For boys in Class VI, three individual courses taken in rotation comprise the required subject, Natural Design: two complementary, 10-week science courses, The Design of Life and Environmental Systems, combined with a 10-week course on The Art of Construction. All three components of Natural Design take a “hands-on” approach, pairing rigorous academic study with frequent lab and studio activities that keep the boys on their feet and on the go.
In The Art of Construction, boys investigate architectural plans and models and use them to construct a full scale design. The principles of linear perspective, structure, support, and the formal elements of three-dimensional design are studied and put into practice. The course begins with a discussion of the forces of tension and compression in various arches (Gothic, Roman, Catenary), and group construction projects on campus follow. As a culminating exercise, boys produce a detailed design of a wood project using an established architectural style—i.e., Classic, Gothic, Georgian, Modern. The boys are required to develop a portfolio of research and design plans working toward a scale model (using various materials) and, finally, a finished wooden structure. Along the way, the boys consider various construction materials and techniques, and learn the proper use of hand tools to construct their project. Both structural integrity and aesthetic considerations are important in the final review and evaluation of their designs.
In The Design of Life, students study form and function in living systems. We investigate the nature of life itself, observing its remarkable unity and its incredible diversity. We consider how Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection accounts for these features of life and enables us to understand to the exquisite design of cells, organs, and organisms. We develop an understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry by making frequent observations of organisms in the lab. We use compound microscopes, conduct dissections, and construct models and simulations to accomplish these goals.
In Environmental Systems, students learn about the earth’s living and non-living systems and how they are connected to one another. Through laboratory work and discussions, the boys investigate how water, carbon, and nitrogen cycle through the environment, as well as how organisms capture the sun’s energy and transfer it through the biosphere. Understanding that people are part of these natural systems, not outside of them, the boys also consider the impacts of human activities on the environment. We begin with an overview of human population growth and environmental ethics, and discuss Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons.” The students then examine the environmental impacts of modern agriculture and energy use. The theme is not “doom and gloom,” but rather one of hope and innovation, that encourages the boys to think about new ways society can confront environmental challenges and live in a more environmentally sustainable manner. Throughout the course, students use the Roxbury Latin forest as a living laboratory to observe ecosystems in action, and to learn the tools and techniques of environmental science.