2013-14 Highlights: SCIENCE


The Advanced Placement Chemistry class began with an overview of first year chemistry and who did what when. Essential skills such as experi­mentation, chemical nomenclature and stoichiometry were reviewed and re-enforced with labs and projects such as “how things work”. After a brief review of gas laws, the study of thermo-chemistry included calorime­try labs and the calorie counting project.

Next, students took an in-depth look at atomic structure and quantum theory, including the pro­duction and absorption of light. After relating atomic structure to the peri­odic table, chemical bonding was examined in detail. Some students grew crystals to illustrate how chemi­cal bonds form. They learned that each bond type has unique properties that can be used for identification and that the intermolecular forces be­tween particles help to explain the behaviors of gases, liquids and solids. Students were able to put their knowledge and skills to use as they worked more and more independent­ly in the lab. The semester ended with a partial AP exam and modern mate­rials research project.

The class delved into new topics during the second semester, beginning with chemical kinetics. Reaction rates and mechanisms were studied and rate laws were used to calculate various parameters of chemical reactions. The importance of catalysts was reinforced by the reaction rate project. Chemical equilibrium was the most demanding topic of the second semester. It included equilibrium constants, Le Chatelier’s principle, gaseous equilibrium, acid/base equilibrium and solubility equilibrium. Algebraic principles and the RICE system for solving equilibrium problems were heavily utilized throughout the multi-chapter unit. Students developed new knowledge and understanding through challenging labs including the buffer solutions experiment.


Thermodynamics was next with an introduction to Gibb’s free energy and spontaneity. Students researched the efficiency of various energy conversion systems. The electro-chemistry unit was highlighted by the battery project and electro-plating demonstration. Quantitative analysis of the process required some physics review and new units such rounded out the course content. Decay series and half-life problems were practiced for nuclear chemistry along with the identification of different types of nuclear radiation and reactions. Students did contribute functional group projects to the class’s understanding of hydrocarbon derivatives in organic chemistry.


As spring finally arrived, the focus shifted to the AP exam. Throughout the semester students completed multiple choice and free response questions for each topic, culminating in the practice exam the last week in April.


AP Environmental Science students started the year with ecosystems and defining the boundaries of an ecosys­tem including population and biodi­versity. The next unit was public lands where we learned about our nearby national parks, state parks, national forests, rangelands, and wildernesses.  Students learned about the formation, rules, and regu­lations of each type of public land.

Students also learned about agriculture.  The next unit was geology to learn how soil is made and general information about rocks. Students learned about different mining tech­niques, materials mined, and their effects on the environment as well as the many things that have been and are currently mined in Virginia. In January and February students learned about mining and how to mine for chocolate chips.  Students had to decide whether to leave the cookie intact or to make a lot of money and destroy the cookie and deal with the environmental consequences of their choice. Then we moved into energy production and visited a wind turbine at JMU on a snowy day.

Finally, the weather improved and we studied air pollution at Betsy Bell in Staunton, looking at lichens as an indicator.   As we moved into the pollution unit, we visited the Augusta County landfill and the Fishersville wastewater treatment plant.  We finished with a healthy stream survey at South River and Christian’s Creek. The students were enthusiastic for all of the labs and field trips even in the cold and really seemed to appreciate the knowledge gleaned from the experiences.


AP Environemental Science Field Work

Frontier Culture Museum 

Students learned the difference between invasive, introduced, and native species and how they can affect biodiversity.

Shenandoah National Park/ St. Mary’s Wilderness

Students learned about the formation, rules, and regulations of each type of public land by visiting our nearby national parks, state parks, national forests, rangelands, and wildernesses.

Local Farms

Students visited a working turkey farm and organic dairy farm in Verona and learned about how their farms worked and explained both the financial and agricultural side to their farms.

Old Greenville Rd.

Students learned about formations, identifying rocks, and how geologic maps are made by visiting several sites on Old Greenville Road.

Betsy Bell

Students observed air pollution that is natural and man-made and to see the effects of setting aside wildlife areas in urban settings.

Augusta County Landfill

Students learned about engineered landfills and recycling, Observed previous landfill sites and understood the restricted land use.

Christian’s Creek

Students learned how a healthy stream survey is done, understand how macro-organisms can be used to determine the health of a stream, compared to two other streams tested for nutrients , determined if a buffer zone is large enough from the road and how it could be improved.


