Impact Stories

  • Bianka Ahuja

Transforming Science At Acalanes

Peter Stewart, Physics and Life Science teacher at Acalanes, shares with us how with the support of LPIE, science teachers can create experiences that lead to higher student engagement and how ‘hands on experiences’ open up opportunities and passions.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of experiential learning, the process of learning through experience and the act of ‘doing.’ There is extensive research showing that students learn more quickly and retain more information when they have hands-on engagement in the process. We had the chance to talk to Peter Stewart, Physics and Life Science teacher at Acalanes High School, and hear about how Acalanes’ robust science program is doing just that! Peter shared that “if you can give kids an experience and then talk about it, the learning is so much more meaningful.” He also explained that "in many things, you don’t have to tell a student what to believe; it sometimes isn’t the point." Their experience and critical thinking will lead them exactly where they should be. In this way, science fosters how to think, not what to think. This is the discipline of science.

With the support of LPIE, Acalanes High School has created dynamic course offerings and classrooms for just this kind of learning. Textbooks will always be important, but with the support of LPIE, teachers can create experiences that lead to higher student engagement. As an example, Peter explained that without LPIE funds, students could be sharing one or two sets of microscopes for the whole of Living Earth. “As a direct result of LPIE, we not only have compound light microscopes, we have enough dissecting microscopes for every other student. It’s amazing.” In the Physics classroom, students have access to tools that link student experience directly to evidence. For example, SmartCarts have the ability to capture data such as velocity, acceleration, force, time, and more. It’s an experience they can quantify in order for the experiment to be analyzed beyond perception. It’s the practice of analysis that is at the heart of critical thinking. And all that is really just the beginning of how LPIE’s and our parents' support makes a difference. 

Without the support of LPIE, Acalanes’ Science would be ‘bare bones science.’ Peter passionately shared that “LPIE provides all the stuff that makes science exciting!” Students wouldn’t have the scientific tools and lab supplies to bring their experiments and learning to life. These ‘real-world’ activities help students develop their own skills and explore passions, while teaching them how to work together more effectively on teams and become flexible to changing circumstances.  For many students, these ‘hands-on experiences’ open their eyes to opportunities and passions in science career paths and academia.