By providing a challenging curriculum that meets the needs of a diverse student body, the Harvard-Westlake Science Department provides the necessary background and skills that equip young people to become scientifically literate citizens capable of making responsible decisions. By solving science problems, engaging both qualitative and quantitative analysis, and communicating about science in verbal and in written forms, students develop an appreciation of science as a process for investigating and discovering.
Starting in seventh grade at the middle school, students experiment with scientific concepts directly in hands-on lab experiments. Seventh-grade and eighth-grade students have 28-30 original labs designed by the middle school science faculty and approximately 20 labs in ninth grade. This lab-based curriculum is guided by the following principles:
- Students should have fun while learning about science. The faculty and coursework should inspire students to pursue and learn more science; projects such as solar water heaters, egg drop competition, and the edible car competition tap into a student’s natural sense of wonder and curiosity and reflect faculty innovation. This philosophy’s success is manifest in the high enrollment in science courses at the upper school – science is the most enrolled field at the upper school.
- Students should learn and practice such relevant skills as measuring with scientific equipment; following written procedures; making tables and graphs; evaluating and interpreting data; and writing lab reports.
- Students should begin to develop an understanding of the physical and natural worlds around them. They should become informed citizens who understand everything from nutrition facts labels on food to popular science in the media, whether they consider themselves “scientist-types” or not.
Transitioning to the upper school, students can choose from a curriculum of increasing depth and breadth. The department offers 18 different courses within the standard disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics, multidisciplinary science and earth and space sciences. The collective diversity amongst the faculty provides students with mentors who are well-versed in their subject area and who possess broad experience in scientific research and curriculum development. The enthusiasm and expertise of this faculty brings a level of stimulation and excitement to the classroom; almost one-fourth of juniors and seniors enroll in more than one science course each year.
One of the department’s underlying philosophies is that to understand science, students must engage the activities that lead to scientific thought and discovery. To this end, and to the extent that time and resources allow, the department supports the integration of a strong lab component into the curriculum. Opportunities for student research are extensive. Studies in Student Research (SSR), summer placement opportunities (as research assistants and student interns), and independent study are also available for students interested in individual research. Specialized resources that are available and which can be incorporated into the teaching environment include:
- Scanning electron microscope
- Gas chromatograph/Mass spectrometer
- 60 MHz NMR spectrometer
- Scanning infra-red spectrometer
- Scanning UV-vis spectrometer
- PCR machine
- Calculator-based Data Acquisition System (classroom sets: one system per student)
- 125 gallon cold-water aquarium housing the native flora and fauna of a California rocky subtidal marine community
- 125 gallon warm-water aquarium housing flora and fauna characteristic of a tropical reef marine community
- Field trips – a fundamental component of the geology and the oceanography & marine biology curricula, single- and multi-day field trips enable students to gain “real world” field experiences that reinforce information and concepts introduced in the normal classroom/laboratory setting.
By developing an exciting, challenging, thought-provoking, and dynamic curriculum for students, the science department taps into the natural curiosity of the middle school student and provides the opportunity for the upper school student to pursue his or her scientific interests.