The Academy School in Berkeley Brings Scientific Innovation to a Classical Education

I believe there is a natural interplay between a classical education and how our students are utilizing innovation tools like design thinking in the study of technology and engineering.

Founded in 1969, The Academy School has a long-established reputation for offering a rich and rigorous classical education to students from Kindergarten through Eighth grade. The start of this academic year heralds a reinvigorated STEM program, additional science faculty, and a fresh take on what a socratic education looks like in 2017. Upper-School Dean John Lynch asserts, “there is this common misconception that the socratic approach and technological innovation stand in stark contrast to one another; I don’t think that is true. I believe there is a natural interplay between a classical education and how our students are utilizing innovation tools like design thinking in the study of technology and engineering.” While it’s hard to imagine what would happen if Socrates sat in on a modern-day coding class, this melding of new and traditional pedagogy is at the heart of The Academy’s strategic directive to “inspire students to become informed, thoughtful, self-reflective, and socially responsible global leaders.”

This year new courses in coding and engineering are being added to The Academy’s robust traditional curriculum of English, math, history, science, French, and Latin. “We knew we had to build on the rigorous, classical education we’ve offered since our founding in 1969,” says Buzz Heinrich, Head of School at The Academy, “with a deeper grounding in the math, science, and engineering that’s increasingly central in our professional and civic lives.” Rare indeed are opportunities for middle-school students to be exposed to two vastly different, yet scientifically relevant languages like Latin and JavaScript. The Academy’s master teachers are tapping into the dynamic interplay of how the brain processes, synthesizes, and expresses language and information, ultimately finding that the inquiry-based, open-ended exploration of ideas can be seen as hallmark of both STEM education and a socratic educational philosophy.

The Academy School has added faculty members that embody this fusion of Socrates and STEM education. New teachers Dave Baker and Janis Chun are leading the new science program. Dave Baker earned a Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and had a successful career in high-tech R&D before becoming a teacher. He brings a passion for teaching mathematics, programming, electronics, and engineering design in real-world applications. Janis Chun, who teaches both lower-school science and life sciences in the Upper School, specializes in lab-based, interdisciplinary science. Janis Chun has a degree in Chemical Biology from UC Berkeley and over a decade of experience in teaching experiential science and designing curriculum that engages students as early as Kindergarten by utilizing the scientific method to dig deeply into material and build critical-thinking skills.

Dave Baker adds that, “from the engineering perspective what truly sets us apart from other schools that are tapping into STEM education is that students at The Academy are engaged in realistic engineering exercises using, as much as possible, authentic engineering strategies and tools. For example engineering prototyping, use of simulation such as finite element analysis and mathematical modeling, reliability testing and failure analysis, statistical analysis, and equipment such as accelerometers and tachometers.” The science curriculum is interdisciplinary; Janis Chun states, “the work students are doing in their core subjects is integrated into the curriculum story arch that scaffolds concepts over the course of the year. The focus is on helping students understand how we know what we know and to give them a better understanding of the world around them. I love that hands-on science experiments can turn abstract concepts into something even young students can relate to and understand.”

NSF Staff