With a mission to develop “citizen scientists who appreciate the need for science in addressing real-world problems and enabling responsible decision-making,” the Riverdale Middle School Science Department fosters curiosity and understanding of physical and natural phenomena, develops student minds, improves their character, and guides them into becoming responsible global community members. Science Department Chair Shabari Lasrado says, “In Middle School and across all divisions, we value solving problems using science, developing units around questions, fostering joy, wonder, and curiosity, learning through experience, interdisciplinary studies, learning by doing, seeing scientists as change makers, and ensuring that our students see themselves as scientists.”

“We put a lot of focus on developing skills in Middle School to prepare students for Upper School while also creating a sense of wonder and curiosity building on our Lower School curriculum,” says Ms. Lasrado. “Students formulate their own scientific questions, investigate these questions, develop the skills needed to make a claim, and provide evidence and reasoning. Students learn the importance of representing data using graphs as well as how graphs can sometimes misrepresent information. We also spend a lot of time having students collaborate with one another, whether it’s in a group project or a lab.” 

As part of the sixth grade Earth and Environmental Science curriculum, students explore topics including the effect of land usage, such as agriculture, infrastructure, and clear-cutting on the health of water. The seventh-grade Life Science curriculum examines how environmental stressors such as drought, flooding, acid rain, lack of natural light and lack of space/crowding impact living things using model organisms. In Chemical and Physical Science, eighth graders perform experiments related to topics including how to get an object to maximize its acceleration by using creativity and curiosity to apply Newton’s laws of motion to build an object that accelerates as fast as possible down a ramp while using minimal materials. 

During Middle School Project Week, a hallmark program of Riverdale’s Middle School curriculum, students travel to Black Rock Forest to determine the health of a water stream by utilizing two different methodologies for collecting macroinvertebrate samples and analyzing the results in their on-site science lab. This research project allows students to learn science by conducting fieldwork.

Through this approach of helping students to build an understanding of the scientific method while engaging in the process firsthand, Riverdale is preparing middle school students for future success in their scientific studies throughout high school and beyond.