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


Course Description:

Using the medium of meteorology, this course exposes students to the methods of observation and recording to gain an understanding of a natural system. Students measure meteorological parameters thrice daily and construct graphs of their data. Using their own data, students determine correlations between parameters to recognize patterns and to predict future weather. Students also prepare and present  a “TED” talk on a meteorology subject. In the second half of the term, students work to expand their understanding of how to gather, organize, and display physical data. Students get familiar with spreadsheets and the LoggerPro software. They also learn how to do elementary mathematical modeling of data as well as basic descriptive statistics and simple statistical tests for correlation.

Course Materials:

3-ring binder with several tabs.

Foundational Skills addressed:

3. Numeracy

  1. Create and Interpret Graphs

Students will graph their daily weather data in a variety of ways including scatter plots, histograms, and time series graphs

5. Scientific Thinking and Process

Observing qualities and measuring quantities, sorting and classifying asking questions and defining problems communicating findings using argument from evidence.

Students observe weather parameters 3 times per day for more than a month. They ask questions in their weather journal daily pertaining to their observations. They make a set of correlations between weather parameters that help them to make predictions. The correlations are arrived at after looking at their data. In the second part of the semester, students will design and carry out an individual astronomical observing project, and that will entail plenty of scientific thinking, as well as practicing the scientific process in a very real and uncontrived way.

8. Information gathering and analysis  (Research)

Information research using internet or library sources: primary sources, databases, maps, journals, websites

Students prepare a 5 minute presentation on a weather topic of their choice that requires extensive internet research. They will also do research in support of their astronomy observing project.

9. Digital tool use and literacy

  1. spreadsheets

  2. graphing

  3. cloud-based documents, group editing

Effectively find, use, summarize, evaluate, create, and communicate information using computer hardware, software, the Internet, and handheld devices.

Students use LoggerPro and google sheets to plot, model and share data.

Conceptual Physics


Conceptual Physics

Course Description:

This class is devoted to developing a deep understanding of elementary concepts in physics using inquiry-based methods. Specifically, this semester we  will cover Newtonian equations of motion, and Newton’s laws as well as dimensional analysis, unit conversion, and basic algebra review. Emphasis is placed on empirical study of kinematics using video analysis of motion and LEGO Mindstorm robots, as well as derivation of the basic equations governing force, and acceleration.

Course Materials:

3-ring binder with several tabs. Laptop computer. Internet resources.

Foundational Skills addressed:

3. Numeracy

Create and Interpret Graphs

We will be making many graphs and also interpreting them. In fact, the nature of inquiry requires graphing and modeling of data in various ways. Students will make prediction graphs, and then compare them to data graphs in a variety of inquiries during the year

5. Scientific Thinking and Process  

observing qualities and measuring quantities, sorting and classifying asking questions and defining problems communicating findings using argument from evidence.

Throughout the year, we measure, plot and analyze data from inquiry. The students are expected to make specific and measurable hypotheses, measure and analyze data to test their hypotheses, and make claims in writing based on the data that they have collected and analyzed. Students will be expected to write a major paper suitable for publication in a scientific journal to support their science fair project.

8. Information gathering and analysis  (Research)

information research using internet or library sources: primary sources, databases, maps, journals, websites.

As part of research for their science fair project, the students will be required to research and write about similar research on their science fair project topic.

9. Digital tool use and literacy:

Effectively find, use, summarize, evaluate, create, and communicate information using computer hardware, software, the Internet, and handheld devices.

  1. spreadsheets

  2. graphing

  3. cloud-based documents, group editing

Students use spreadsheets to plot and analyze the data from each inquiry, they also use google docs to collaborate on written inquiry reports. Students are expected to plot data from their inquiries using both Logger Pro and Google spreadsheets, depending on the case.




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.


