Students at Campbell Hall come from a wide array of socio-economic, spiritual, cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. The school has students in Kindergarten through grade 12 and has been in operation for 72 years. It is a member of the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and has hosted the southern working group meeting for many years. While many families pay full tuition, nearly a fourth receive financial assistance. The school recently completed a major building project, the Arts and Education Center and is in the midst of a capital campaign to enhance its endowment. Students are well–supported academically by teachers and grade level deans and holistically through a robust human development department and advisory program. The average class size in grades 7-12 is 16. In general, parents are actively involved in their children’s learning and school life.
Table 1: 2014-2015 Survey - Student by Ethnic Count (as of Opening Day, August 28, 2014)
Junior High 17
High School 28
55 % of enrollment: 4.95%
Junior High 18
High School 44
77 % of enrollment: 6.93%
Junior High 15
High School 17
38 % of enrollment: 3.42%
Junior High 4
High School 16
29 % of enrollment: 2.61%
Junior High 32
High School 69
160 % of enrollment: 14.4%
Junior High 0
High School 0
0 % of enrollment: 0.00%
32.3% of Total Enrollment Total Enrollment: 1111
Elementary Enrollment: 344
Junior High Enrollment: 231
High School Enrollment: 536
Table 2: Diversity at a glance facts (from school website)
The mission statement of Campbell Hall includes language that highlights our intention to continually build upon “a community of inquiry committed to academic excellence and to the nurturing of decent, loving and responsible human beings”. Division meetings often feature discussions about how to incorporate more inquiry based learning into the curriculum and teachers in each department and division are acutely aware of the need to engender a spirit of inquiry among their students. For the last two years, the science department has been tasked with conducting a self-study and one goal of this study is to explore and define strategies for enhancing Inquiry based learning.
"Inquiry is not merely ‘having students do projects’ but rather strives to nurture deep, discipline-based way of thinking and doing with students. (Stephenson, 2013)
As as entry point, inquiry involves learners:
✦tackling real-world questions, issues and controversies
✦developing questioning, research and communication skills
✦solving problems or creating solutions
✦collaborating within and beyond the classroom
✦developing deep understanding of content knowledge
✦participating in the public creation and improvement of ideas and knowledge
Inquiry is a umbrella term that covers a number of other approaches to teaching and learning. Teaching practices that utilize a disposition of inquiry learning include:
✦problem-based learning: learning that starts with an ill-structured problem or case-study
✦project-based learning: students create a project or presentation as a demonstration of their understanding
✦design-based learning: learning through the working design of a solution to a complex problem" (Stephenson, 2013)
While in the past, much of the teaching done in the science program has followed a traditional “teacher presents, student absorbs” format, a high value placed on inquiry-based learning by the administration and natural teacher cycling is shifting the classroom paradigm toward a more-student centered model. We envision ourselves as a community of inquiry and students are increasingly practicing in this mode of learning in many of their science courses. As a consequence, students’ enjoyment of and engagement with science courses is increasing. While some content continues to be delivered in a lecture format where students are expected to take notes then recall knowledge on tests and quizzes, teachers are directing more energy toward service learning opportunities and hands-on labs where students can collect meaningful data for subsequent analysis. Although the hands-on labs relate to the material being taught, more work needs to be done to enhance students’ interest in the sciences and motivation to pursue additional STEAM inspired electives.
To that end, I have created two new programs at Campbell Hall in the last year. The first is a three week summer STEAM camp for 4th through 9th grade students from the local area who may or may not attend Campbell Hall during the year. We closed our first registration at a whopping 52 students, the number that could be accommodated on one large bus. The camp included three field trips. The first was a tour of Two Bit Circus, where an “interdisciplinary team of artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs develop spectacular productions with the goal to inspire, engage, and reinvent the way people play”. The second was a visit to UCLA’s engineering program facilities and the third was an exciting excursion to WET design in Burbank. Our campers were treated to a behind the scenes look at each step in the process of creating the world’s biggest and most exciting water fountain installations. The camp featured design challenges, wooden chair building, rocketry, molecular gastronomy sessions, robotics and more. We are exploring doubling the camp size for next year.
The second STEAM initiative is a partnership with the Frye lab at UCLA where students at Campbell Hall will have the opportunity to conduct research under the supervision of a visiting scientist. This is a mutually beneficial relationship where Campbell Hall students will learn about neurobiology, coding, experimental design and science writing while UCLA will expand its outreach program and gather additional volumes of much needed data. The program is being run as a pilot this year, with the intention of folding into the AP research elective next year. We had a tremendous parent turnout at our ‘Back to School Night’ event and 47 students have signed up for a program whose goal was to reach 10-15. Clearly, students are interested in finding new ways to connect their classroom learning to practical, interdisciplinary applications
General Student Needs:
The general tone of students’ evaluations of our science teaching staff is quite positive. Students like their teachers and feel as though they can go to their teachers for help when needed. They feel comfortable asking questions in class and report that the amount of homework assigned is generally appropriate.
(See appendix A for more) Students rate their assessments as fair measures of concepts covered in class and are inclined to think that their teachers overall classroom management strategy is effective. The evaluations do not ask students to rate how much inquiry-based learning they have done in science. The chief complaint heard from students in conversations about their science classes is that they can be boring at times. They enjoy doing labs, but feel that lectures, note taking and even watching video clips are time-intensive activities that could be replaced with something more compelling. A one-semester engineering elective was offered for the first time last year. The course description discussed building wooden/composite skis from scratch and experimentally evaluating the effectiveness of several different models of football helmets. This elective course quickly filled four sections to capacity. Again, anecdotally at least, students are opting for classes that involve active learning with real world applications.
Why improvement is needed:
Students want to be involved in the process of science, not just presented canned labs with predetermined conclusions. They want to collect data that is of value. There has been an explosion in inquiry-based citizen science projects over the last several years. Medical researchers have designed a virtual protein folding ‘game’ that challenges student intellect while collecting data about possible cancer treatments and thread virus vaccines. Astronomers are using the Internet to train hundreds of student volunteers to help identify and classify celestial objects in deep space. Ornithologists are using the power of the people to track migrating bird populations in real time and publishing animations with exceptional detail. Green tech start-ups such as Building Dashboard are installing web-enabled electricity meters at schools and engaging their clients in graphics-rich conservation competitions. Many NSF grants stipulate that PIs include an educational outreach component for secondary school aged students as a portion of the budget, and a new initiative seeks to place post-doctoral students at high schools so that juniors and seniors can help gather and analyze data for them.
Students crave these types of experiences and connections to the world outside their classroom. They are growing and learning in an environment that is vastly different than the one their teachers learned in and they are looking to us to adapt with them. When students are asked (and trusted) to come up with original problem questions and hypotheses, their creativity and ingenuity is given room for expression. Some groups will want to do research that pushes our comfort zones as teachers, and others will need guidance to begin thinking in new and freer modalities, but all will feel challenged and empowered. In this way, science can be the class that more and more students can’t wait to get back to.
Do opportunities for authentic inquiry based learning motivate students to pursue STEAM related courses and opportunities in high school?
- What are the effects of a STEAM infused elective on flight on the learning community (or, community of inquiry) at my school?
- How do these courses change or enhance the public perception of the school?
- How can the school increase partnerships with research institutions to help our students find connections for their learning outside of the high school experience?