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.
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. Students in the Honors course should feel comfortable moving through the material in class at a quicker pace, as well as possess greater comfort with self-directed learning. The Honors Chemistry class is strongly recommended for students interested in taking Advanced Chemistry. (Prerequisite: Physics and Departmental permission)
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)
Exploration Sciences: Air and Space
Similar to Exploration Sciences: Land and Sea, Exploration Sciences: Air and Space will continue to address topics related to human beings innate and passionate need to explore and discover. Through this course, students will explore what it means to discover and push the limits of their world. Students will briefly examine what it takes to be an explorer: the common personality traits, skills, and methods that are utilized by explorers of our atmosphere and space. Course work will be a mix of a more traditional survey type astronomy course and coursework focused on space engineering and exploration principles. In the survey course setting, students will work on understanding topics related to basic astronomical concepts, astrophysics, astrochemistry and astrobiology. Students will understand definitions and functions of astronomical bodies, the solar system, the Milky way, star formation, and basic universe theory. They will explore concepts and issues related to earth’s atmosphere and apply those to understanding how other planets’ and moons’ atmospheres operate. The remainder of the course will be focused on exploration techniques related to space and our atmosphere. 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. There will be multiple engineering projects related to these ideas. These include high atmosphere exploration and data collection, rocketry, and decent vehicles.(Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology -- one course may be taken concurrently)
Exploration Sciences: Land and Sea
Human beings have yearned to learn more about themselves and the world around them since they became aware of their 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 of their world. Students will examine what it takes to be an explorer: the common personality traits, skills, and methods that are utilized by explorers. Land unit topics will involve concepts such as geology, geography, and ecology and how scientists and explorers examine the land we live on. They will learn how to use a compass, gps, and map, along with 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. Projects that students will work on include building an underwater ROV (remote operated vehicle), hiking trail development, and various field studies of areas on campus. (Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology -- one course may be taken concurrently)
Topics in Biotechnology
Topics in Biotechnology is an elective science class for students who have successfully completed Biology and are motivated to examine this emerging and rapidly evolving field. The Biotechnology elective is structured around three major thematic units: DNA and Forensics, The Promise & Concerns of a GMO World, and Human Health & Knowledge in the DNA Age. Within each Module students build their understanding of the tools and technologies that are foundational in biotechnology as well as examine their application. Students also have the opportunity to explore biotechnology through an interdisciplinary lens - thus allowing learners to consider how our changing understanding of life and our ability to manipulate life impacts society in areas such as, but not limited to, ethics, law, psychology, economics, and politics. This course is designed to be highly student-directed. In this course learners will have lots of opportunity for choice - choice in how they learn, how they demonstrate their learning, and in some cases - what they learn. With this choice comes significant responsibility. Students who enroll in this course should be prepared to be challenged as self-directed learners. Students will be expected to deeply reflect upon how they learn best, select learning pathways that will both support and challenge them as individuals, and expand their ability to demonstrate understanding. A digital portfolio will be used to manage and demonstrate learning. (Open to V and VI Formers. Prerequisite: Biology or Advanced Biology)
Case Studies in Anatomy and Physiology
Case Studies in Anatomy & Physiology is an elective science class for students who have successfully completed Biology and are motivated to examine this subdiscipline within a problem-based, collaborative structure. In this course, students will work in small teams to solve complex, real-world problems. Through the exploration of each Case Study students will study the structure and function of various human systems and apply their understanding to the novel problem presented. Students will also be expected to consider additional factors such as, but not limited to, public health, social justice, and ethics. Individuals will document their learning using an e-portfolio; teams will be expected to produce scholarly artifacts that review, explain, and present each Case Study to a variety of audiences. The course will culminate with the development and presentation of a student-designed Case Study. (Open to V and VI Formers. Prerequisite: Biology or Advanced Biology)
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 Chemistry. The course requires students to think critically and engage with chemistry in a way that mimics a first year college-level course, with an emphasis on quantitative reasoning. Topics covered include gases, equilibrium, acid-base chemistry, thermodynamics, kinetics, chemical bonding, and atomic structure. The laboratory component of the class emphasizes proper lab technique, data analysis, and scientific writing. The pace and content of the Advanced Chemistry course requires students to effectively engage in independent study, collaborative scholarship, and take advantage of all available resources. (Prerequisites: High Honors grade in Honors Chemistry and Precalculus; Precalculus may be taken concurrently. Departmental Permission Required)
This course provides the opportunity for students with the authentic interest and academic discipline to study biology at the Advanced level. Students will develop a deep understanding of the foundational concepts in modern biology as a structure upon which they will examine specific relevant topics in a theme-based approach. The course is divided into two primary topics: Metabolism and Molecular Genetics. However, the course content builds throughout the year and is explored in a manner that is highly interconnected thus bridging these two divisions. Students also examine biological issues through multiple lenses thus exploring the many factors that affect our understanding and perception of science. The Advanced Biology course is designed for study at an accelerated pace; successful students effectively engage in independent study, collaborative scholarship, and take advantage of available resources. Students are expected to learn deeply using varied resources and demonstrate their understanding in multiple formats. Coursework will include reading from a college-level text, inquiry-based lab work, analysis of novel problems, construction of evidence-based explanations, the use of models to understand complex phenomena, and a significant focus on communicating science. Over the course of the year students develop the academic skills and mindsets necessary to progress as effective student-directed learners. (Prerequisite: Successful completion of Biology or Departmental Recommendation).
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. (Prerequisite: Completion of, or concurrent enrollment in, an Advanced Science course, and Departmental permission. STEM Research fellows will be selected through an application process that will take place in the spring of 2017. Interested students should contact the Science Department Head).
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.