The Shipley Magazine

Middle School Science: Experiential Learning for Building a Better World

Holly Caldwell
Whether guiding students through the impact of water erosion, analyzing resource management use, or taking part in sustainability efforts, Shipley’s Middle School science teachers stress the importance of experiential learning. In so doing, they challenge students to approach each unit with intellectual curiosity by asking the question: “How can we be better observers in the world and ask more critical questions to create the world we wish to see?”

Central to this approach involves studying certain topics, such as Earth’s water systems, with an interdisciplinary and hands-on approach. Working in tandem with STEAM classes, students will connect a stream table to the water system and create tiny houses with 3D printers to simulate water erosion patterns using different amounts of flow. “You can think of this as a train table for hydrology,” explains teacher Joseph Frigo.

Though resource management use is often categorized as a science-based endeavor, Mr. Frigo’s students teamed up with Mark Stetina’s history classes to examine how humans have impacted the natural environment. As part of their learning about Mayan history, eighth grade students shared a classroom with an axolotl, an amphibian native to Central Mexico and the Yucatán that flourished during the time of the Maya, but due to pollution and agricultural methods, now faces extinction in the wild.

After delving into various aspects of sustainability, students will apply their knowledge and build a stream ecosystem. In January, classes received rainbow trout eggs from the Fish and Wildlife Service of PA. Students will rear the trout through multiple stages until May, when they will be released into the Wissahickon Creek. When asked how this type of hands-on learning enriches the curriculum, Mr. Frigo replied, “This type of experiential learning is essential to helping students understand how and why ecosystems have changed over time. It helps them consider why it is beneficial to stock the Wissahickon with trout each year and who might benefit from that.”

The tangible skills students acquire through experiential learning in forming and testing hypotheses extend well beyond the classroom and apply to a multitude of scenarios, such as social situations, creating new technologies, or business development, according to Mr. Frigo. With this solid foundation, his students will surely be prepared to take an active role in creating the world they wish to see. —by Holly Caldwell

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.