Science Education at Watershed

Understanding how science is done, and what it can and cannot do, are vital steps in becoming an informed and productive citizen in today’s world. Watershed science teachers work to help students experience science as a way to access an endlessly rich and exciting perspective on the universe and its phenomena. We feel that a sound and broad science education is essential for every student at Watershed, no matter what they choose to study in the future, and encourage everyone to take as many science courses as possible before graduation. Although we are a small school with limited resources, we’ve been quite successful in designing challenging and interesting courses.

Seminars in Science

Occasionally we offer a lunchtime seminar course. Several years ago we offered Cosmology. It was quite popular, and we will offer these as students request them.

It is a privilege to be present at the intellectual awakening of a child, to see it happen and be a part of shaping it.  So, I don't have to be just a science teacher at Watershed; I can be a mentor and a helper to young people during the time of their greatest growth.  -Pete Kalajian, Observation and Physics

There are probably fewer than ten high schools in the state of Maine doing the kind of advanced genetic testing we are doing in Biology at Watershed- and I am including AP classes.  Phil Gerard, Biology


Introduction to Scientific Observing


Introduction to Scientific Observing

Instructor: Peter Kalajian

Winter ‘18-19

Astronomy Syllabus


Course description: During the astronomy section (until end of March) , students carry out an individual observing project of their own design. The process is similar to that which professional scientists go through to get their research funded: identification of an essential question, submission of a project proposal for approval, research in the field, written communication of results, and attendance at a conference presenting their research in a poster. All students will attend the Maine State Science Fair. Students are expected to put in a great deal of time and effort on the project. Students must pass a practical test to point out 10 constellations and name 15 stars under the night sky.

What you need to do to receive credit in this class:

Note that due dates are Not Flexible unless noted below. Failure to meet a due date will result in receiving no credit.

1. Participate in class discussions and activities.

2. Read Starry Messenger. be prepared to write about it and take a quiz on its content.

3. Learn the names of 15 stars and be able to point them out in the night sky. (Due sometime

mid-January, weather dependent).

4. Learn the names of 10 constellations and be able to point them out in the night sky. (Due

Mid-January, weather dependent).

5. Design a project to make a series of quantitative observations of an object in the sky to answer a question. Present a written proposal for your project. Make observations. Submit a draft of a paper, and a final paper. Submit a poster for a poster session. The projects will be presented at the Maine state science fair in March. (See calendar for due dates).

6. Attend 2 out of 3 star parties.

7. Participate in group observing activities.

Foundational skills addressed:

The primary foundational skill that we will focus on is 5. Scientific Practices/Empiricism, but of course, in order to practice empiricism, one needs to be able to gather information and analyze it, so 8 is also an element of what students will be practicing. Additionally, since there is a paper to be written, students will practice 2. Writing. Finally, since students have to answer quantitative questions using spreadsheets and display that information graphically, they will practice 9. Digital Tool Use and Literacy.


Conceptual Physics

Conceptual Physics

Instructor: Pete Kalajian


Watershed School

This year we will be taking a hands-on approach to learning the central concepts in Physics. The learning will be centered on a series of group challenges that will expose students to a set of concepts through shared investigation and inquiry. The format of the course will be somewhat experimental and the schedule of events will be flexible to allow for deeper investigation when needed. Students are expected to be active participants in the design, flow and documentation of the semester under my guidance.

For each challenge, students will be guided by a list of key concepts that they are to gain mastery of through the group collaborative process. Students are expected to pursue an aggressive and motivated quest to gain this conceptual mastery.

The central learning goal is to be able to use equations to guide thinking to gain an understanding of the natural world.

Here are the specific expectations for credit:

1. Be on time for class, with laptops charged. You will need a notebook, preferably with graph paper ruling.

2. Be considerate of, and courteous to fellow learners. Help foster an environment that is safe for inquiry and learning. Evaluation will be based on courtesy towards fellow classmates, preparation both mentally and physically for class, and seriousness of intent to learn during class.

3. Participate enthusiastically in class discussions and activities. Leave your reticence or lack of enthusiasm at the door. Be an active and responsible team member. Eschew the improper use of the word “like” in class. Evaluation will be based on enthusiasm, frequency of participation, infrequency of the improper use of “like” and thoughtfulness of discussion. Each team member will be required to demonstrate mastery of all aspects of a group project through a variety of assessment methods including oral quizzes, written assignments and practical demonstrations.

4. Complete all assignments on time. These may consist of, but is not limited to: questions, essays, experiment planning and write-up, readings, reading notes, blog comments and internet research. Students are allowed to miss two assignment deadlines per semester, but all work must be turned in by the following class to receive credit for the course. Evaluation will be based on neatness, completeness, and thoughtfulness of assignments. Larger projects will have rubrics and be evaluated per the rubric.

Foundational Skills addressed:

2. Writing: students will write a number of scientific papers that report on their investigations.

5. Scientific Practices/Empiricism: students have to design and carry out experimentation.

9. Digital Tool Use and Literacy: Students use a variety of digital tools to gather, process, and visualize data.




Course Description:

The basic goals of the fall semester Watershed chemistry program are to:

  • help students develop an understanding of fundamental basic concepts in chemistry (bonding, periodicity, atomic structure, stoichiometry),

  • recognize the relevance and practical applications of chemistry,

  • and practice and develop rational scientific problem solving skills including lab technique and experimental design.

Course Materials:

When we do use a text we will use Chemistry in Context published by the American Chemical Society, which presents chemistry on a “need to know basis” through the context of social, political, economic, and ethical issues. We will also be making use Inquiry Chemistry (Vernier Instruments), The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Sam Kean), Uncle Tungsten (Oliver Sax), the Concord Consortium website, and many other related websites including the chemistry pages of Wikipedia.

