Maine Is Our Classroom

Some of the best learning happens outside of the classroom, and High School Science classes are taking advantage of our beautiful location on the coast of Maine for some hands-on scientific exploration and inquiry.

The ninth grade Plant Chemistry class headed to Olivia’s Garden, a greenhouse in New Gloucester, to gain a better understanding of hydroponics and photosynthesis. Meanwhile, just in the past week, the tenth grade Geology class has gone on two different trips—one to Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport and one to Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth—to understand basic geological concepts.

Lauren Farnsworth’s tenth grade Geology class began by exploring how the earth formed by looking at bedrock geology, then moved onto morphology and surface processes to explain how the earth changes. The trip to Wolfe’s Neck State Park allowed students to look at a number of different bedrock exposures, which helps to identify the tectonic environment in which those rocks formed.

“It tells us about the continental positions at the time of the formation of that rock,” explained Farnsworth. “We can understand a little bit about how North America became North America and where it is today by looking at the igneous and metamorphic rocks.”

A few days later, they traveled to Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth to better understand surface processes like glacial deposits and erosion. The class got a hands-on look at how glaciers erode different materials by looking at striations on the bedrocks. And they were able to understand more recent events, like the retreat of glaciers from the Maine coast.

Seeing these examples is fundamental to the way we approach learning at Maine Coast Waldorf School. Asking students to make observations and collect information is “why we do field notebook assignments, so they can be out there and observe, and make good notes,” said Farnsworth. “Those are the kind of ingredients that we use to tell the story about the landscape that we see today.”

Over in the ninth grade Plant Chemistry Class, it’s the same idea. The goal of the four-week class is to have students come away with a thorough understanding of photosynthesis.

Teacher Kelly Welch took the class to Olivia’s Garden, a massive greenhouse that grows produce without the use of any chemical pesticides. “My hope is that the students get out of the classroom and start to feel like science is a verb,” explained Welch.

The students spent time inside the greenhouse learning about hydroponics and thinking about science in a different way. The trip really shows the many steps involved in getting food onto tables, while offering a unique perspective on the broader scientific background necessary to do that kind of work.

“Mostly I want them out doing science and seeing science,” said Welch. “ I think that science takes a lot of shapes and forms—it’s not just one way and it’s everywhere. I can help them see that in the real world.”

This kind of experiential learning is foundational to our approach to learning. The twelfth grade, for example, spends three days on Hurricane Island off the coast of Penobscot Bay every year exploring tide pools, dissecting scallops, and studying plankton.

The goal in this approach is to have students be able to use their own observations and experiences to better understand the material they are learning.

“In many other traditional science classes, you learn the material, then you have a lab to confirm,” says longtime science and math teacher Jeff O’Brien. “Flip it around and have the lab first. Then the lecture is totally changed, because you have the experience to draw from.”