AcademicsApr 1, 2021
— updated May 20, 2021
Opening pathways for girls in science
Expanding Opportunities for Student Scientists
The math is fairly straightroward — increase the number of girls studying science, and you increase the number of women scientists
Science Department Chair
Two recent changes in the MHS Science Department aim to do just that. First, all departments at Miss Hall’s moved away from the Advanced Placement curriculum this year [see “Moving Beyond A.P.” in the Fall 2020 MHS Magazine]. Second, the department stopped sequencing students into “honors’’ and “regular” tracks. Instead, foundational classes such as Biology and Chemistry include students of all abilities.
“By taking off the ’honors,’ we have a more heterogeneous mix of students in each class, and we’re no longer labeling students,” says Science Department Chair Donna Daigle. “Those labels stopped students from exploring courses they might have explored, because they didn’t see themselves as ’good at science,’ or at ’honors’ level, even before they took the class.”
“There’s also a sense of equity and access for all students in terms of what they have available to them,” adds Science Teacher Jennifer LaForest, who suggested to Ms. Daigle that the department consider the change. “This message of, ’You are regular, and you are honors,’ really limits a student’s sense of self.”
Rather, when students discover success in foundational courses, they’re much more likely to take upper-level courses in subsequent years. Faculty in the Science Department are already seeing that play out.
“Once we changed our approach to tracking, we saw a dramatic shift in student interest,” Ms. Daigle notes. “Our electives and Hallmark classes have a mixed grouping of students more representative of our student population. If we want women to fill the ranks as future scientists, then we need to signal that all young women have the capacity to do so, not just a select few.”
The shape of those upper-level courses has significantly changed since launching the Hallmark curriculum. There is more project-based learning and less focus on an all-encompassing, end-of-year exam.
“When we used to sequence our courses, honors classes prepared students for the exam, and that drove the content,” Ms. Daigle adds. “Now we ask ourselves, ’What do we want to teach? What are we passionate about? What do students need to learn? What’s relevant to today?’ and, ultimately, these questions, and many more, help us to develop courses that better prepare students for college and beyond.”
Earth Science Students Dig Deep
This fall, students in Kennedy Raimer’s Earth Science class completed in-depth explorations of the earth’s features, creating infographics to highlight important details of their work and to share what they learned, whether plumbing the depths of the Mariana Trench or calculating the size of the Sahara Desert.
Students were asked to research five areas for each region: a tectonic landform; a water-made landform; an atmospheric event; a water network; and a human impact. “The goals were for students to understand how the systems of the earth are dynamic and work together, and for them to explore what processes have created the earth as we know it today,” Ms. Raimer explains.
“I enjoyed this project,” says Cherish Buxton ’23. “I am very passionate about climate change and would love to pursue a career in environmental engineering. This was my main purpose for taking Earth Science. I believe the first step to fighting climate change is to become more aware. We must step out of our own country and take account of how actions affect people in other regions as well.”
Exploring Chemistry Through Conflict
"We've had great success with Project Based Learning,” notes Science Teacher Jennifer LaForest, whose Chemistry students last year embarked on a several- week, cross-disciplinary project exploring chemistry and connections with historical and contemporary conflicts.
They chose an element or compound associated with an historic conflict — whether rubber in the Congo, sugar and the slave trade, or lithium during the Cold War — studied a contemporary conflict associated with the material, then came up with a possible solution for the conflict.
They created posters related to the element/compound and the two conflicts they studied, wrote a lengthy paper, and developed a multimedia component related to the contemporary conflict.
“It was a lot of work, there were many pieces to the project, and it took a lot of time, but we decided in the end that it was totally worth it,” she adds. “The students respond to these projects, are inquisitive, dig in, and do great work. And, in the end, they’re going to remember what they learned much more than had I presented it to them in a lecture.”
During Term 2 (October 19 to November 30), the pandemic was raging — and so was the misinformation.
“Coupled with this relevant issue was the question ofcontent,” notes Science Department Chair Donna Daigle. “So, during my Term 2 Biology class, I decided to teach cell physiology by doing a deep dive into the immune system.”
Ms. Daigle posed this question to her students: “There’s a lot of misinformation about SARS-CoV-2 or lack of information. How can we support our community and provide helpful information as we continue to run school during a pandemic?”
“We were going to have people commuting into the state and from other parts of the state to go to school, and I thought it would be helpful to know the numbers and where to be extra careful within the state and within the Berkshires.”
Symaira Elliott ’22
Students responded with a number of impressive projects, which included:
- Symaira Elliott ’22: “COVID-19 – Massachusetts and the Berkshires"
- Hava Methe ’22: “Female Leaders and How they have Handled the Pandemic”
- Juju Qui ’22: ”Mutation of SARS-COV-2”
- Dorothy Shi ’22 and Sammie Yu ’22: “Vaccine for COVID-19?”
- Ivy Zhou ’22: “A Crisis in Immune Town”