The overall aim of the science program at Avenues is to train students to think like a scientist: to internalize the practices, vocabulary and habits of mind necessary to engage critically and analytically with the world around them. From hands-on explorations in the Early Learning Center to the project-based labs of the upper grades, we equip our students with the tools they need to investigate curiosities, understand natural laws and communicate scientific ideas. Science is rarely studied in isolation at Avenues: more often than not, students incorporate scientific practices into interdisciplinary projects and use their scientific knowledge to solve real-world problems in semester-long projects. As part of our broader mission to graduate thoughtful and responsible global citizens who are aware that their behavior makes a difference in our ecosystem, the program cultivates the critical thinking skills and content knowledge necessary for students to evaluate the scientific claims they encounter in their daily lives—whether as consumers, in the news media or in the cultural sphere.
In the ELC, beginning in nursery, science is taught by a specialist in a series of engaging, hands-on exploratory labs. Our youngest students interact with a variety of tactile materials while pursuing units of study on topics such as insects, life cycles, the human body, the seasons and inventions. In these labs, students create their own projects while learning essential skills of collaboration, problem solving and trial-and-error. Scientific study is integrated with dramatic and creative play, allowing students to develop and take pleasure in self-expression while expanding their understanding of the natural world.
The chief goals of the Lower Division science program are to inspire students’ curiosity about the world around them and to introduce them to the fundamental scientific practice: using observation and experimentation to gain insight into natural phenomena. Honoring our mission statement pledge to graduate students who are “aware that their behavior makes a difference in our ecosystem,” we work to develop in our students an understanding of the interconnectedness of all natural systems and an awareness of our responsibility to care for the environment.
In the classroom and science lab, we focus on the cultivation of the all-important science process skills—a set of abilities that together represent a mental toolkit for scientific inquiry and play a pivotal role in the development of critical thinking skills more broadly. Those skills include observation, inference, measurement, communication, classification and prediction. Content is introduced through inquiry; using the design thinking process, teachers guide students to discuss, collaborate and investigate to find answers. Whether students are recreating the Hudson River and dissecting fish or creating their own machines while studying inventions, units are interdisciplinary and include the study of plants, animals, the water cycle, geology, the human body, electricity, astronomy and robotics.
The Upper Division science program focuses on interdisciplinary connections—both between the sciences and with other subjects such as the arts, the humanities and engineering. We train students to ask bold, pertinent questions and equip them to find nuanced answers, as opposed to teaching them the answers to questions that are already settled. Units are often project-based and frequently require students to work in pairs or teams—whether in the science lab, the hallways or out in the field.
Building on the science process skills developed in the Lower Division, in the Upper Division we cultivate proficiency in the following science practices:
Middle Grades (6–8)
The 6th grade science curriculum focuses on natural resources and asks students to consider the resources on earth that we need in order to survive. Through studies of water quality and water management, students investigate resource management in the broader context of the relationship between humans and the environment. Students round out the year with a robotics design challenge based on investigating resources on other planets.
In 7th grade, students investigate life sciences in order to answer the question, “what are we made of?” with reference to food chains, photosynthesis and energy. Zooming out, students examine the carbon cycle and its relationship to human and planetary survival—at the cellular, organism and ecosystem level.
The 8th grade curriculum is structured around the concept of changes through an interdisciplinary lens. Students investigate changes in different scientific contexts: in motion, chemical reactions and properties of matter; evolutionary change and natural selection; how radiation causes change; and, finally, the relationship between the sun and the systems on earth.
Upper Grades (9–12)
The upper grades science curriculum builds on the “physics first” sequence first pioneered in the 1990s by Nobel prizewinning physicist Leon Lederman. Applying the best principles of the physics>chemistry>biology sequence, our integrated science program focuses on connections to important modern issues like environment, communication, adaptation and energy resources, as well as engineering design.
In 9th grade, students are invited to think about objects in the world around them and begin to define on a scientific level how those objects are structured, what makes them different and what makes them work. The year begins with an in-depth study of the nature of matter, including the atomic and molecular structure of materials and the electrical forces that hold them together. Students continue to develop their understanding of familiar objects as they move on to investigate the science behind the cell phone with an in-depth study of waves and communication systems.
10th grade comprises a deep dive into modern energy sources, from solar and wind power to combustion and nuclear energy. This leads naturally into an exploration of the ecosystem in which we live, with a particular focus on the chemical reactions that occur in the atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere and other relevant interactions between humans and their environment.
In 11th grade, the integrated science curriculum culminates in our study of biochemistry, in which the study of life takes the center stage. Students explore the processes that occur within and between living organisms, including reproduction, genetics, evolution, adaptation and disease, while making connections to the chemical environment and physical systems studied in prior coursework. In 10th, 11th and 12th grade, students may also opt to take electives in advanced physics, advanced chemistry, advanced biochemistry, astronomy and psychology.