Academic Insights: TCS Science Department

Peeking through the door of a science classroom at Trinity College School in a normal year, one would see students up and moving around the classroom gathering materials for their experiment, or students looking through microscopes, or students participating in a kinesthetic simulation of a concept. A hands-on approach to learning is the single most important value of the TCS science department. This is the way we inspire curiosity in our students and make our curriculum filled with equations and terminology more relatable, while teaching important skills of inquiry that are fundamental to scientific thinking. The last year has brought about tremendous change in every facet of school life including our science program, yet the challenge has also provided new opportunities for growth in both teachers and students.

The first major challenge came last spring when we had to figure out how to teach science online. We were required to quickly adapt to teaching without our classroom bag of tricks while learning new educational technology tools. The power of collaboration across the TCS faculty allowed us to add to our toolbox of skills and encouraged creativity in our teaching approaches as we shared ideas, making us better teachers in the process. And, we learned that communication in the virtual realm still has the power to connect us.

The second main challenge came in September as we welcomed students back on campus. We needed to brainstorm ways to run lab activities while following our health protocols, including limiting classroom movement and sharing of equipment. While some labs had to be shelved this year, we took a creative approach to those labs that we could do, even if it meant spending more time redesigning procedures, or creating individual kits for students, or meticulously sanitizing materials after use. Science teachers all agree that these experiences are worth it.

The third challenge is one that all teachers face at TCS and relates to student connection. Distancing, cohorting and masking have had an impact on getting to know students in the same way we are accustomed to, and it has had an undeniable effect on interactions between peers in the classroom. The effect is felt more in a hybrid classroom divided between on-campus and off-campus students, and we continue to find ways to better connect with each and every student. The science department was always a hub of activity during morning academic assistance. Students would gather in classrooms, asking teachers for help or working with their peers to figure out their homework problems. That busy energy is certainly missed by science teachers, and at the same time this year has perhaps allowed some students to build independent learning skills. As we move through the final two terms of the school year, building connections with and amongst our students will remain a priority for teachers.

Lastly, science teachers recognize there might be some gaps in knowledge and skills as a result of the pandemic year. We have been judicious about what specific cuts were made to our science curriculum this year given time constraints, health protocols and student support needs. Ultimately, we are focused on teaching the core concepts and skills needed for success at the next level of study as a priority. And so, this will be an ongoing focus in the science department as we continue to discuss what skills we need to revisit as a team in the time ahead.

We look forward to better days but we also appreciate the lessons learned in the past year.

- By Dr. Vincenza Pontieri, head of science