiny print at the bottom identified a fictional plastics lobbying council as the ad creators.
Absurd? A bit. But also strangely persuasive. And that is exactly the point of the seventh grade exercise—create a piece of propaganda that is at once ridiculous and compelling.