The Lower School science program seeks to promote and enhance the joy of exploring the natural and material world by guiding an inquiry-based educational experience for our students.
Children are naturally curious and observant. Central to our philosophy is the idea that children learn by doing. Our program encourages them to ask questions prompted by their direct observations and to arrive at answers using evidence they have generated. The experience values creativity and independent thinking. Students have opportunities to design their own experiments and to choose projects that match their interests. We also value collaboration and understand that science is a social enterprise. Students learn from one another as they work together and share their findings. In addition, they learn to disagree productively, using empirical evidence to support their claims.
Children's fascination with the world around them provides the basis for the Kindergarten science program. Students explore the classroom and outdoors through field trips, visits from members of the New Haven community, cooking, building, planting and experimenting. They consult books and use scientific tools to enhance their explorations. A highlight of the Kindergarten year occurs in the early spring, when children tap the sugar maple trees around our campus. From the watery sap that drips into the buckets to the rich syrup that emerges from the final boil, the sugaring experience provides one of many opportunities for our students to engage with the world.
First and second graders approach the world through a multicultural and multidisciplinary lens, with the science and social studies programs providing the structure around which writing, art, music, drama and literature are developed in the classroom. Specific science topics include organisms and their habitats; air and weather; soils; liquids and solids; and balance and motion. Individual and group research projects occur frequently. Classroom investigations and local ecological explorations—including a pond study and observations of live specimens—develop the children's abilities to observe, classify, question, experiment, record and analyze, as well as to increase their environmental awareness.
In third grade, students investigate motion and design, earth science and the oceans. The first unit of the year focuses on inventions and the skills that will be used all year: hypothesizing, predicting, experimenting, observing, manipulating variables, handling equipment, recording and graphing data, and communicating with peers. The Earth science unit includes the study of the age, origin and structure of the Earth as well as plate theory, continental drift, earthquakes, and volcanoes. The oceans unit focuses on the structure of aquatic environments, marine plants and animals, and their special adaptations. Students perform experiments and travel to Mystic Aquarium. During the study of motion and design, students explore the physics of motion and technological design through a STEM robotics project.
Fourth graders meet three periods per six-day cycle with a science teacher in the Lower School lab. The curriculum focuses on the basic science skills needed to conduct experimental investigations. Students explore and manipulate materials, generate original, testable questions and share results with each other to further their understanding of scientific concepts. They keep science journals and learn to document their experiments. During the fall, students investigate basic properties of solids, liquids and gases, with a special emphasis on the water cycle. Projects include designing a process to separate an unknown mixture and designing and building a thermos. In the spring, the curriculum focuses on force, air and water pressure, the physics of sound, and flight. Students design and build model cars, gliders, rockets, hovercrafts and parachutes.
Fifth graders meet three periods per six-day cycle with a science teacher in the Lower School lab. Many activities revolve around ecology and ecosystems; trips to a salt marsh and an environmental study center on the Skungamaug River illustrate the interactions between organisms and their environment. A long-term study of the trees on campus includes a tree census, ring analysis and microscopic observations of tree cores. Students explore leaf and cell structure, organelles and choroplasts. They practice chromatography after extracting chlorophyll and other pigments from leaves. They examine the carbon cycle, deforestation and climate change. Studies of energy, light, heat and electromagnetism include activities such as generating electricity from friction, generators and photovoltaic cells. The year culminates with students designing and building solar-powered ovens.
Computer coding is an interactive, hands-on pursuit at Foote. For a third grade STEM project, students design robots using LEGOs and program their movements using click-and-drag Scratch coding.