Field Trip – JMU Wind Lab

Students toured JMU’s  Wind Lab facilities which includes a “high bay” lab space with demo models and wind measurement equipment and a tour of JMU’s Small Wind Training and Testing Facility.



The Environmental Chemistry class got off to a good start examining the foundations of chemistry including measurement, calculations and labor­atory skills. During the study of atom­ic theory and the periodic table, stu­dents created models of the atom. Following that was a comprehensive unit on nuclear chemistry. Both nu­clear energy and nuclear medicine were essential topics. Learning about chemical bonding and nomenclature allowed students to name that com­pound and to figure out “what’s in that”.

The next topic included gases and the atmosphere. Ping pong ball launchers were built to demonstrate the students understanding of gas laws. The effect of chlorofluorocar­bons on the ozone layer and the impact of carbon dioxide, as well as other “greenhouse” gases, on Earth’s climate were examined in detail. The first semester concluded with thor­ough study of chemical reactions, so that students can more fully compre­hend and communicate what is hap­pening, and stoichiometry, so that students can better answer the “how much” question.

Second semester began with thermo-chemistry, including both calorimetry and thermodynamics. Students learned to measure and calculate the Calories or Joules absorbed and emitted by various food and processes. They demonstrated their knowledge and understanding by examining the efficiency of various energy sources and systems. The next topic was solutions where concentration, categorization and dilutions were studied. The unique and interesting properties of solutions were examined in the lab as well as the kitchen cabinet.


Continuing with acids and bases, students learned the relationship between concentration and pH, as well as other water quality parameters. The titration lab provided a culminating laboratory experience, and then water samples from the area were tested for pH, conductivity and oxygen content. An introduction to electro-chemistry provided a springboard for the study of hybrid and electric vehicles. Students made batteries from household materials and electro-plated metal objects. The final research project of the year was on the future of transportation, including electric vehicles from bicycles to trains. The final topic of the year was organic chemistry. Students learned the basics of hydrocarbon nomenclature and some of the functional groups before moving on to polymers, pharmaceuticals and nutrition.


MOLECULAR BIOLOGY1464627_10203691368304455_2975507053159747674_n

Molecular/Microbiology classes began the year by considering the “big ide­as” of cell and molecular biology.  In the context of the cell as the unit of life, students studied biochemistry in order to promote their understanding of the molecular properties. More recently, we have begun a unit in microbiology.  In the context of emerging and re-emerging diseases, students have studied prokaryotic cells and viruses and their interac­tions with humans, particularly the nature of pathogenesis.

We continued this unit by consider­ing transmission of disease, the im­mune system, and epidemiology. Laboratory work has focused on basic techniques in microscopy and molec­ular biology, molecular modeling, and identification and purification of molecules important in living things. Students will also study established and emerging technologies related to microbiology and disease, including antimicrobial pharmaceuticals and immunotechnology. Laboratory exercises will provide students experi­ence in sterile technique, culture and identification of microorganisms, assessment of bacterial sensitivity to antimicrobial agents, and use of ELISA, an immunotechnological  application. During the final weeks of the school year, students in Molecular/Microbiology studied molecular genetics and biotechnological applications of the science of DNA structure and function.

In lab, students used gel electrophoresis, a “workhorse” technique of the molecular biology lab, to analyze restriction digests of plasmid DNA and, along with PCR, to detect whether they possess a specific genetic insert on one of their chromosomes.  In another laboratory investigation, students used specific techniques to transform E. coli with a gene from a jellyfish that causes the bacteria to glow green when exposed to UV light.  Students also performed a simulated microarray to learn how molecular biologists analyze differences in the expression of an organism’s genes under different conditions.

MolBio students showcased their laboratory expertise at our biennial Open House by conducting a demonstration/ workshop on electrophoresis for our visitors.

Students extended their mastery of molecular biology and its potential by attending the annual Biotechnology Conference at Eastern Mennonite School during which they learned about cutting-edge research in tissue regeneration in humans and participated in a lab on detection of genetically modified foods.  At the end of the year, students completed projects in which they considered the societal impacts and bioethical issues surrounding recombinant DNA applications, including genetically modified crops and animals and human genetic therapy and enhancement.  Through their work on these projects, students demonstrated their understanding of cellular and molecular biology, the resulting biotechnological applications, and the possibilities as well as the ethical issues that these advances have brought about.



