Advice about Science in School

Parent Q&A

  • Dear all,

    My family is moving to Oakland in mid-December from overseas. (We will only be there temporarily, until August, when we return to our home in Beirut, Lebanon.) I am looking for a good, not too expensive, private school for our second grade daughter in case she cannot get into the neighborhood public school of Cleveland Elementary. (We haven't been able to register for public school since we can't yet prove residency in Oakland.)

    We are considering Walden, which sounds like an amazing place in so many ways and fits our smaller budget. However, our daughter loves science and math in particular and although she loves art and music, she hasn't been as crazy about art classes and has no experience with drama (Walden is arts-integrated).

    I wonder if there is another good school option we should consider that emphasizes science, nature, gardening, for example, more than performing and visual arts.

    Do you have any advice or suggestions?

    Thank you in advance.

    Best regards,


    Prospect Sierra, if they have space.  Amazing science program and many activities that connect kids with nature.  Fabulous school! 

    Alumni parent

    You have got to check out Black Pine Circle!  I cannot imagine a better school for a STEM-oriented child, particularly girls, and on top of that, their arts program is also quite strong.

    Thank you for the suggestions. Prospect Sierra looks fantastic but is too much of a commute from where we will be staying. I wrote to Black Pine Circle, but it's been about 2 weeks and I still haven't heard back from them. I'll try once more. Meanwhile we've applied to Walden. Thanks again.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Intel Science Competition- Clash of the Titans?

March 2013

Are the kids who usually enter the Intel Science Contest Prodigies? My bright (but definitely not prodigy) kid who loves science and maintains A+ in school wants to enter the contest. I did some Internet research and saw the Intel contestants are already working in labs supervised by Professors etc. I am reluctant to encourage an endeavour if it is clearly beyond my kids capabilities . Also, we has no access to labs or Academics etc. I hate to discourage my kids dreams but also want to protect her from unnecessary disappointments at the tender age of 14. Conflicted

Ah, this is something I know very well because my kids have competed in many science competitions - and even won occasionally. Here's a little secret. Prodigies are not just smart kids. They are actually driven kids who want to delve deep in a subject and take on a challenge. Your daughter is smart. Her grades are good enough. And she wants to take on a challenge. Let her do so. She is not too young.

Here's how to do it. First, take her to science talks. Lots of science talks with real scientists and researchers. There are a tremendous number of free talks at Berkeley, Stanford, USGS, NASA, all the community colleges, SRI, you name it. Have her ask questions and talk to the presenters after the lecture. Encourage her to develop relationships with people that inspire her. Have her work with the science instructors who are involved in local science competitions.

Everyone competing in the Intel Science Talent Search and the Davidson Competition and the Junior Science and Humanities Competition did as many local competitions as possible to learn the ropes and the rules and practice practice practice. She doesn't have to win her school competition to enter the country competitions or the JSHS or other competitions.

My daughter didn't win the Intel, but she won a Davidson Fellowship and that meant a trip to DC and a soiree at the Smithsonian. It was the culmination of years of competitions and many different science projects and ideas. My son took a gold medal, was Intel ISEF ambassador and ultimately received a UC COSMOS scholarship for one project. But it was, again, after years of competitions. And both got research mentors from people they met at talks that inspired them.

Here's what counts: eagerness, seriousness and diligence. If your daughter exhibits all the qualities and is willing to delve deep, encourage her - don't shield her. The best researchers love their topics and bring in others who love it too. Good Luck

Please let your daughter try! As a former science teacher, science competition judge and coach, I have had students in the Intel as well as the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. The Symposium is being hosted in Berkeley this year in March or April. The area coordinator is Roger Martin at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Ask if you and your daughter may attend the presentations. We went to the presentations last year in Monterey (me and my 10th grader)and it was really inspiring. He decided not to compete but he is interning at CAL this summer and enjoying a robotics club at CAL. Encourage and support your daughter all you can. cocosar

I think you should fully support your son's motivation and enthusiasm and not emphasize ''winning.'' It will be a wonderful experience for him, no matter what! He'll get to be part of the scene, make goals, plan and make/do a project. I think you need to put aside your protective inclinations and let him experience the world! A Mediocre, Enthusiastic Scientist


Private K-8 with strong science? Does it exist?

