1. Start with teachers who have real-world experience
Teachers who have worked or earned degrees in scientific fields are more apt to be genuinely interested in their subject. Waynflete’s faculty, which includes former nuclear engineers, wildlife ecologists, physicists, microbiologists, and biotech researchers, are more likely to introduce field work, numerous labs, and opportunities to work with scientists in their classes. The result? Greater student enthusiasm and engagement.
2. Keep the curriculum fresh
The discovery of gravitational waves, the redefinition of the kilogram, the emergence of thousands of exoplanets, the outbreak of Ebola—good teachers are always on the lookout for opportunities to connect students with recent discoveries or crises. When students are asked to sort through databases and scientific journals, problem-solve, and suggest solutions for real challenges, they get a feel for the excitement of doing “real science”— instead of merely completing another assignment.
3. Go beyond science
Scientific advances are often accompanied by weighty ethical issues. While access to cutting-edge technology is essential (for example, we give students the tools to run their own molecular genetics laboratory and analyze gene variants in DNA), look for a classrooms where kids are pushed further to consider the broader social implications of this kind of research.
4. Engage every student
Science is for everyone. Look for a curriculum that is designed to keep every student curious, engaged, and motivated—including those students who will pursue non-scientific paths in college. When presented with the right level of challenge, every student has the potential to learn and have fun. Great teachers know that asking the right kinds of questions is the key to engaging students’ natural sense of curiosity.
5. Focus on writing
The ability to write with clarity about the scientific process (hypothesis, supporting data, and conclusions) can be as important as the research itself. Keep an eye out for science classes where the depth of inquiry increases significantly throughout the high school years. By their junior year, students should be writing at least several lengthy reports in all their science classes. Students should be able to reflect back on their high school experience and recall how much their writing skills improved—in all their classes.
6. Make it about concepts and processes
An effective science curriculum helps students develop the critical thinking skills they need to attack problems methodically and analytically. Teachers can encourage independent thinking by coaching students to propose their own explanations based on credible sources and previous experiences. The curriculum should emphasize the problem-solving process rather than just the formulas required to find specific answers.
7. Find opportunities for work with real scientists
There are a surprising number of ways for high school students to collaborate with scientists around the world. Students can put their observational skills to work with the International Asteroid Search Collaboration, a program that enables teams to track objects in space and make original discoveries. They can participate in NASA programs, researching asteroid spectra and resource-rich locations on the surface of the moon that might be suitable for human habitats. Or they can collect and analyze local marine biology data and share findings with scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. These kinds of real-world applications are just the kind of thing that gets kids excited about science.