The Middle School Science Program at Mountain Discovery Charter School takes directly into account the State of North Carolina's science standards. Doing this, though, doesn't have to translate into teaching to the test.
Curricular field trips are a critical part of Mountain Discovery's implementation of the Expeditionary Learning model. Each year the sixth graders embark on a geology trip in the spring, where concepts learned in the classroom are observed first hand in the field. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and MDCS team up for air quality studies in the spring. Data gathered by the seventh grade on this three-day hike down the Deep Creek watershed is given to the Park to become part of their ongoing air-quality database. In the fall, the eighth grade takes a trip to the logging ghost town of Proctor, NC where, among other things, they gather data used to write research papers back in the classroom. Data collected will form a long-term database on how the Hazel Creek Valley's ecology is recovering 80+ years after it was clear-cut by the Ritter Lumber Company. We also travel on a "Mountains to the Sea" trip to Charleston, SC at the end of the year, investigating the location of the Appalachian Divide and one of the many watersheds that define it, and exploring different eco-regions on our way to the ocean. Land stewardship and its implications of personal responsibility form the hub of these expeditions.
Nature Journals allow students to collect and reflect in their own way. These nature journals are part informative field guides and part collections of personal reflections. Up, down and sideways, the school''s 11-acre wooded campus is described in this way every year. Bird migrations are observed and species recorded. Sometimes we find solitude and reflect. When students find a location in the woods and let nature recover around them, it''s a chance to experience random, surprising events. Learning of this kind cannot be replicated in the classroom. One has to go outside.
Current events in science are where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. In order to be an informed citizen and make informed decisions, it is important to keep up with them. Students have a weekly assignment to browse the internet, magazines and newspapers, find a recent science-oriented article, and write about it. These articles are discussed one by one as a class. The news or study is explained in detail, and the implications of or questions raised are investigated.
Science today is constantly at a crossroads. Learning about science at MDCS means learning about science in its full, world context. We take in not only the rote facts, concepts and leaps in unbiased understanding, but also how they are changing human society and the environment in which it exists.
"Perhaps the most important point is to ensure that science never becomes divorced from the basic human feeling of empathy with our fellow beings. Just as one's fingers can function only in relation to the palm, so scientists must remain aware of their connection to society at large...What matters above all is the motivation that governs the use of science and technology, in which ideally heart and mind are united."" - Albert Einstein