Upper School
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New Science Electives Offered in the Upper School

By Amy Reynolds, Communications Specialist
This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin

When Sophie Sanchez '18 found out it would take eight planets to sustain her way of living, she was shocked.
 
She and the rest of her Environment and Sustainability class took a carbon footprint quiz at the beginning of the semester to see how many planets it would take to sustain their living if everyone on the planet had their same habits—how big their houses are, how far they drive every day and how often they eat meat, to give a few examples.
 
On average, 4.7 planets would be needed to sustain the living of average U.S. citizens. For students in the Environment and Sustainability class, that average jumps to 6.25.
 
“The amount of worlds I would use was eight, which is horrible,” Sanchez said. “It’s appalling to hear that—that the world cannot sustain your living. And if everyone’s doing that, it’s a bad way to live, you realize. And it’s something I never would have been as mindful about without taking the class.”
 
Now in its ninth year, the Environment and Sustainability class focuses on the resources we use, what impacts we are having on those resources, and what we can do to conserve them. 
 
“I think students look at things in ways they haven’t before. Their eyes are opened to some of the science behind things that they’ve always known,” said Director of Environmental Initiatives and science teacher Penny Rodrick-Williams, who teaches the class. “They all know to use something reusable instead of the single-use plastic bottles, but they seem to really have their eyes opened when you show them a video about the garbage patches in the oceans where there is six times more plastic than plankton.”
 
Overall, it’s a very hands-on class. Twice throughout the semester-long course—which shifts to a year-long course beginning in the 2018-2019 school year—students went down to the Brandywine Creek to study the water chemistry and macroinvertebrates. Students also simulated an oil spill to look at the decision-making that goes into trying to clean up an environmental catastrophe. While the main goal was to clean up as much oil as possible, students quickly figured out that oil spills can be cleaned up quickly, inexpensively or efficiently—but not all three.
 
“You can clean it up quickly, you can clean it up completely or you can clean it up inexpensively, but you can’t do all three at the same time,” Rodrick-Williams said. “So they’re also trying to balance how they make decisions, and they realize how difficult it is to make some of these environmental decisions.” 
 
Next year, Rodrick-Williams will also be teaching a semester-long marine biology course, which will tie in lessons from a wide variety of science subjects, including chemistry, earth science, physics and biology.
 
In the class, students will learn about the chemical and physical properties of oceans, the ecological interactions between marine species, the evolution and diversity of marine life and critical conservation issues. 
 
Through both classes, Rodrick-Williams hopes students can make connections to the land and water right here in Delaware. 
 
For Gwendolyn Mellon ‘21, relating what she learned in class to her everyday life was easy.
 
“You can relate to everything you’re learning,” she said. “It’s more relatable than learning equations or learning about bacteria. Instead it’s saying this is what you’re doing to the environment and this is how you can stop it. It just kind of gets you thinking.”
 
Science Department Chair Tim Weymouth said both the Environment and Sustainability and Marine Biology classes can teach students how to be environmental stewards.
 
“It’s important to know how we can effect positive change,” he said. “I hope the outcome of these courses is to not only have citizen scientists, but to have people who take action to improve our world—to really take the reins, even as young people in their teenage years, and drive things forward.”
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