The Taft STEM Fellowship program at St. Mark's experienced a highly successful academic year in 2016-17. There were a dozen Taft STEM Fellows this year, all of whom engaged in challenging research projects ranging from neurobiology to computer science to engineering. Several excelled at both the Regional and Massachusetts Science Fair competitions.
The need to understand and apply science has never been more essential to society than it is in the 21st century. Advancements in medicine, technology, and access to information have changed the landscape of our world. Further, the impact of humans on our environment has made the question of sustainability a crucial topic of study. As a result, science education is critical to the development of both informed citizens and the preparation of our next generation of scientists and engineers. The Science Program at St. Mark’s aims to develop students who are scientifically literate, create opportunities for the interdisciplinary study of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and provide an exemplary preparation for collegiate level science. In an effort to meet these goals the program engages students in the process of science through the study of the core ideas that pervade the discipline: energy and matter, form and function, cause and effect, the use of models, and observation of patterns. Students explore these ideas while developing the practices that are central to the scientific enterprise itself such as observing, questioning, testing, analyzing, applying, designing, developing evidence-based arguments, and communicating. Each course is designed around a core set of ideas and grounded in context, all of which provides students with an increased understanding of the natural world, empowers students to propose solutions to dynamic problems, and better equips students to make informed decisions based upon science.
Core Science Pathways
This course covers the major concepts in physics through the context of engineering design challenges. There will be extensive focus on developing good problem solving techniques, learning about engineering methodology and design, and introducing proper communication, collaboration, and writing habits. Topics covered include kinematics, the laws of motion, momentum, energy, the properties of waves, and electricity and magnetism. Experimental design, data analysis and their use in making engineering decisions are a main feature of the course. During designated “build days” students have the opportunity to apply their knowledge in an engineering context that focuses on making and learning from mistakes in an authentic setting. Students complete several of these design challenges over the year and are encouraged to relate the concepts learned in class to 21st century themes and events.
This course introduces the major principles of chemistry through a modified survey approach. Students will study many of the topics discussed in a traditional chemistry course but will do so in the context of the study of materials, water, the atmosphere and energy. Topics include but aren't limited to atomic structure, chemical formulas, bonding, chemical reactions, equations, solutions, solubility, acid and base chemistry and gas laws. An applied or thematic approach to these ideas allows students to not only understand the concepts but to also analyze real life situations using their understanding of these ideas. Students will also be asked to analyze the social, environmental, political and economic issues surrounding many scientific ideas and advancements. Coursework will include collaboration, lab investigations and lab reports, project development, article analysis, traditional assessment, and performance assessment. Students are placed in this course based on their performance in Physics and/or interest. (Prerequisite: Physics)
Honors Chemistry is an interactive introduction to the discipline of chemistry. In covering topics such as atomic structure, bonding, stoichiometry, and gas laws, students develop an appreciation for the chemistry present in the world around them. As students, they are challenged to grow as problem solvers both in the laboratory and in classroom settings. Small group work is emphasized as a way to encourage discussion of topics, as well as provide opportunities for students to learn collaboratively. Work in the laboratory enhances understanding of content, while laboratory reports provide students a venue in which to develop their technical writing skills. (Prerequisite: Honors grade in Physics. Department approval required)
The study of Biology has never been as complicated or exciting as it is today as our understanding of the living world is increasing at an unparalleled pace. Advancements in science blur the line between living and nonliving and our ability to control and direct life processes continues to evolve rapidly. This course provides students an introduction to the study of biology within the context of a rapidly changing world. Students will explore the ideas of ecological, cellular, and genetic change through consideration of three types of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. The course of study will incorporate a variety of learning approaches such as inquiry, lab design, presentations, collaborative study, problem-based learning, case studies, simulations, and scientific writing. Each unit will culminate in a final project that will encourage application of new knowledge and understandings to a ‘real world’ situation, often without one specific right answer. There will be a heavy emphasis throughout the course on developing students’ analytical writing skills as well as their ability to specifically utilize direct evidence to back up all claims and arguments. (Prerequisite: Completion of Chemistry)
