Middle School Science

Open Window School’s inquiry based science curriculum develops independent and critical thinking skills, as well as positive attitudes and curiosity towards science. Our middle school program allows students to enhance their content knowledge through authentic inquiry, encourages students to design their own experiments and investigations, and teaches students to communicate their results following the scientific method. Students will engage in scientific discourse with their peers, as well as in partnerships with scientists and researchers in a variety of fields.

Fifth Grade

Fifth grade, student scientists delve into energy, including fossil fuels, nuclear energy, solar energy, and other alternative energy sources. Students debate the pros and cons of different energy sources, and think critically about the potential of these sources.  These concepts are brought to life in two memorable partnerships. The first partnership takes them to the Wild Horse Wind and Solar facility, where students examine wind turbines and solar panel arrays up close and personal. The second partnership is to an local personal residence that is award-winning for its use of an array of energy sources and green technology.
 
Next, students explore "simple" machines, evaluating the relationship between effort applied and work produced to create a mechanical advantage. Students systematically measure, diagram, design and apply mathematical relationships to several simple machines, such as levers and pulleys. As a final, culminating project, students incorporate what they have learned, plus lots of creativity, to create a Rube Goldberg contraption to accomplish a task.
 
Finally, students focus on “Populations and Ecosystems,” connecting their study of energy with the source of most life on Earth, our sun. Students start by focusing on the big picture: ecosystems, trophic levels, and energy transfer. The focus narrows throughout the course of the unit, ending with a study of genetics. To illustrate these concepts, students raise populations of organisms, travel off-campus on several partnerships, and use computer simulations in order to discover population dynamics and interactions over a range of conditions.  This unit culminates with field research in a week-long Hallmark Trip, where students collect data at a variety of locations around Olympic National Park.  This data is then analyzed once back on the Open Window School campus.
 
Course Materials:   
  • University of California’s Full Option Science System (FOSS) units on Solar Energy, Population & Ecosystems, Levers & Pulleys, and Variables
  • Infinite Potential (The JASON Project)
  • Environmental Detectives (GEMS), Great Explorations in Math and Science

Seventh Grade

The first semester seventh grade science curriculum begins with a brief neuroscience unit, dives deep into the realm of astronomy and ends with a study of water and its physical and chemical characteristics.  Water’s properties naturally lead into physical science and chemistry for the second semester. Students conduct regular labs, inquiry based investigations, and deeply explore and apply their scientific knowledge throughout the course.

During the introductory neuroscience unit, the students explore Brain Rules, specifically the sections pertaining to sleep, stress, and study habits.  This helps students understand the importance of structured study time, time and stress management, and the need for sleep.

Students begin the astronomy unit studying the lives of stars and the how scientists observe space.  The class builds small telescopes and visit the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array) telescope in Eastern Washington.  As students progress, they choose independent topics of inquiry, write a research paper, and use spectrometers, flame tests, and spectrum tubes to explore the connection between elements in stars and the elements here on our planet and determine the composition of objects from such a distance. 

The second semester curriculum establishes the foundation for physical science and chemistry and continues to build experimental design skills.  Students conduct regular labs and/or inquiry based investigations to explore topics. A unique project allows students to explore ceramics and ceramic glazes.  The class makes glazes from raw materials, and links tessellation tile patterns and chemistry calculations to the glazes and firing process they encounter. 
 
As the course concludes, the biological sciences come into the picture with a short unit on biochemistry and nutrition which leads them into their eighth grade biology class.  STEM Day in May allows the students to showcase a project from this class or another that focused on science, technology, engineering and math for the greater school community. 
 
Texts: 
Science Explorer Series – Physical Science, Prentice Hall 2007 
Introductory Chemistry, Nivaldo J. Tro. Pearson, 2009.
Science Explorer Series – Earth Science, Prentice Hall 2007 
Brain Rules by John Medina, Pear Press 2008

Sixth grade

Sixth grade scientists jump immediately into the chemistry lab to solve a mystery, the “Observation Challenge.”  Using their skills of observation, student groups conduct testing to identify three mystery liquids and document their evidence in a lab report. Lab safety, organization and proper lab protocol kicks off the sixth grade year of science.
In their unit on earth and atmospheric science, students begin their investigations with a visit to Mt. St. Helens and continue with studies of the tectonic forces that cause earthquakes, create volcanoes, shape mountains and forge rocks. The study of earth science then turns to weather systems, including the study of the layers of the atmosphere and conditions in near space. During this study, students will have the unique opportunity of designing and building flight computers and satellites equipped with scientific probes that will travel to near space via high altitude balloons, gathering data that will be analyzed back in the lab to answer student-developed experimental questions. Additional experiences include weekly laboratory experiments, field studies, interaction with local scientists, and experiential exercises.
 
During their week long sailing the Salish Sea hallmark trip, our sixth graders will also dive deeper into science by studying how specific variables like surfactants and other pollutants are affecting the quality of water and plankton health in the Salish Sea.  When students return from their trip, they are encouraged to share their findings with the OWS community via interactive and exciting presentations during STEM Day in the Spring.
 
Students conclude their year experimenting with the physics principles behind natural and designed motion involving velocity, acceleration, and momentum, replicating some of Galileo’s and Newton’s experiments. Students learn first-hand how Newton’s laws of motion apply to everyday movement from sports to rocketry. Throughout the year, students participate in group engineering challenges to build teamwork and creativity.
 
Course Materials:
  • Science Explorer Series
  • Catastrophic Events, Student Guide and Sourcebook
  • Monster Storms and Terminal Velocity (The JASON Project)
  • University of California’s Full Option Science System (FOSS) unit on Force and Motion 
  • Salish Sea Primer
  • Earth Science: Science Explorer (Prentice Hall)
  • Force and Motion (FOSS)

Eighth Grade: Biology

The eight grade science curriculum mirrors a high school honors or advanced level biology class.

Students begin the course studying sustainable agriculture in an interdisciplinary project in coordination with their humanities class.  They design plant growing stations which allow them to create environments that mirror crops grown in various regions across the country and design experiments that evaluate the sustainability of growing these crops under specific conditions. Students write specific grant proposals and present them to a mock USDA panel.

In the first semester, students study the concept of cell biology, with a focus on cellular structure, function and processes.  They explore protein synthesis through multiple hands on experiences, which lead to an in-depth study of genetics, heredity, and biotechnology.  In all instances, lab skills, experimental design, and modeling are integral to their studies. As students explore protein synthesis, restriction enzymes, and gel electrophoresis, they travel to the University of Washington Department of Bioengineering for additional lab based experiences.
 
During the second semester, students prepare for their hallmark trip to Costa Rica, proposing and creating experiments to conduct on the ten day trip. Their preparation also requires students to dive into evolutionary theory, the management of ecosystems, taxonomy, and plant/animal adaptations.  Experiments are conducted on the trip, and a full lab report is written in the following weeks.  Many students choose to share their experiments as their project for the May STEM Day.
 
Students conclude the second semester studying comparative anatomy and physiology through the lens of the circulatory and nervous systems.  They dissect specific organs, identifying structures and their important functions.  An inquiry based investigation allows student choice of exploration into the pathway of blood, the senses, or comparative anatomy.
 
Texts: 
Science Explorer Series – Life Science, Prentice Hall 2007. 
Biology, Miller and Levine.  Pearson, 2014.