Preparing Boys for Life.

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Making magic with Bill Palmer: Q&A
The Haverford School

1. What is your favorite Lower School science lesson?

I love any lesson that incorporates the element of surprise and discovery. I have 2,000 red worms for composting; the boys bury their food waste after lunch and are amazed that by the next day, it has turned to dirt. When we study the origin of animals in third grade, the boys dissect raw and hard boiled eggs to better understand the parts and functions of the bird's egg. They see the nature of a chemical reaction in action when alka seltzer and water explode after being contained. The water cycle lesson, in which we make clouds from dry ice and "snow" from ice crystals, incorporates movement, appeals to multiple senses, and fosters the boys' love of adventure.

My room is buzzing before the school day even starts with boys bringing me wasp nests, turtle shells, snake skins, and other discoveries they're eager to share.

2. Recount an "aha" moment with a student.

When we learn about the skeletal system, I invite the boys to touch the vertebrae of a blue whale. I explain to them that the shape of a vertebrae is fairly consistent among animals, although this one is largest in size. Weeks after one such lesson, a second grader brought in a vertebrae – no bigger than a raisin – that he had found between the cracks of the sidewalk. It's very fulfilling when a student makes these kinds of connections and gets excited about science. My room is buzzing before the school day even starts with boys bringing me wasp nests, turtle shells, snake skins, and other discoveries they're eager to share.

Science doesn't stop at the classroom; we build and launch rockets on the soccer field, we study ecosystems at the pond at Haverford College, we build a replica of the Great Wall out of ice blocks behind the greenhouse. I use everyday objects in the classroom so the boys can replicate experiments at home and make discoveries no matter where they are.

3. What skills do students leave your classroom having learned?

I'm an Eagle Scout, as are my four sons. The notion of following the rules, being a good citizen, and playing fair are paramount in the Boy Scouts, and in the classroom. I teach the boys to be respectful and to listen. I also tell them that it's okay to be passionate about something that no one else cares about – that kind of curiosity and wonder will lead them great places.

It is also my hope that the boys learn that science belongs to them, and they can take it anywhere. Science doesn't stop at the classroom; we build and launch rockets on the soccer field, we study ecosystems at the pond at Haverford College, we build a replica of the Great Wall out of ice blocks behind the greenhouse. I use everyday objects in the classroom so the boys can replicate experiments at home and make discoveries no matter where they are.

In addition to learning how to build connections between concepts, the boys also learn to be problem solvers, to work together with a team to reach a shared goal, to create and test hypotheses, and to be respectful of themselves, their community, and their world.

4. How does science parlay into other subjects the boys are learning?

I typically focus lessons around the social studies curriculum or the boys' classroom learning. When junior kindergarten studies the Lenape, we talk in science about how the tribe created sound through instruments. The boys use the rug tube to make sound and hear the sounds "bouncing." During third graders' study of the Mayflower, I teach the concepts of buoyancy and displacement when the boys build their very own Mayflower and sail it across the pool, complete with fans and other tools that mimic wind and rain. In our simple machines unit, the boys take their knowledge of Egyptian culture and learn how the pyramids were built. In addition to learning how to build connections between concepts, the boys also learn to be problem solvers, to work together with a team to reach a shared goal, to create and test hypotheses, and to be respectful of themselves, their community, and their world.

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