Firing Up the Bunsen Burners

These girls are really thinking like scientists, full of curiosity and excitement.
Bakhita Thordarson, Middle School Science
One of the signature programs at Montrose is inquiry-based lab science, required at every level of the curriculum. In inquiry-based science, each lab is designed inductively, not deductively, to encourage students to infer from observation what change is occurring, and to note that change in their observations.

One champion of this approach is Middle School Science teacher Bakhita Thordarson, who recently introduced her 8th grade Introductory Physical Science (IPS) class to their first lab challenge. She tells them, “We’re not just going to be talking about doing things, we’re actually going to be doing things.” Her students’ assignment: heating baking soda and observing what happens— and it wasn’t just the Bunsen Burners that were getting fired up. According to Thordarson, “The girls get very excited when they find out the first lab we do, they get to not play with fire but use the fire.” One of the very first things they have to learn to use in order to light the Bunsen burner is called a striker, so eventually everyone was able to light it by themselves, and they had a lot of fun with that.”

According to Monica Baker, Science Department Coordinator, “90% percent of the learning comes from the labs. Labs allow students to apply the concepts that they have learned theoretically, seeing them in the classroom. They can see how the things we’re teaching them actually work in the real world. That’s the goal: to understand the world around them better.”
Sorina Yeghian, who is new to Montrose and to lab science, says, “Science in eighth grade is awesome, because we’re actually getting to perform experiments. I love being able to use the equipment, as it helps me make the science come alive.”

After two semesters of completing lab assignments and building carefully-documented reports throughout each one, the IPS class culminates with a multi-step “sludge test.” Given only a flask containing their “sludge” mixture, the students rely on the knowledge they have gained throughout the course to develop their own procedure for distilling down the sludge into its different components, separating and identifying each one of them. By that point, every student knows her way around the lab, and Thordarson says the girls are amazed at the skills they’ve gained. 8th grade parents are just as amazed, often telling Thordarson that their daughters love her class and the labs, but that they were intimidated by the sludge test— until they did it, and realized just how much they had learned.

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