Our middle school science program capitalizes on the school's spaces to perform experiments.

 

The middle school science program at Proof School has started off with an emphasis on hands-on experimentation, such as building toys that display interesting physics. We have been discovering how our experiments relate to Galileo's ideas about motion and the relevance of the experiments he performed to understand gravity.

Our classes are divided between discussions around ideas in Big History and exploring physics through activities. In this block, we are studying Newton’s ideas about motion in contrast to Aristotle’s on a terrestrial scale. We are also studying the way the worldview has been debated on the cosmological scale, comparing the "steady-state" theory with the Big Bang.

We are studying motion and learning ways to describe them graphically. We have capitalized on the natural spaces in the school to perform our experiments, many of them inspired by the students extending or creatively disrupting an activity. We rolled pool table balls down a natural incline in our classroom; after students noticed that the hand rails formed a better stage for the rolling experiment, we found a natural way to compare the accuracy of data for two related experiments.

We had seen a mathematical relation begin to develop, which was further explored in an activity where students tied small metal spheres on a piece of string and dropped them on a wooden board. We performed blindfold tests to determine if students could distinguish differences in the frequency of sounds these spheres produced when they hit the wooden board. Some took the initiative to record audio data, which we analyzed to identify interesting artifacts like bouncing and background noise.

In Big History, most of our discussions are based on the students' perceptions of interesting questions. We discuss which questions could really belong to the scientific realm. In particular, we have been discussing our present vision of the future, but we have also discussed how those visions might change over the next 25 and 100 years. Our goal is to identify problems that affect our civilization.

We're also looking backward by exploring the Big Bang as an "origin story," exploring Olber’s paradox of the dark night sky, and the bearing it has on the steady-state model of the universe versus the Big Bang. In the process, students are learning to test claims from different scientific ideas and supporting them with evidence from what they research on a certain topic. 

Several of the scientific discussions we have are staged out. In our last class, as we were discussing Hubble’s ideas and his discovery of redshift of galaxies, the students got a firsthand view of the Doppler effect by throwing a bunch of pens at regular intervals while walking away from each other. No pens or students were harmed by the activity. 

-Kaushik Basu