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.”