Watershed Biology: Overview and Expectations

Instructor: Philip Gerard

Fall Semester 2017-2018

Course Description

Biology is a quest, an ongoing scientific  inquiry into all aspects of life. Humans, like other animals, are born to observe and interact with their environment. When we combine that natural observation and interaction with scientific thinking -- and tools that extend and refine our senses-- biology becomes even more enlightening. Living things are, after all, amazingly complex!

The largest and best-equipped community of scientists in history is beginning to solve previously unsolvable puzzles about life and living things. The new understanding that results from modern biological research is transforming our understanding of, for example: health, nutrition, psychology, sociology, agriculture, and environmental management. Biology is increasingly impacting other "non-related" fields such as materials science, history, and political science. You are becoming involved with biology in its most exciting era.

Biology is an extremely broad field. It is my preference to limit the topics we visit, and dig more deeply into a smaller list of fundamental topics underlying the unity of structures and processes among living things. In this course our focus will be on Evolution; Cellular Processes: Energy and Communication; Genetics and Information Transfer; and Interaction (Ecology). In addition, during the spring semester we will examine human anatomy and physiology. There will be supported opportunities for students to do independent work in areas outside of our class focus (e.g. botany, marine biology, taxonomy, behavior…)

This course offers two options for credit:

A- a general high school biology course targeted to students at 11th/12th grade levels.

B- an advanced (college-level) introductory biology course

How do they differ?  Enrollment in the advanced course is optional. Advanced course students will read extensively from a college-level  text; will meet one hour a week for a topics seminar (time to be determined); and will take more challenging assessments. Students in the advanced course will develop a deeper theoretical and practical understanding of the topics we’ll all be exploring. N.B. - Many colleges provide a test to “place” out of the introductory biology course. This option should help you prepare for such a test.

Course Goals

1- To better appreciate the nature of science as a civilization-sponsored approach to understanding the physical world and how it works. (Regardless of human weaknesses and the inherent tentativeness of scientific explanations, scientific knowledge represents the most reputable information available to humanity.)

2- To learn basic concepts within five areas: Metabolism; Genetics; Evolution; Anatomy and Physiology; Ecology

3- To increase our curiosity and sophistication about the natural world!

We’ll focus on:  developing an understanding of concepts rather than an accumulation of facts; personal experience in scientific inquiry; recognition of unifying themes that integrate the major topics of biology; and application of biological knowledge and analytical thinking to social concerns.

Learning Methods

Readings, brief lectures, student- or teacher-led discussions, videos, independent student research or projects, concept papers, research papers, quizzes, presentations, and laboratory investigations. Laboratory work offers you the opportunity to experience problem solving, the scientific method, techniques of research, and the use of scientific literature. Laboratory investigations  allow you to gain skills in detailed observation, accurate recording, experimental design, data interpretation and presentation, statistical analysis, and tool use.

General Course Expectations

Always remember, you are the learner here! If you aren’t curious or engaged, find a path into that engagement. Confused or not interested? Get advice immediately!

Enjoyment and learning in this course will require steady, careful attention to assignments, discussions, and lectures. Come to class prepared, on time, and ready to work. Be involved in class discussions and activities. Help foster an environment that is cheerful while being focused on learning. Be considerate and help maintain an environment that is safe for inquiry and learning (in other words don’t scoff or be sarcastic about other student’s work or comments). Please, no texting or off-topic conversations!


We have an unusual schedule this fall. This might be great! However, it will require that everyone is completely prepared for each day of class – whether it’s the joint junior/senior classes or small group labs or discussions. Preparation means learning you’ll do on your own – for example doing the reading assignments… on time is essential!

In general, you may be late once for any assignment. If you are late again you, your advisor, and your parents will be involved in a discussion to determine how to address the problem.

  1. Major Concept Papers – The guidelines for these papers will be made available at least two weeks before they are due. Your papers will be submitted via “google docs” by the due date on the class calendar. For the first concept paper you will have one week to respond to my comments, and then you can resubmit. This interaction should help you set a sort of “quality thermostat” for the concept papers that follow.

