Under the Microscope: The Art of Science

At its core, a Culminating Activity (CA) requires thinking --- deep thinking.

“It is meant to provide students a chance to demonstrate their understanding of the unit of work or multiple units of work --- that is not in a test format,” says Frank Heijmans, Science Department Head at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS).  

“The project is commonly designed in a way that allows students a chance to provide a unique or authentic way to demonstrate this knowledge. It is meant to force them to synthesize the knowledge gained,” he says.

The science programme at SMCS has been using the CA as a form of assessment for several years, in keeping with Ministry of Education guidelines --- making important enhancements along the way.

Frank Heijmans, Head of Science, with students in the classroom at St. Michael's College School.

Frank Heijmans, is the Science Department Head at St. Michael’s College School.

“Over the years the scope of the CA has changed forcing students to use stronger research skills to think critically of their sources and apply their knowledge in an authentic manner,” continues Heijmans. “In other cases, they would perform labs or collect and analyze data that captures what they have learned and simulates expectations in a university lab situation.”

“With the introduction of Deep Learning at St. Michael’s, we have also begun scoping out projects in a way that draws on the many facets of 21st century learning,” he says.

From ecology and structures and mechanisms, to chemistry, biology and physics, the SMCS science curriculum yielded a wide array of CA projects at the conclusion of this academic year --- each worth 15 percent of the student’s mark.

Some of the top projects are showcased below.


OVERVIEW Students were asked to be creative in the design and building of a bridge structure for their structures unit. Some students were also able to use CAD software to design the bridge. Separately, students were asked to develop projects specific to units on heat and ecology.
TASK Students were asked to digitally build and test a bridge and/or build a bridge of their choice using spaghetti; consider alternative sources of energy (heat); and apply their understanding of best living conditions (Ecology).
  1. Geothermal Energy
  2. Science Bridge Building
  3. Koalas
  4. Bridge Design and Build
  5. Bridge Design and Build (JZ)


Students working on a science project at St. Michael's College School.


OVERVIEW The CA was geared toward having students apply their understanding of the ecology to the: sustainability of the ecological systems that are under severe pressure due to climate change, environmental and human factors; electricity (alternative forms of energy); alternative energy from electricity and ecological sustainability (ecology).
TASK Solve a current problem with respect to earth science that will help decrease the impact on climate change.
  1. Wind Energy
  2. Electric and Hybrid Cars
  3. Ecology


Christopher Bergin teaching a science class at St. Michael's College School.

Christopher Bergin teaches science and biology at St. Michael’s College School.


OVERVIEW Investigate a technology in light and optics and how it is used in the world, such as medical or chemistry applications.
TASK Choose a device that uses some form of optics (light, mirrors, and/or lenses) and explain how it is applied in a field of science --- how the device works, how it has progressed over the years, and the contributions that it has made to biology, physics, or chemistry. 
  1. Space Telescope 
  2. Optic Computing 
  3. Optics CPT 3D


Annelise Beaton Smith working with students in science classroom at St. Michael's College School.

Annelise Beaton Smith teaches chemistry at St. Michael’s College School.


OVERVIEW Biology students were charged with the development of the evolutionary history of a particular organism (animal).
TASK Research five evolutionary ancestors of a species currently living on Earth. Through their look into ancient ancestors, the students were to examine why certain evolutionary events happened to create the species we see on Earth now. 
  1. Blue Whale
  2. Black African Rhino
  3. Asian Elephant
  4. Emperor Penguin


A culminating activity has been used as a science assessment for several years.


OVERVIEW Use video analysis technology to study the forces and motion involved in analyzing projectile trajectories in sports.
TASK Students were asked to tie in how video analysis is used to improve performance in their chosen sport.
  1. Physics Sport Analysis
  2. Baseball Analysis
  3. Improving Sports


Patrick Feghali demonstrates a science experiment to students at St. Michael's College School.

Patrick Feghali teaches science and physics at St. Michael’s College School.


OVERVIEW Focus of the CA was to integrate three of the five units of study (eg. biochemistry, metabolism, genetics, homeostasis, population dynamics) and explore how these concepts apply to a research question that addresses issues or current events relating to technology, society, and the environment. For example, one group studied the effects of different diets on the human body.
TASK Answer a research question with ties to the overall expectations from a unit in the context of that unit and at least two others.
  1. Diet and the Body
  2. Chemotherapy
  3. Neurotransmitters
  4. Depression and Antidepressants

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