Developing innovative science skills in Rancho Santa Fe School’s students


By Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation

The R. Roger Rowe School (Ranch School) continues to evolve their science curriculum in order to prepare their students for success in the 21st century. Along with the 20-plus- year traditions of Science Discovery Day and Ocean Weeks, the Ranch School is introducing and expanding programs that develop engineering and computer science skills.

Courses this year have involved constructing bridge structures, designing rockets, and programming robots. The school is committed to teaching their students more than scientific knowledge. Students also learn the skills needed to use this knowledge, such as problem solving and cooperation, enabling them to be effective 21st century citizens.

Many schools can only offer science taught by grade level teachers. A generous $1 million grant from the RSF Education Foundation (RSFEF) allows Superintendent Lindy Delaney to not only offer specialized science teachers but to offer innovative programs that enable our children to be the next generation of innovators.

Learning to inquire like a scientist

Students at the Ranch School have a year-long study of Ocean Science which culminates in late May with Ocean Weeks. Their learning incorporates marine habitats, field studies, and visits from science researchers.

Each grade has a habitat they study, such as sandy beaches or the kelp forest, which is integrated into other subject areas such as social studies, language arts, or art so that students gain a broader understanding of the subject. Roberta Dean, an Ocean Literacy Specialist from the Birch Aquarium at Scripps, leads the partnership with the Ranch School

This year, sixth grade students, with the support of Science Teacher Tanya Baumgardner and Literacy Coach Lindsey Donaldson, are connecting the study of coral reefs using strategies found in the newly adopted Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Content Area Literacy in Science. The students explore how corals are formed, where they are located, and what kinds of plants and animals are associated with these diverse communities.

Mrs. Dean noted, “The Ranch School’s investment in technology will enhance student’s capabilities to access the scientific community’s most current information on questions concerning coral reefs and help facilitate student’s research projects exploring topics such as:

•Should all reefs be protected in Marine Sanctuaries?

•How and why does coral bleaching occur?

•Does climate change affect the health of coral reefs?

•What kinds of human activities can affect these ecosystems?”

This year during Ocean Weeks, Dr. Andy Nosal spoke to 6th grade students on sharks including the public’s perception of these ancient animals and their role in the ocean food chain. The Scripps Ocean Partnership (SOP), facilitates the involvement of Scripps, inviting a year-round connection to scientists like Dr. Nosal, to learn about their work and share their passion for the ocean with our K-8 student community. Programs like these teach our children to think like a scientist.

Celebrating failure and learning from mistakes

All students at the Ranch School benefit from specialized science teachers. Students in grades 5 through 8 also have the opportunity to try their hands at more specialized topics like engineering. In Tech 21 students practice the engineering process. At one point in the class students construct stable bridge structures using an online simulation.

“A lasting effect on learning the engineering process for 5th and 6th graders is their learned ability to cooperate and to actively learn from their mistakes,” remarked Science Teacher John Galipault. “Students think that failure is bad, but here we celebrate it and learn from our mistakes.”

Another popular course is rocketry. “During the rocketry elective students encounter increasingly sophisticated designs: straw, paper, bottle, parachute recovery and Estes,” noted Science Teacher Dave Warner.

“When students master each of these projects, they become effective problem solvers and prepare themselves for higher level engineering course.” These students are clearly learning skills that will help them be successful in high school and beyond.

Encouraging creativity and competition

Perhaps the most popular and fastest growing science arena at the Ranch School is the robotics program. What began as an enrichment course has evolved into a year-long elective and trimester enrichment courses for Grades 6-8, as well as, grade level after school clubs beginning in the 1st grade. This was the first year for the new Robotics elective in which students learned to program and build robots using Lego’s NXT brain.

“During this process, students learned to follow schematic diagrams as well as test their creative abilities by building their own designs,” added Mr. Warner said. Using educational software the students were able to learn basic programming language and learned to program autonomous robots.

They also learned a more challenging text-based language which allowed them to program game controllers and play 2 on 2 hockey games. More powerful Tetrix robots with metal components were introduced later in the year and elevated the students’ robotic skills to the next level. “The competitive atmosphere was very exciting to see,” exclaimed Mr. Warner. “I am really looking forward to next year’s challenges!!” The robotics program is just one piece of our robust science and technology curriculum.

These programs are preparing our students to be successful. They also encourage the best teachers to want to teach at the Ranch School and continue to be innovative. But these programs require more than public funding. Please help us retain this innovative level of education.

The RSFEF seeks the support of 100 percent of our school families. Contributions at any level are welcomed and greatly appreciated.

For questions of more information, please go to or contact the RSFEF at 858-756-1141 x208.

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