By Kris Bennett, FSMN Middle School Science Teacher

Friends School of Minnesota is committed to developing scientifically literate students. Our program is designed to nurture curiosity about the natural world, develop students skilled in scientific inquiry, and promote critical thinking in all areas of life.

The key to this approach is ensuring that children are at the center of their learning. Students must have experience constructing their own understanding through questioning and inquiry. One way we provide this experience for students is through interdisciplinary projects that allow them to build and foster these skills.

This year we have two projects that highlight these concepts of progressive education at its finest:

Big News–We Are Working with the National Park Service
The middle school has been asked to be part of a federal 3-year grant with the National Park Service to develop new curriculum around Citizen Science that can be used by public as well as private schools in the Twin Cities metro area. Our science program was chosen as one of two schools in the Twin Cities already doing the work the National Park Service is trying to do.

How We Will Help the Park Service Develop Curriculum
We will continue taking field trips to the park, will plant cottonwood trees as part of the Plant for the Future initiative, continue our work on prairie restoration, and field test new Citizen Science software programs such as iNaturalist. Teachers have been meeting with the National Park Service since last spring to plan how we will work together this year.

STEAM Day
We have re-named and revised our 7th and 8th Grade Science Fair to now be “Friends School STEAM Day.” STEAM stands for Science. Technology. Engineering. Art. Math. This current approach embraces progressive education and the interdisciplinary nature of our middle school.

Interdisciplinary Approach
With STEAM, we will be able to add more of an engineering focus for students to design solutions to real-world problems. We will also be able to pull in the expertise of our math, art, and humanities teachers as well. Though most of the work will be done in the science classroom, students will interact and have support from other teachers on this project. Using different disciplines together gives students richer, more complex experiences that allow them to deepen their learning.

We will be hosting our own STEAM day at Friends School of Minnesota. This allows us the time to dedicate all of 3rd quarter science class to our STEAM projects, while preserving the other three quarters for our math and physical science curriculum and in-depth partnership with the National Park Service.

It will also give us plenty of time to practice science and engineering design challenges in class before taking on independent or group projects of the students’ choosing.

Our Timeline for STEAM Day
Actual STEAM work will begin in February and March, with an evening event date TBD in later March.

Stay tuned… it is going to be a great year.