The TNS Approach to Science

Science is experience

At the Neighborhood School we don’t see Science as information that experts know and that – if you’re lucky – someone might tell you (and then test you on), but rather as the sum of the children’s own experiences in the world.  It starts in their bodies, with their senses.  Science is noticing that the mirror fogs up when someone takes a shower in the bathroom with the door closed.  It is blowing on the subway window when it’s cold outside and seeing it fog up.  In the older grades, it’s remembering that the lights went out during Hurricane Sandy, and hearing that a classmate who lived on the 14th floor had to run down to the 6th floor to get water.  It’s asking, “What’s the connection between a hurricane and electricity and tapwater?”  And “What does climate change have to do with it?”  

Science is noticing and describing

In class we structure hands-on investigations that build on these experiences.  For example, after learning about the water cycle and doing an evaporation experiment, we brainstorm about ways we could make it rain in the classroom and discover that by putting an inverted plexiglass box over a pot of boiling water, we model a “cloud,” that “rains.”  In the older grades, we design an experiment to test whether warmer water actually does evaporate faster.  And we discover that Yes, you can model a storm surge with a basin of water and a powerful vacuum cleaner.  After the investigations, we practice articulating what we notice — quantifying it, drawing and writing about it, and speculating about WHY these phenomena occur.  In our discussions, and in their writing, children are continually prompted to reinforce their theories with observations they’ve made. 

Science is skills

Students gain experience with close observation, measurement, recording data in tables, and writing about the outcomes of our investigations.  In all cases, these process-oriented skills are incorporated into meaningful studies that point toward larger phenomena, such as the water cycle, the life cycle, states of matter,  photosynthesis, seed germination, surface tension, electricity and magnetism, the way that simple machines make work easier, and the impact of landfills on climate and climate on hurricanes.

Technology in Science

In 3rd grade, students are introduced to Scratch, a programming environment for children that was designed at the MIT Media Lab.  They learn to use the computer to draw in order to make sprites and backgrounds, and they learn to assemble scripts to make simple animations and games.  In 4th and 5th grade, children use Scratch to make animations and/or games in which they explore and explain the Science we’ve learned.  Sometimes they model processes we’ve studied.


STEAM — the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math — blooms throughout TNS, especially in the Science room and at Project Time. Children integrate these disciplines to explore topics of interest and make projects that express and explore their interests.