Prep Science: Core No More

Prior to their arrival on campus, incoming students anticipate their new courses, teachers, and classmates. Science is among the subjects that all students are required to take. However, not all science students will share the same experience as, in the past decade, the Science Department has adjusted the Prep and Lower Middle science requirements three times.

Before 2014, Preps and Lower Mids enrolled in a required two-year program. During their first year, the course covered physics and chemistry, the following year, chemistry and biology. The science department changed to a one-year program, the Prep Science Core, in 2014. The switch allowed students to take a greater number of science classes according to individual interest after the Prep year. 

The Prep Science Core focuses on introducing students to chemistry, biology, and physics with a focus on lab skills. For example, the Core teaches skills like titration, dimensional analysis, and lab safety. Throughout the year, Preps engage in labs and discussions that provide them with a foundation designed to help them pinpoint the future science classes they would like to take. Ms. Eileen Sullivan, head of the science department and instructor in chemistry, said, “The hope with the Prep Science Core [was] that the skills taught throughout the year prepare students for future science classes, because all of the skills are utilized in various aspects of other sciences.”

Beginning in 2019-2020, the science department has decided to change the Prep Science Core program to a Physics 150 class for all incoming Preps. This year, the department implemented one trial Physics 150 class, which has been successful in many respects. Ms. Sullivan said, “Students are continuing to learn the same skills, but through the content of physics, which will help them adapt to their next science class.”

There will continue to be flexibility in what science classes students can select after the Prep year. However, because physics traditionally leads into chemistry, and then biology, the hope is that there will be a clearer route outlining which science classes students take during their time at Hotchkiss. Mr. Pierre Yoo, instructor in chemistry, said, “I used to teach physics to freshmen, and I thought it was helpful for their mindset for future science classes, because it mixes the relationship between the physical world and math.”

Students might find themselves questioning whether they should pursue any higher levels of Physics after taking the subject as Preps; however, Physics 150 will help the process by allowing Preps to evaluate their interest in the discipline. The switch to Physics 150 will also give Preps a foundation in a common branch of science, and prepare them for the transition to classes such as chemistry and biology. Lucy Bulley ’21, said, “I think students will enjoy the Physics 150 class, because it has a more specific focus rather than being [solely] a skills-based class.”