Scientific Method and Social Responsibility Converge

Catherine Black '94

July 12, 2013

Not far from its 10-year anniversary, the Academy social studies CapSEEDS course took another evolutionary step this summer. For the first time since it was conceived in 2004, CapSEEDS Science takes the senior capstone class into new territory.

Co-taught by Academy science faculty Dan Gaudiano and Michael Judge, CapSEEDS Science includes the key themes of the Social Studies course known for its innovative combination of social entrepreneurship, community service, economics and sustainability. But it also emphasizes the scientific method, incorporating data analyses and case studies based on biology and environmental science.

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Gaudiano, who teaches AP Environmental Science and Chemistry during the academic year, was teaching CapSEEDS as a summer school course in 2012 when he noticed that there were a large number of students interested in projects connected to the life sciences. Wanting to explore this trend more intentionally, he proposed a CapSEEDS Summer School curriculum with a stronger science focus. Academy Social Studies Department Head Kehaulani Kealoha-Scullion '80 readily supported the idea, so this summer Gaudiano and Judge put it to the test.

The 39 students enrolled in the course studied issues where the data-gathering methodology of science overlapped with ethical, social and environmental debates around energy, GMOs, food security, biodiversity and natural resource conservation, to name a few. Case studies were combined with field trips to locations like the Kawailoa Wind Farm in Hale`iwa, where students learned about alternative energy resources; Makapu`u point, where students calculated the value of the area’s tangible and intangible resources; and Paiko Lagoon, where they removed invasive algae from the marine wildlife sanctuary together, led by Malama Maunalua volunteer and former Academy science teacher Ralph Dykes.

Just like the regular CapSEEDS course, students worked on a capstone final project of their choice. “They get to pick something that they’re passionate about, which is great, and as teachers we look for evidence of the scientific method and the spirit of open inquiry,” explains Gaudiano. Examples include a project that measured the physiological effects of playing music for elderly patients at a retirement community; a beach cleanup that quantified the amount of plastic found in a given area and then disseminated that information to the community; and a comparative measurement of energy consumption among different departments at Punahou.

For Gaudiano and Judge, CapSEEDS Science allows them to connect scientific methodology like data collection and observation over time with “big picture” questions that link science to social debates. “Studying biology in depth requires that you really look at the details,” says Judge, “but in doing so you often lose sight of the broader social or ethical aspects of an issue.” The interdisciplinary course’s emphasis on real-life intersections between science, economics and society offers rich terrain for inquiry-based learning, they say, while making it relevant to the students’ everyday lives.

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