A Reflection on Harkness and Science Fair

The Meadows School campus with green trees and paved sidewalks in Las Vegas, Nevada
A Reflection on Harkness and Science Fair

Reflection stands as one of the pillars of pedagogy. Educators consistently reflect on how to enhance and improve their students' learning experience and their institution. Last year, I recognized the need to improve the facilitation of my class discussions. Often likened to a ping pong match, wherein the teacher poses a question, a student responds, and the cycle repeats, such discussions allow little room for meaningful interaction among students as these types of discussions unintentionally hinder students from being the ones to pose and answer questions collectively, thus constructing meaning together. While aware of the need for improvement in my classroom discussions, I needed help to determine how to achieve the level of discourse I desired. Eventually, I stumbled upon the pedagogical practice of Harkness, a method renowned at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Through a generous donation to our annual fund for professional development, I attended the Biology Institute at Exeter last summer and immersed myself in the Harkness method. This year, I took my teachings home and embraced the method in my Advanced Topics Science Research course.

Harkness demands trust and vulnerability as students tackle challenges and work together in co-constructing meaning. It fosters an environment where students respond to one another, build upon each other's ideas, respectfully challenge each other, and develop robust analysis and communication skills, which are crucial in the 21st-century workforce. Additionally, Harkness catalyzes the development of a stronger classroom community as students continually engage with one another, strengthening their bonds and confidence in expressing their ideas.

My students flourished with Harkness this year. The analysis, critique, and debate of scientific journal articles during our Harkness sessions enhanced their scientific practices and communication skills, aiding them in developing robust research projects. Students showcased their research projects at the USA Beal Bank Southern Nevada Regional Science and Engineering Fair held on March 7, 2024, at UNLV, where several students achieved notable recognition:

  • Aaron Lee won the Overall Science Fair and will represent Nevada at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles, CA, this May.
  • Omar Shah received the Society for Science Biomedical Research Special Award.
  • In the Plant and Animal Science category, Skye DeCicco won first place, Sania Mujtaba was awarded third place, and Raunaq Malhotra participated.
  • In the Engineering, Mathematical & Computer Science category, Aaron Lee won first place, and Drake Sage and Miranda Paek participated.
  • For the Medicine and Health category, Beverly Wang was awarded second place.
  • India Vincent-Philpot third place and Helen Meng received an honorable mention in the Behavioral and Social Sciences category.
  • Omar Shah took second place in the Chemistry category, and Anthony Terry was awarded Honorable Mention.

I look forward to refining Harkness in my classroom, as it has proven to be one of the most transformative instructional tools of my teaching career. Harkness cultivates an environment where students feel empowered to take intellectual risks, fostering creativity and active participation in learning without fear of judgment. The Harkness Method cultivates our classroom community.

Brianna Cotter
Upper School Science Instructor

  • Science
  • Upper School