A Conversation with Howard Wright, Science Department Head
“Last year seventh-grade Life Science students were outdoors about 50% of the time. This year I can count on one hand the number of classes held indoors.” In their study of dendrology, students ask, "Why do leaves fall?” They go into the woods to find out. As Mr. Wright reads to them from The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, “ 'A tree is not a forest . . .' they listen to leaves falling, then jump up and try to catch them. We discuss the interdependence of trees, and that leads to the importance of community; we take care of each other as trees do.”
Seventh graders also become ornithologists. Learning comes to life as they use binoculars to study bird behavior, learning to identify birds by call, as well as appearance.
Sixth graders walk the campus in their study of geology. Luckily for them, they are accompanied by a teacher who is not only a scientist but a Renbrook history maven. “Three types of rock were incorporated into the building and surrounding walls by Rentschler: sandstone, shale, and basalt. The courtyard’s cobblestones are metamorphic rock. The Secret Stairs are shale steps bordered by basalt. We take in the view from the ridge; the Glastonbury Hills are the roots of the Volcanic Island Arc. Then we look down at our brook—Hartmeadow Brook is its name—and ask, ‘Where does the water go?’”
Mr. Wright explains that eighth-grade Chemistry, a necessary gateway class for high school, is less adaptable to moving outdoors. A triple beam balance, for example, is too sensitive to air currents to be used outside. Nevertheless, the basic goals of the science department—to preserve natural wonder and to promote life-long love of learning—prevail.