Human e fieldPHYSICS

Students in SVGS DE Physics recently wrapped up an intense semester of Newtonian Mechanics. Topics includ­ed Newton’s Laws of Motion, energy and momentum conservation laws, angular velocity and torque, fluids and pressure, thermal physics, and a brief introduction to special relativity. Students engaged the course con­cepts through laboratory experi­ments, WebAssign problem sets, and in-class demonstrations. Occasionally, entire class periods were devoted to solving a single complex real-world problem through synthesis of past material: What angle would you need to launch the cannon to hit this dis­tant target? How fast was a car mov­ing just before it struck a stopped car, producing the skid mark you see here? How can you best construct a device to minimize damage to a raw egg as it is dropped from a significant height?


During the spring semester, SVGS Physics students tackled several abstract concepts including electrostatics, circuits, magnetism, waves, sound, optics, and a brief introduction to quantum mechanics. Under standing of these complex topics was developed through the use of hands-on laboratory experiments, participatory demonstrations, and student-led investigations (including the use of the Doppler Effect to uncover clues surrounding an imaginary crime scene). Throughout the semester, several class discussions revolved around applying some of these concepts as a means of renewable energy, including the pros and cons of current methods of energy production. Students who opted to take this course dual-enrollment through James Madison University earned four college-level credits during the spring semester.

STEM presentation


In the first semester of Scientific Research, as a “deep-learning” class for our students, we have been studying the principles and methods of scientific research, basic lab & measurement skills, error analysis and data analysis including descriptive statistics and various inferential statistical tools. Most efforts have been made on students’ independent research projects; under the instructor’s guidance, students have initiated their own research questions based on their curiosity and everyday observation, and developed their own topics and designed the experimental procedures (in the form of research proposals) through a series of activities including brainstorming, literature investigation, inquiring and discussion with experts and SVGS teachers, peer reviewing, and, finally, two rounds of pre-tests. Some of our students have so far finished the preliminary experiments and presentations.  Students in Research class devoted the final weeks of the year to refining major pieces of communication of their research findings: a formal research report, a poster, a science fair board, and a PowerPoint presentation.  March, students attended the regional Intel-affiliated science fair at JMU.  Some students competed in a JMU online physics video contest.  In April, students described their research projects to visitors to our Open House in informal poster sessions.  Through teacher conferences, class presentations, and peer editing, students refined their research papers and final presentations; ultimately, they gave formal presentations of their research projects during our Research Symposium in May.


Conference – Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Fair & Virginia Junior Academy of Science

Students present their year-long research projects, defend their projects to scientific experts and interact with their academic peers and observe their work.


Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Fair Winners – March 2014



Animal Science

Behavioral & Social Science

Behavioral & Social Science

Energy & Transportation

Environmental Science

Medicine, Health Science

Physics & Astronomy

Plant Science

Plant Science













Ruth Schultz, R.E. Lee

Christian Marshall,  SDHS

Julia Watson, WMHS

Alex Maneval, WHS

Abigail Johnson, R.E. Lee

Steven Carter, FDHS

Victoria Prevette, BGHS

Megan Godsey, WMHS

Moriah Veer, SDHS

Abigal Johnson, R.E. Lee

Shenandoah Valley Regional Science Special Awards – March 2014


U.S. Navy/Marine Corps Senior Award

Virginia Dental Association Merit Award

Society for In Vitro Biology Award

Yale Science and Engineering Award

AMS Material Education Association

American Psychological Association Award

US Stockholm Jr Water Prize

AWWA Outstanding Senior Honorable Mention

AWWA Outstanding Senior 1st Place

Caitlyn Singleton, WMHS

Steven Carter, FDHS

Mollie Gaines, BGHS

Victoria Prevette, BGHS

Alexander Maneval, WHS

Christian Marshall, SDHS

Abigail Johnson, LHS

Kasey Ball, WMHS


Abigail Johnson, LHS


Conference – Virginia State Science Fair & Intel International Science & Engineering Fair

Students qualify to present their year-long research projects at these invitational state, national and international science & engineering fairs.

Megan Godsey

Abigail Johnson, 2nd place winner, Environmental Science

Alex Maneval


INTEL ISEF  (International Science and Engineering Fair)

Abigail Johnson – Winner of Drexel University Academic Scholarship


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