Innovation in MUS Science

Over the last several years the Science Department has been continuing to transform the way science is taught and learned in both middle and high school at SDJA.  We have adopted innovative curricula, developed innovative teaching practices, and we provide classroom and extracurricular opportunities for our students to be innovators.

The curricula in our core courses, including Earth Science, Life Science and Physical Science in middle school, along with Biology, Chemistry and Physics in high school, are designed so that students learn concepts by experimenting, reading and analyzing data on their own, with the teacher guiding the process and asking questions to help students refine their understanding.  We have new technology in the labs, including Vernier data probes and sensors that allow students to explore concepts and obtain results in real time.  These innovative approaches allow students to discover important scientific principles for themselves, leading to both deeper understanding of content and the development of skills such as experimental design, interpretation and presentation of data, problem solving, collaboration, cooperation and written and oral communication.

All science students in MUS, with the exception of students in AP science classes, participate in the LionScience Project.  Loosely modeled after Google’s 20% time program for its engineers, science students spend some classroom time pursuing a scientific interest of their choosing, in an effort to solve a problem that they have identified.  The solutions can be focused on small problems, such as determining the best color paint for a learning environment based on cognitive neuroscience,  arge problems, such as designing a drug to target certain cancer cells, or global problems such as designing a method to remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Students work at their own pace, and are working towards building a model of their solution.

The innovation in curriculum design promotes innovative teaching practices to encourage each student to achieve his/her greatest potential.  Several of our high school courses include units that are designed to lead to student awareness about the process of learning and how the material they are grappling with affects their own lives.  Our 9th grade Biology class started the year with a unit on learning that included brain physiology, the benefits and pitfalls of different studying and learning strategies, and strategies to improve memory. In Anatomy and Physiology, students explore the effects of nutrition, sleep, exercise and alcohol on the body systems of the teenage body.  These practices allow students to connect directly with the content and to develop skills that will serve them into the future.

We also offer electives and extracurricular programming where students can innovate.  Many of our middle school electives, including Crimestoppers, Make-It, Cooking with Chemistry and MS Robotics, provide students with the opportunity for hands-on learning that is student directed and open ended allowing students room to be highly creative.  The high school engineering classes use a project based learning paradigm where students learn by inventing something.  Our high school robotics team provides extracurricular interdisciplinary opportunities for innovation including coding, engineering, finance, marketing, and communications.  And the Independent Science Research program continues to offer highly motivated students a chance to explore an area of interest by conducting groundbreaking research in one of the many labs in the area, including UCSD, The Salk Institute, and The Scripps Research Institute, among others.

We are excited to continue exploring innovation in science at SDJA.  We can’t wait to see what our faculty and students come up with next.

Cheryl Eisen, JD PhD

MUS Science Department Chair

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