  2. Notebooks - Maintain a complete chronological reading and class notebook with dated entries for each set of reading notes and each day of class (when I announce that notes are in order).

  3. Other Assignments/Projects:

There will be several research projects during the year. Research papers must meet quality standards of the instructor or they will be returned to the student to be redone.

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

  2. Attendance – Miss 9 classes: no credit.


Skill Objectives - To Develop:

1- the ability to recognize the difference between science in the public view, and science as it is formally practiced

2- the ability to effectively use microscopes and other scientific instruments

3- skills of scientific thinking and process: observing qualities and measuring quantities, sorting and classifying; asking questions and defining problems; inferring, predicting, establishing hypotheses; designing and carrying out investigation/ experimentation; analyzing data using statistics; communicating findings using argument from evidence.

Biology Content Objectives - Please see major concept papers 1, 2, 3, here: Major Concept Papers


Fall semester:

Our focus this fall will be to carefully examine and integrate several essential topic areas in biology: biochemistry; cells; osmosis and diffusion; energy, enzymes and metabolic pathways; photosynthesis and cell respiration; DNA structure, protein synthesis, mutation; cell cycle, mitosis and meiosis; Mendelian and non-Mendelian inheritance; biotechnology and DNA research techniques. Genetic analysis (extraction/restriction/sequencing of student DNA for ACTN3 and ACE gene variants; use of online sequence analysis programs)

General plan for the spring semester (topics may be adjusted based on student interest):

  • Evolutionary biology (lectures/discussions and  close reading of Neil Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish)

  • Human anatomy and physiology (students specialize in a particular  body “system” to research, write and  illustrate about, and finally to teach to their classmates)

  • Ecology and statistics (field work on potential allelopathy in Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis); analysis of data from Gorongosa Park in Mozambique or individual field research projects; rocky intertidal field trips)

Big Ideas in Watershed Honors Biology

Big ideas show up again and again throughout the study of biology, and in all biological disciplines. More important than any individual facts, these themes can be applied across the entire curriculum. They are listed here to help you organize concepts and topics into an intellectual framework that will be valid long after many of the details we examine become outdated.

1. Science as a process, and a way of knowing: Science is not a set of facts but a powerful, objective, and remarkably useful way to understand the world and its phenomena.  

2. The Interrelationship of Science, Technology, and Society: Scientific research often leads to technological advances with both positive and/or negative impacts on society.

3. Evolution as a Fundamental Theory: As biology’s central organizing theory and principle, evolution explains the unity and diversity of life, and increasingly, social /behavioral aspects of organisms. Recent findings in molecular biology have expanded and strengthened our understanding of evolution, and increased its practical use in medicine and other fields.  

4. Unity and Diversity of Life: life takes on a mind-boggling variety of forms but all living things share many similarities at the cellular and molecular level

5. Cellular Basis of Life: every organism’s basic unit of structure and function is the cell and all living things are either single-celled or multicellular.

6. Heredity and Biological Information: the continuity and “success” of life depends on biological information in the form of DNA molecules

7. Energy and Life: Energy is the capacity to do work. All living organisms remain alive because of their abilities to link energy reactions to “life chemistry”  (the biochemical reactions) that take place within their cells.

8. Relationship of Structure to Function: By small changes in how similar things are organized into a unit, a relatively small set of molecules, or cells, or organ “building blocks” can be assembled into an overwhelmingly diverse array of organisms.

9. Regulation: at every level -- from cells to organisms to ecosystems -- life is in a state of dynamic balance controlled by systems of positive or negative feedback.

10. Interdependence, Interaction, and Systems in Nature: Most organisms are completely dependent on the cycling of matter and/or the flow of energy provided by the other organisms, as well as non-living resources, within their environment. The living world can be seen as having a hierarchical organization, from molecules to the whole living planet (or biosphere). With each upward step in this hierarchy system properties emerge as a result of interactions among components at “lower” levels