6th Graders Step Into the Forest of Wonders With Science
Middle schoolers' lives are full of dynamic experiences with an ever-shifting understanding of themselves, relationships and the world around them. To achieve deep academic engagement and transfer of knowledge from one discipline to another, they need equally exciting and varied experiences to spark their interest and curiosity. To help our 6th graders develop a strong connection to the novel Forest of Wonders by award-winning author Linda Sue Park, English teacher Ms. Steppe looked to our science teachers to construct an apothecary lab where literature and science meet.
Exploring the Forest of Wonders
The book's main character Raffa is a young apothecary who learns to combine natural materials from the Forest of Wonders to heal sick animals. It's a continuous process of trial and error as he develops his skills. And as he discovers more about the animals he seeks to help, he begins to question whether his actions might endanger them. This captivating story explores scientific ethical dilemmas within a framework of fantasy and mystery.Forest of Wonders is rich with literary conventions. The author packs each page with similes, metaphors, personification, dramatic irony, foreshadowing, and more. Ms. Steppe talks to her classes about how these conventions amplify the plot and bring the characters to life. As they read and discuss the book, our 6th graders annotate the novel to identify where and how the author uses these conventions.
Ms. Steppe saw the book's natural connection to our 6th-grade science curriculum where students learn the scientific method. Much the same as Raffa, our students could experience the trial and error of scientific experimentation and use their imaginations to consider the possible implications of what they create. Ms. Steppe turned to our science teachers to create a mini-unit based on themes from the book.
Out of the Book and Into the Lab
Working with an outline science teacher Ms. Farina-Henry developed over the summer, Mr. Key developed a lesson in which students use the scientific method to create a poultice (moisturizing lotion) using coconut oil, jojoba oil, beeswax, essential oils, and more, a simulation of the ingredients Raffa collected for his concoctions. 6th graders began by studying the qualities and general purposes of each ingredient before recording their observations of smell, sight and touch.Mr. Key gave the class a basic recipe to follow using a balance to measure and a double boiler to melt the oils, much as an apothecary would. Each group was allowed one variable ingredient to test how that would change the final product. Our 6th graders completed analyses of their potions and compiled the data to create a larger sample to assess the overall success of their creations.
The great thinkers of tomorrow will approach the problems of our world from a multidisciplinary viewpoint, melding the strengths of the arts and humanities with science and technology. On a middle school-sized scale, interconnected study helps our students develop that type of mindset. They learn to transfer concepts from one area to another, an essential skill that can be lost with more siloed models of education. Part of the fabric of our Middle School curriculum, this is the kind of authentic, cross-curricular learning that sticks.