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From Inquiry to Insight: Spotlight on High School Science at INTL

From Inquiry to Insight: Spotlight on High School Science at INTL

Silicon Valley International School (INTL) High School students undertake ambitious scientific inquiries as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, bridging theory with practice and shaping the future of scientific inquiry. Rooted in a philosophy that promotes inquiry-based learning and critical thinking, INTL students are empowered to navigate the intricacies of scientific investigation through engaging activities that result in a rich understanding of the underlying concepts. All three IB sciences, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry are taught throughout the year at INTL during 9th and 10th Grade as part of the Middle Years Programme (MYP) curriculum with each discipline having a focus in a separate trimester. In 11th and 12th Grade as part of the IB Diploma Programme (DP) students can specialize in one or more sciences, choosing standard or higher level for any of them. Following are a few examples of what this looks like at INTL.

Chemistry students lighting a green flame of the bunsen burner.

INTL 9th graders explored the world of physics by tackling the Balanced Forces Model, identifying various types of forces, and exploring Newton's First Law to understand balanced and unbalanced forces. They've worked with force equations, and drawn Free-Body Diagrams. They’ve also inquired into other concepts such as constant velocity, acceleration, and qualitative models of energy transfer. 

INTL physics teacher, Mr. Chris Southwick, had the following to say about the 9th Grade course: "An important aspect of the 9th Grade physics course is thinking of science as a way of knowing about our universe and not just as a body of knowledge. Students use observation, consensus building, multiple model representations, and further experiments, to construct their own understanding of our world. They go through the process multiple times as they make new observations that require refinement of previous models.

10th Grader working on a chemical equation on the white board.

In 10th Grade, INTL chemistry students have explored rates of reactions, reversible reactions, and stoichiometry. They have tackled problems that are often introduced in 11th and 12th Grade and enjoyed being challenged. Hands-on activities included designing their own rates of reaction lab using the data loggers and monitoring the change in pressure or color change. 

INTL chemistry teacher, Ms. Kirsten Birchall, offers these insights about the significance of chemistry: "Chemistry is the language of the natural world. It is essential for understanding how things work and how to solve problems. By studying chemistry students gain the knowledge and skills they need to make informed decisions about their health, their environment, and their future.” 

High School students dissecting a heart in biology.

In the upper grades, the IB Internal Assessment (IA) is a project-based activity of an 11th or 12th Grade student’s own design. Science IAs are an opportunity for the students to demonstrate their understanding of the science curriculum, as well as their ability to conduct independent research. Students choose their own research question to investigate, and then spend weeks designing a method, carrying out that method, analyzing the results, and finally evaluating their entire methodological process. Here are some examples:


Brisies V. (12th Grade) investigated whether there is a relationship between the moisture of soil and the coverage of pickleweed in the California Baylands. She managed to collect all her data by carrying out fieldwork in the baylands with quadrats.

Sarah A. (12th Grade) examined if there is a relationship between Kombucha fermentation time on the microbial diversity in the first fermentation round after 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 days. She used a software program to calculate the colony-forming units after taking photographs of her agar plates every day.


Sam P. (12th Grade) explored the mathematical relationship between the grit number of sandpaper and the maximum coefficient of static friction by using an adjustable incline. 

Marselis S. (12th Grade) explored the rate of evaporation by measuring the effect of solutions with different hydrogen peroxide concentrations, tracking the different periods of oscillation of a drinking bird toy.

Marselis S. posing in front of his drinking bird as part of his research project in 12 Grade.

The scientific thinking required to engage in these projects naturally flows from skills learned in the MYP curriculum and extends to the students’ learning through a more quantitative treatment of experimental uncertainties, a greater independence in the planning and carrying out of the investigation, and the expectation of a sophisticated comparison between the experimental results and the scientific context. 

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