Dec 2012


We are considering moving our child from our local public elementary school to a private school. My daughter loves science and nature and I want to be sure we look at schools that will support and encourage her interests in that area. We also would like a school where she may find students with similar interests. Do you have a science lover at a local private school? Are there schools with particularly strong science programs? A school that goes until 8th grade would be ideal so that we don't have to do multiple transitions. Thanks in advance for the advice! Parent of a budding scientist

A cheaper way to get science/nature -- my son in public school has gone to Quantum Camp in downtown Berkeley. Also has gone to Camp Chrysalis summer camp run by a teacher, camping in Big Sur, Mendocino etc. The teacher, Lee Tempkin, now teaches at NOCCS. It was enjoyable and nature-y, a bit granola-y, and is listed in Tom Lent's summer camp list. Quantum kids has been great in terms of meeting like minded individuals. The only private school I've seen that looks especially potentially science-y is maybe the small school in Berkeley that caters to intellectual kids. The Academy. Good luck. anon

To the person looking for a K-8 school with a strong science program: my son is currently a student at Prospect Sierra School . He has always been drawn to Math and Science more than to Art, Music or reading. Prospect Sierra has very strong Science and Math programs, but not to the detriment of Art and Music and the traditional curriculum. We feel that he is getting a well-rounded education in all of the subjects. Prospect Sierra is a K-8 school. Please feel free to Google it and check out the website. This is a timely question, as the admissions process for the 2013-2014 school year is happening as we speak. Please feel free to e-mail me if you have specific questions about the school. corina

Park Day School in Oakland has an amazing science program that engages kids from Day 1. I recently asked my 2nd grader what he remembers about kindergarten and he said without hesitation - ''There was so much learning and experiencing. Like science!'' It starts with exploring wood, paper, plants in kindergarten, to building bridges, exploring the environment (clouds, oceans, bugs, etc.) in 1st grade, to learning about probability and statistics, weights and measures, anatomy, chemical reactions, etc. in the upper grades. Students are fully engaged in creating nontoxic household cleaners, designing the layout of school's rainwater catchment system, and exploring how the five senses work, among other things. What's more, Park Day students are curious and learn how to develop a solid hypothesis, which allows them to proceed with confidence in their discovery of the answers. Contact the school for a tour 510-653-0317 ext. 120 and visit on Math and Science night. Dara

Absolutely! I would strongly recommend Park Day in Oakland. It has a strong science program that engages the kids in the manner that most excites - hands on, age appropriate, active, interesting and fun. My son is in 7th grade and wants to get to school early every day so he can hang out in the science classroom! At every age the kids are not just learning facts, they are learning how those facts exist in the natural world, how to be observers, how to be scientists and to engage with the world with a critical and curious mind. On top of all that you get a wonderfully progressive, nurturing environment that strives to have every child grow into who they are - check it out! Maggie

Our daughter, Neomi, is in Grade 3 at K-8 Tehiyah Day School She began there last year. To set the background, I must explain that Neomi's quite an avid little scientist -- the type who puts a cup of honey in the freezer to see what happens, returns two hours later to find it never froze, then Googles, ''Why doesn't honey freeze?'', gets the answer ''Because it's made of only 18% water,'' so she mixes some water to the cup, returns it to the freezer, waits another hour, and reports that it froze. She's always asking questions: Why did the car's back window frost over but not the front window? How does a calculator know the answers? How can we figure out if a barnacle is alive? What's the difference between baking soda and yeast? What actually is fire? Neomi has also gone to Sarah Science Camp several summers and is in her element doing cool nerdy stuff deep in nature, like collecting shells on Albany beach, saving snails from sidewalks, searching for patterns in the multiplication table, or reading about anatomy. All this to say that Neomi would be unhappy in a school that does not have a strong science curriculum.

I believe that the Tehiyah Day School solution to science programming is a marvelous exemplar of making the best of school: Its vision for science is an interdisciplinary, project-based inquiry approach, in which children ground both subject matter content and research methodology in their natural inquisitiveness. I identify at least four activity dimensions that apparently have been conducive to the positive experience Neomi has had with science at Tehiyah Day School: (1) Respect and deep concern for all living creatures and the environment; (2) Holistic, integrated approach to curriculum, where logic, mathematics, history, language and cultural studies, and art (!) all cohere around a focal unit theme, such as earth (second grade) or life cycles (third grade); (3) Experience-based approach, including gardening at school, numerous field trips to ranches, tidal pools, and local natural resources requiring community attention; (4) Customization and empowerment by giving each student agency in preparing summative posters and delivering classroom presentations (e.g., mapping ecological habitats in our back yard, photographing spiders, botanical classification of stems and roots); yet also (5) Collaboration, of the good type, in which individuals think hard together to enrich and challenge each other to find new wholes larger than the sums of the brainstorming parts. Perhaps the best test for Neomi's engagement is that the science she does at school comes home with her. She quizzes us at dinner (and we fail miserably, to her glee and our subsequent enlightenment): What is a xylem? a phloem? How does water go up a stem? What's the sun got to do with nutrients? Why do carrots have tiny hairs along the side? And is a spider an insect? Dor

I don't have first-hand experience because my kids were not especially in to science. But I work with UC Berkeley faculty in the sciences, and a lot of their kids have gone to Head Royce and Prospect Sierra, and usually to Berkeley High after 8th grade. When I visited Head Royce a few years ago I was impressed by their science department, including a separate lab just for the lower grades. So you might check out those two schools.