Lance Powell Hopes to Inspire Love of Science in Freshmen with New Environmental Ecology Class

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Lance Powell, head of the M-A science department, has developed multiple courses in his thirteen years teaching at M-A. The most recent, Environmental Ecology, is in its first semester and acts as a precursor to regular biology. For many freshmen, Evolutionary Ecology will be their first challenging science course. Powell’s goal is to “set the tone for what it’s going to be like in high school…and hopefully get them excited about science.”

Dissatisfied with the level of student engagement in current science teaching standards, Powell was inspired to start the Evolutionary Ecology class, a program that launches students into science using interactive projects. He stated that “for many students, this is their only formal biology education possibly ever and if you think about everything that goes into it, human anatomy, physiology, ecology, and cells, there’s no way any teacher can go into depth while covering all those topics.”

To help teachers cover a wider display of topics in more depth the idea is to have a macro biology class, Environmental Ecology, followed by a microbiology class, standard freshman biology which students in this track will take as sophomores. Powell believes that “students who take this class…will have a more successful year [in freshman biology] and it will level the playing field.”

A generous part of the class will be engaging students in class projects and getting them involved as freshmen to hopefully foster a lasting love of science. Powell stated that the ability to interact with the textbook material through projects can “bring [learning] to the next level.”

One of the projects these students will complete this year is building an aquaponics system, where fish and plants are raised together in a self-sustainable setup. While building his own homemade aquaponics system, Powell realized that “this is what the ninth-graders can do” and began developing the course. Projects like these are “truly ground zero for schools…no one else is doing this, which makes it very exciting.” He also believes one of the best parts is that “you don’t need to be in calculus and still it’s problem solving and engineering.”

Powell added, “I’m pushing [the students] pretty hard right now.” However, he believes that starting in a positive direction as a freshman can create a better overall high school experience. Powell asks his students “if you were to think about yourself as senior what would you want your freshman self to be doing?”

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