Advanced and Elective Science Courses
Engineering: Structures and Materials
Fall & Spring
Structures and Materials provides a one-semester introduction to mechanical engineering. Using a thematic approach, students will work together on solving a semester long challenge that could involve a project like designing and building a “green” electric race car, a device to assist people with impaired mobility, or an invention designed to solve a problem in a developing country. Throughout, the students will perform many design/test cycles and keep track of efficiencies of performance relative to energy, weight, and/or cost. Inverting the traditional ratio of lecture to lab time, students spend a major portion of their class time involved in hands-on work, directed toward solving the challenge. No prior knowledge of use of tools or work safety is assumed, but will be an ongoing component of the course. Students will be introduced to the concepts of mechanic stress and strain, then perform experiments to determine Young’s modulus, yield strength and ultimate strength of representative materials. They will discover modeling and simulation CAD software, and then build prototypes they will subsequently test. (Open to all Forms. Prerequisite: Physics)
Fall & Spring
Human beings have yearned to learn more about themselves and the world around them since they became aware of the surroundings. They have always pushed the boundaries of understanding by exploring further than their known world. Every human has an innate and instinctive passion for discovery; this course will work at feeding that desire. Through this course, students will explore what it means to discover and push the limits on their world. Students will learn about geology, geography, and ecology and learn how scientists and explorers examine the land we live on. Potential projects will include learning how to use a compass, GPS, and map, creating a detailed map of campus and completing an ecological survey. Students will consider the depths of the ocean, a vastly underexplored area of our earth, and investigate ways to explore the unreachable. Lastly, they will look to the heavens and explore our solar system, Milky Way, and the beyond. Students will learn about how known planets and moons are analyzed and explored and how new stars, planets, and other celestial bodies are discovered through multiple techniques. Maybe they will even find their own! (Prerequisites: successful completion of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (one course could be taken concurrently)
The Biotechnology course will focus on the structure and function of DNA in the life of a eukaryotic cell. We will discuss topics and techniques related to gene expression and gene cloning. In addition, students will learn about current advances in understanding genomes and applications of this knowledge. This is a lab based course that will include the cloning and expression of a particular gene. The practical applications of, as well as the theory behind lab techniques, will be covered as part of the course. Much of the students’ class time will be spent in the lab therefore students will be expected to keep a detailed lab notebook that will account for a portion of the course grade. Students who want to be successful in the course will demonstrate an interest in the topic, an ability to ask thoughtful questions and work with some autonomy. (Forms V and VI. Prerequisite: Biology)
Anatomy and Physiology
This semester-long course is designed to provide students with an understanding of the structure and function of the major human organ systems. Emphasis is placed on the relationship between structure and function at the cellular, tissue, organ, and organ system levels. Classroom discussions emphasize physiology, with special attention to the relevant anatomical features of the system being studied. Possible topics to be explored include the nervous, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, immune, excretory, and reproductive systems. There will be considerable lab time, both virtual and hands-on, including dissections of a cow eye, sheep brain, sheep heart, and numerous whole organisms. (Prerequisite: Biology or Departmental approval)
Advanced Physics: Mechanics
This first semester of Advanced Physics is designed to give the student a more quantitative treatment of classical Newtonian mechanics. The course will familiarize students with motion in 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, conservation laws, periodic motion, and rotation before introducing the concept of a field and developing Gauss’ Law for gravitation. Students will design and perform experiments that develop data gathering and analysis skills as well as write formal lab reports documenting this process. (Prerequisites: Physics; Precalculus)
Advanced Physics: Electricity and Magnetism
This second semester of Advanced Physics is designed for the mathematically inclined student who wishes to explore the more theoretical aspects of the subject. The concept of the field is carried over from the first semester and expanded to include electric and magnetic fields. Additionally, students will study: Kirchoff’s Rules, Ampere’s Law, Faraday’s Law, R&C&L circuits and oscillations, Maxwell’s Equations, and E fields within the charging capacitor. Students will design and use circuits, oscillators and waveforms to better understand these abstract phenomena. (Prerequisites: Precalculus; Advanced Physics: Mechanics)