Foundational Skills addressed:

5. Scientific Thinking and Process

  1. observe and measure using a variety of lab tools and metrics

  2. use spreadsheets for data collection and analysis

  3. analyze and present data

  4. design, carry out, and refine an experiment

  5. communicate information through presentations

We will practice these skills through the process of inquiry-based investigation and follow-up “lab talks” with guided student feedback on presentations and discussion.

Perception, the Biology of Human Behavior, and the Nature of Science


Perception, the Biology of Human Behavior, and the Nature of Science

Instructor: Philip Gerard


Watershed School



Course Description and Expectations:


Per·cep·tion -

1-the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. "the normal limits to human perception"

2- the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.  "the perception of pain"

3- a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression. "Hollywood's perception of American tastes"

4- intuitive understanding and insight.“ It requires unusual perception to understand one's own intellectual weaknesses”

A program of study combining cognitive psychology, the neurobiology of behavior, and the history and practice of science, this course is not standard high school fare. But I can think of no better way to explore the central questions of this course:

  • What do we understand regarding the biology of inherent human limitations in perception  (illusions) and reaction (problem solving and decision-making).

  • Are the various drivers of human behavior -- genes, chemistry, anatomy, environment, culture, society more or less significant?

  • What is special about science in relation to human behavior and perception?


The course is intended for upper-level high school students with excellent skills in reading and writing and with a background either in chemistry or biology and preferably both.

Why this course?

In my opinion the widespread prevalence and persistence of myths, misinformation, and destructive prejudice continues to threaten the progress of humanity. This course intends to explore, from evidence, a fundamental driver of these problems: inborn and culturally enhanced limitations in perception, cognition, and problem solving. It also examines how science and society may function both as a source for myth-making and as a process capable of limiting the impacts of myth and misperception.

Course overview

Portion 1: Perception

The course will begin by examining research findings associated with misperception. Students will read the book,  The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. In addition to class discussion, students will take part in experiences and experiments that test and highlight topics covered in the text (the illusions of attention, memory, confidence, knowledge, cause, and potential.)

We’ll also read a few significant excerpts from Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow and examine an established list of cognitive biases and logical fallacies.

Portion 2: Neurobiology and behavior

After the February break we will segue into neurobiology and behavior, with an overview of brain anatomy and neuron function; brain chemistry; hormones and other chemical factors; and genetic and environmental influences on the brain.

We will read excerpts from Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by the neurobiologist, primate researcher, and MacArthur Genius award recipient Robert Sapolsky

Students will conduct basic experiments in neurobiology using the web resource “backyard brains”

Portion 3: (Juniors only)The history and nature of science

  • the history of science as it pertains to the maturity of theories (using eugenics as a case study);

  • The concept of precautionary principles (using ozone depletion as a case study);

  • the adaptation of immature science as an example of confirmation bias (e.g. Social Darwinism);

  • stories and subjectivity vs. statistics and objectivity; and

  • guidelines for being a productive skeptic. (Working as a group we will develop a handbook and checklist to guide people in their skeptical use of the internet and response to other information).

Students may design and carry out experiments or do research on topics of interest,  culminating in a final paper.

TENTATIVE Course Plan:


Topics, calendar, and etc.

Reading Assignments


Project week through Wednesday 9th                  Intro class on Friday



Psychology as a science? Just how sensitive are our 5 senses? Inattentional Blindness

Chptr 1(I.G.)+ questions


(MLK Monday) What is Memory?

Chptr 2(I.G.)+ questions


The concept of the cognitive bias

Chptr 3(I.G.)+ questions


Are “logical fallacies” related to human cognitive weaknesses?

Chptr 4(I.G.)+ questions



Chptr 5(I.G.)+ questions


           February Break--->

Chptr 6 and conclusion (I.G.)+ questions


Review and discussion of all readings to date

In-class assessment


(No classes Wed aft.) The neuron and how we measure impulses

Handout from “Behave”


Receptors; signals; hormones;

Handout from “Behave”


“Backyard brain” experiments;

Handout from “Behave”


Genetics of behavior

Handout from “Behave”


Dude, where’s my frontal cortex?

Handout from “Behave”


Us (or me)  vs Them

Handout from “Behave”


           April Break --->

Handout from “Behave”


Review and discussions of neurobiology to date

In-class assessment


(Seniors away starting here) Nature of Science, science as religion



History of science - the arc of maturity

Stage 1 final paper due


When “science” supports barbarity

Stage 2 final paper due


Process and community in contemporary science

Becoming a practical or productive skeptic

1st complete draft final paper due


(No class Mon.) How to be a practical idealist and a productive skeptic

Final paper


How to be a practical idealist and a productive skeptic (class checklist)


Expectations for Course Credit: (with flexibility in response to illness).


  1. All chapter-by-chapter or handout-based reading question responses due complete and on time. You may be late once for “Hidden Gorilla” and once for after February break readings. NOTE: if you are late you must use the due-date class to catch up. Late assignments are due no later than 24 hours after the due date.

  2. All other assignments due complete and on time.

  1. Notebooks - Maintain a complete chronological reading and class notebook with dated entries for each set of reading notes and each day of class.

  2. Assessments – No assessments (take-home or in class tests/quizzes or essays) may be missed. If you are absent due to any cause you must make up missed assessments.

  3. Attendance – Miss 9 classes: no credit.

Academic skills

Although this course is not designed to help students develop foundational skills, students will have opportunities to practice analytical reading and analysis; essay and short response writing; and scientific practices and reasoning.