The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Fay Magazine: Fall-Winter 2020

Lower School Update: Free-Range Scientists

Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
Lower School students engaged in an experiential science curriculum this fall that had them experimenting, building, and designing in the classroom, on the playing fields, and at home.
When COVID protocols made hands-on science a challenge this fall, Lower School science teachers Tim McCauley and Cecilia Owens got creative to ensure that their students were still learning by doing. They reimagined scientific investigations, incorporated new collaboration techniques, and brought science outside so students could connect their learning to the world around them.
How am I a scientist?
This fall, third graders began their study of magnetism and static electricity with an experiment at their desks. As students rubbed a crumpled paper towel lightly and quickly over a flat piece of Saran wrap to “charge” it, they noted how the Saran wrap puckered and wrinkled as it started to cling to the tabletop. Students realized that as the paper towel was rubbed over the plastic wrap, electrons were being transferred from one to the other. With a final exhortation to “charge, charge, charge,” Tim directed students to pick up the wrap from the two closest corners. Students squealed as it swung towards them.
To prepare for the three weeks of Fay@Home, the period between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break when students learned remotely, third graders started experimenting with circuits: in class, they were challenged to turn a lightbulb on using wire, paperclips, aluminum foil, and a D battery. Each student went home with a Ziploc bag of materials to experiment with as they learned about series circuits, parallel circuits, voltage, current, and short circuits. The students were also encouraged to mix in additional items that they find around the house. “Science shouldn’t only live in the classroom,” says Tim. “I want students to think like scientists whether they are playing outside or sitting at the kitchen table.”
How does science influence my daily life?
Fourth graders have been learning about where water comes from, how it moves around the earth, and how people’s relationship with water is different around the world. To learn about groundwater, Tim took students down to the reservoir, where he poured a bucket of water onto the ground and then challenged students to scour the area for evidence to explain why that water is absorbed into the ground while the reservoir stays filled.
Students also experimented with the properties of water at home, how different factors influence freezing or how light bends in water. They collected materials, made hypotheses, recorded observations, and drew conclusions about the process.
During Fay@Home, fourth graders used the design thinking process to construct, test, and reconstruct water filters out of materials that they found around the house. In class, they talked about the difference between “clear” water and “clean” water, and as a class they cooked up their own recipe for dirty water so everyone was filtering out the same materials.
How can we as scientists explain the world?
Fifth graders started the year by studying the sun, renewable versus non-renewable energy sources, and green technology. Students constructed their own solar ovens at home and did some delicious experimentation as they heated cheese nachos, pizza bagels, and s’mores! Afterwards, Cecilia handed out aluminum foil, black paper, a Ziploc bag, and a Hershey kiss; she challenged students to take the materials outside and make something that could demonstrate the power of solar energy. Some students quickly realized that they could apply the principles they had learned in constructing their solar ovens to melt the chocolate.
A new addition to the curriculum this year was demonstrating the power of the sun with a solar bag. Students took the 60-foot black plastic bag out to the playing fields, and after tying off one end they ran with the open end to fill the bag with air and tie it off. When the sun came out, the air inside the bag heated up, and the bag rose into the air. When the sun went behind a cloud, the bag would quickly sink. “The students made the connection that it was acting like a hot air balloon,” says Cecilia. Fifth graders will be able to apply these concepts in their next unit, when they study the oceans and learn why the water on top is warmer. “Students are starting to see how the earth and its systems connect to one another,” says Cecilia.
How can science inspire new ideas and explanations?
Sixth graders learn about the solar system and go on a virtual mission to Mars where they design, construct, and build their own Mars lander/rover. Cecilia got her students into the engineering mindset by challenging them to design satellites that can stay in a wind tunnel for at least five seconds without flying out or sinking down.
As students learned how scientists gather information about planets from afar, they practiced the skill of crater dating by constructing their own craters out of flour, baking soda, cornmeal, and cornstarch. Working like lunar geologists, they studied clues about how their crater formed and whether it would make a good destination for a Mars lander.
In preparation for their mission, sixth graders are working in groups to design their own mission badges for their trip to Mars. While they would normally huddle around a table to collaborate, students this fall connected with their teams on Zoom wearing headsets in class so that they could communicate without getting too close. “My classroom sounds like a call center,” jokes Cecilia, “but it’s important that the collaboration is still there. It’s just through conversation rather than sharing materials.”
During Fay@Home, sixth graders designed and constructed their Mars landers/rovers. The astronaut in this challenge was actually an “eggstronaut,” and the goal was to economically construct a Mars lander that would allow the egg to survive impact. Everyone went home with the same materials, and students were budgeted a certain number of points for their supplies and credited for unused points. Obviously, the eggstronaut’s survival was of paramount importance!
Throughout the Lower School science curriculum, both Tim and Cecilia emphasize the important relationship between hands-on experimentation and writing about scientific thinking. After projects and experiments, students use their science journals to deconstruct, reflect on, and explain what they saw and experienced. “The hands-on experimentation isn’t as meaningful without the writing,” says Cecilia. “Students are developing their observational writing skills as they record what they are seeing, and they are learning how to support their ideas with information from reliable sources.”

Want to learn more about Fay? Fill out the form below.

main number 508-490-8250
admission 508-490-8201