Learning to Think Like a Scientist

By M. Kent Travis

Lower School Science

“Science should be a hands-on experience—as much as possible.”

This is Jenny Wallace’s nut-shell perspective and practice in the science classroom. “Science lends itself to cooperative learning, and I really encourage that,” she explained. With this philosophy in mind, Mrs. Wallace has been about the business of creating a hands-on, cooperative learning experience at Brook Hill’s lower and middle schools.

A seasoned veteran teacher with over thirty years in the classroom, Mrs. Jenny Wallace came to Brook Hill three years ago to teach sixth grade physical science. But don’t let her years of experience fool you into thinking she’s anything other than a bright-eyed, enthusiastic leader of young souls in their discovery of the world. Indeed, she is still every bit as eager about learning and science as the typical elementary or middle school student.

Brook Hill has always emphasized science in the everyday curriculum at the lower school. However, a growing focus over the past few years in education has been to “include students” in the discovery of what it means to “think like a scientist.” Jenny Wallace has brought this to life for us by implementing labs for the third graders that complement the classroom instruction they are receiving. Furthermore, Mrs. Wallace also now teaches a rigorous, yet exciting, lab-centered science curriculum to the fourth and fifth graders on a quarterly basis (that is, the students alternate between social studies and science each quarter).

How are the results? An obvious answer is that our science curriculum is becoming more stream-lined and vertically aligned. Since Mrs. Wallace will interact with the same students over the course of three years (grades four to six), she knows exactly what they’ve been taught, what labs they’ve performed, and where they need to go—or can go. Mrs. Wallace is particularly pleased about this: “Now I can take them even further in their knowledge and experience in sixth grade.”

The feeling among Mrs. Wallace’s students matches her own. She explained, “I’ll see students in the hall who are currently taking social studies and they’ll ask me, ‘When are we coming back to science again?’” They can’t wait to get back in their lab coats and see what scientific surprises and wonders Mrs. Wallace has for them next.

When asked about science class, the students’ responses are nearly unanimous: they are excited about science.

Boston Durrett: “We have fun labs and learn while having fun… it just makes learning a lot better.”

Morgan Maddox:  “It’s fun! It’s my favorite class.”

Liam Kennedy: “I really love this class because we get to learn lots of stuff and really cool things about science.”

Max Lowry: “In science with Mrs. Wallace, learning is fun.”

Mary Elizabeth Roberts: “One of the things that is really fun is the labs, but there is also all the work that we have to do… but the labs make it a really awesome time here.”

Clearly, her students love her class and Mrs. Wallace clearly loves her subject and loves sharing it with her students. But for her, perhaps the best part of it all is implementing such a hands-on, cooperative learning program at a Christian school. This is, after all, God’s created world of wonders. Now she can give credit where credit is due and point students to both the creation and to its creator: “It’s been a real blessing to teach science in a Christian setting and not have to worry about saying ‘God.’ I can openly give credit to the creator.”

So what is Jenny Wallace bringing to our science program at the lower school? A wide-eyed, hands-on,  God-centered experience of God’s spoken world. And we are all better for it.

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