Feature Stories

Innovative Science Opportunities Inspire Students, Drive Excellence

At Minnetonka Public Schools, innovative science programs inspire curiosity and empower students to excel. 

“Engaging students in science begins with an early introduction to the power of hands-on learning, and it grows by offering inquiry-based opportunities for students to pursue what interests them,” said Dr. Dennis Peterson, Superintendent of Schools.

Classes and extracurricular options offered throughout the District provide opportunities for students to explore science and the ways it connects to other aspects of their daily lives. The programs provide a strong foundation for students to continue to pursue excellence in the field after graduation. 

Student researcher completes science experiment

Engaging in a School of Opportunities
Minnetonka High School (MHS) is often referred to as a ‘school of opportunities,’ able to support and challenge students to discover and pursue their passions while achieving personal excellence. MHS offers a robust slate of AP and IB science courses, including AP courses in biology, chemistry and environmental science; IB Sports, Exercise and Health Science; and several options for both AP and IB Physics. More than 80% of MHS students take at least one AP or IB course during their four years at the high school. In addition to these opportunities, MHS’s signature programs provide pathways for students to engage in rigorous scientific endeavors. 

In Minnetonka Research, students pursue authentic, collaborative research, driven by their own interests. In the program, students propose, execute and present original projects while engaging with academic professionals and industry leaders.

“Students participate in a wide array of projects, from biochemistry and astronomy to computer sciences, exercise science and psychology,” said Kim Hoehne, Minnetonka Research program director. “There are so many ways for students to explore their curiosities here.” 

This year, four Minnetonka students qualified for the Society for Science’s 2021 International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), the premiere international event for high school science. At the fair, students share their research with professionals and scientists from around the world and compete for prestigious awards and scholarships. “To be named an ISEF Finalist, students must have a robust research project that follows the scientific process, and they need to clearly articulate the importance and significance of their work,” said Hoehne. Minnetonka’s researchers joined students from 49 states and 64 countries as part of this international fair.

High schoolers looking to connect their interest in science to future careers are able to do so through two other signature programs, as well: VANTAGE, the MHS advanced professional studies program; and MOMENTUM, the school’s program focused on design and skilled trades.   

VANTAGE students engage in real-world learning through site visits, ongoing relationships with professional mentors and field projects with local businesses. Two of the program’s eight “tracks” of multidisciplinary study focus on scientific fields. In Global Sustainability, students study the environment and global economics through the scientific lens. In Health Sciences, students explore prospective health care professions. They also have the opportunity to earn certification as a registered nursing assistant or emergency medical responder.

MOMENTUM offers courses such as “The Physics of Home Renovation” that combine science and technology education topics. MOMENTUM is continuing to grow at MHS. A new building expansion that will house flexible maker spaces to support STEM projects and to provide space for an automotive shop, will be completed on the MHS campus this year. 

“The science programs across the district have established a firm foundation for our students,” reflected Hoehne. “Students receive a robust curriculum with opportunities to learn through inquiry, creative problem-solving, and collaboration. These components allow students to build on previous courses and apply their knowledge in new contexts, seeking answers to their own curiosities.”

Making the Most of the Middle
At Minnetonka’s two middle schools, in addition to studying physical science in sixth grade, life science in seventh grade and earth science in eighth grade, students may also choose to propel their academic study through accelerated science courses. In these classes, physical, life and earth sciences are covered in two years rather than three. 

“Our classes allow teachers to tailor the curriculum to each student's needs,” said Fred Stock, science department chair at Minnetonka Middle School West. “Our teachers are truly enthusiastic and knowledgeable educators who design engaging and challenging lessons in all of our science courses. We foster critical thinking, creativity and technology literacy and give students opportunities to work together to find solutions.”  

Extracurricular science offerings enhance middle schoolers’ experiences in the classroom. Students have competed in Science Bowl challenges at the national level, and in past years, educational summer trips for seventh and eighth graders provided chances to learn about topics such as life sciences in Costa Rica and earth science in the southwest United States. “The opportunity to experience science outside of the traditional school setting is really amazing,” said Stock. 

Student and teacher complete a science project

Beginning with Hands-on Curiosity
Elementary students are engaged in standards-based content with an emphasis on cultivating 21st Century skills such as creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and innovation across all subject areas. In science classes, collaboration and critical thinking often take the form of lab activities. 

“Having hands-on experiences that connect to our science lessons is essential for students’ learning,” explained Karl Boberg, a fifth grade teacher at Deephaven Elementary. This spring, Boberg’s class dissected owl pellets as part of their unit on ecosystems, biomes and food chains. “Experiencing a food web through a lab is a powerful addition to reading or watching a video on the topic,” said Boberg.  

Science units are enriched with hands-on labs supported by the district’s Science Center. The Center provides materials for the K-5 science lessons at all six elementary schools. From preparing kits for Kindergarteners learning about mealworms to procuring Lego kits for upper elementary students to build simple machines, the Science Center is a hub of resources for projects and activities. 

“Minnetonka’s science programs provide students with hands-on opportunities to explore and innovate at every level,” shared Dr. Amy LaDue, the District’s Assistant Superintendent for Instruction. “Students learn deeply, and they build confidence in their knowledge and skills along the way, preparing them to succeed and excel in their endeavors both within the science classroom and beyond it.”

To learn more about Minnetonka’s science programs, visit the click here.

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