Advanced Physics: Modern Topics in Physics
This second semester of Advanced Physics is designed for a student interested in engineering and/or a broader overview of the subjects’ more recent developments. Students will conduct experiments to examine gravity and its effect on orbits as well as a research project on one of the many landmark experiments done in modern physics such as: the photoelectric effect, special relativity, the Bohr model of the atom, blackbody radiation etc. The course will culminate in an engineering project where students will design and build a high-altitude balloon equipped with pressure and temperature sensors to collect data and examine the thermal physics of earth’s atmosphere. (Prerequisites: Precalculus; Advanced Physics: Mechanics)12
Advanced Chemistry is a second-year chemistry course that builds on the fundamentals covered in previous courses. Using concepts from organic chemistry, this course explores electronic structure, advanced bonding, entropy, thermodynamics, and kinetics in greater depth. These concepts will be applied to understanding organic chemistry and organic reactivity. The laboratory component of this course is integral to a student's understanding of chemical reactivity and the connections between concepts. Student analysis of chemical principles in written lab reports requires significant time and effort. (Prerequisites: Honors grade in Honors Chemistry and Precalculus; Precalculus may be taken concurrently. Department Permission Required)
Advanced Biology provides the opportunity for students with the interest and academic discipline to study biology at the advanced level. Students will develop a thorough understanding of biological concepts that will enable them to more critically understand and evaluate some of our most pressing issues, such as stem cell research, cancer treatments, antibiotic resistance, and HIV challenges. The Advanced Biology course will study at an accelerated pace and will expect students to be mature scholars capable of independent work and utilizing available resources. Coursework will include reading from a college text, extensive lab work, analysis of scientific literature, presentation of material, and a significant focus on scientific writing. (This course may be taken as a 1st year Biology course if students meet both the prerequisite and gain Departmental permission. (Prerequisite: Honors work in Chemistry. Department Permission Required)
Advanced Environmental Science
Advanced Environmental Science is a full-year, interdisciplinary course involving the study of the physical, earth, and biological sciences. The purpose of Advanced Environmental Science is for students to develop an understanding of how scientific concepts and approaches enable us to explore the interrelatedness of the natural world, identify and analyze complex environmental challenges, and examine solutions for these challenges. Students will study: (1) the nature of science; (2) the concept of energy in an ecological system; (3) Earth as in interconnected system; (4) the effect of humans on the natural system; (5) the cultural and social contexts of environmental challenges; and (5) the need for sustainable practices. This course utilizes a highly student-driven approach which requires students to be both motivated and responsible. Students will be expected to complete scholarship in both an independent and collaborative manner; and multiple pieces of their scholarship will be published in some capacity. (Prerequisite: successful completion of Chemistry and Biology)
St. Mark’s STEM Research Fellowship: An Advanced Topics Course in Science
Science extends beyond the walls of the classroom and involves more than the acquisition of information from textbooks. While innovative electives can provide you the opportunity to understand and appreciate this idea, active participation in authentic research and real world exposure to the applications and illustrations of scientific issues is far more powerful. The St. Mark’s STEM Research Fellowship aims to provide students such an opportunity through advanced independent scientific research, collaborative work within a team focused on an area of common interest, a focused interdisciplinary approach, and the deliberate application of research to real-world challenges through a service learning experience. The St. Mark’s STEM Research Fellows Program is intended to provide an opportunity for students to work beyond the Advanced level. Further, acceptance and successful participation in this program requires a commitment to an academic endeavor spanning an entire calendar year and requiring significant independent scholarship. Students must apply for this program
Thanks to their successful showings at the Worcester Regional Science Fair, nine St. Markers will be representing the School at the Massachusetts State Science Fair in May.
On Sunday, April 2, veteran SM math teacher Karen Bryant and thirteen St. Markers attended the annual Girls STEM Summit at Regis College in Weston, MA.
On Thursday evening, February 23, SM alumna Hilary Mulholland visited campus to give a presentation as part of the ongoing Math at Work speaker series.
The St. Mark's robotics crew—Team #3566 Gone Fishin'—has been working diligently to prepare for the upcoming FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) 2017 competition season.