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Keys students see themselves as scientists engaged in the process of discovery. Authentic inquiry-based learning allows students to fully experience the scientific process and develop critical thinking skills. Units of study spiral and build in complexity, developing the core skills of observation, data collection, theorizing, research, and design. Students investigate pivotal concepts (systems, structure and function, constancy and change) that weave through the sciences and have broad, real world application. This approach is intended to model the increasingly interdisciplinary methods used to address the complex questions, issues, and dilemmas of the 21st century.

At the Lower School, students are asked to analyze and apply information received from direct experience and outside resources. They learn to generate inquiry questions and create simple experiments to answer them. Students share and refine their understanding by discussing, drawing, writing, graphing, modeling, and acting out findings. In Middle School, students use scientific equipment and technology to manipulate, observe, test, and model phenomena. They explore advanced mathematical relationships integral to scientific investigation. Design projects and experiments challenge students to draw and write with clarity, demonstrate sound research practices, collaborate effectively with peers, and develop presentation skills that harness a variety of media.

Highlights of the program include:


  • » Gather information using all of the senses
  • » Identify cause and effect (sound, magnets, light)
  • » Conduct simple investigations (“Guess and Test”)
  • » Record data (sketch, tally, label)
  • » Communicate findings verbally

First Grade

  • » Identify patterns in the life cycles of insects and plants
  • » Record detailed observations using words and pictures
  • » Classify living things based on observable, then learned, attributes
  • » Observe and track changes (matter, life cycles)
  • » Predict and experiment (changing states of matter, soil examination)

Second Grade

  • » Design and conduct simple surveys to obtain data
  • » Engage in the design process to solve a real problem
  • » Evaluate hypotheses based on data (fossil dig, mineral tests, properties of water)
  • » Perform experiments to identify cause and effect (erosion, acid rain)
  • » Collect and analyze data in a real-world setting (Bol Creek survey)

Third Grade

  • » Use models to explore phenomenon and place in a larger context
  • » Ask questions based on observations, research and test to answer questions
  • » Examine relationships between structure and function (birds, human body)
  • » Identify adaptations in living things (physical and behavioral)
  • » Test, evaluate, and alter design (flight, earthquake-safe structures)

Fourth Grade

  • » Investigate and apply knowledge in real-world settings (tide pools, seal colony)
  • » Connect organisms by ecological relationships
  • » Draw connections between human behavior and the environment
  • » Simulate behaviors and adaptations of different marine mammals
  • » Develop models for understanding natural selection and evolution
  • » Design and test principles of forces and motion

Fifth Grade

  • » Study and visit coastal Redwood ecosystems
  • » Learn classification systems for various organisms (cells, bacteria, animals)
  • » Identify and model the structure and functions of cells
  • » Hypothesize and test concepts related to erosion and soil deposition
  • » Research watersheds, water ecology, and water usage in California
  • » Model the salmon life cycle and potential impacts of environmental threats
  • » Investigate concepts related to present and future energy sources

Sixth Grade

  • » Study and visit ecosystems of the California coast and Pinnacles National Park
  • » Test concepts and phenomena related to electricity and magnetism
  • » Model the structure and functions of the brain and central nervous system
  • » Learn the physics and biology of the five senses through experimentation
  • » Perform an integrated study of the engineering principles behind bridges
  • » Participate in engineering challenge related to bridge design

Seventh Grade

  • » Conduct environmental field study of the Mono Lake ecosystem
  • » Devise experiments related to states of matter and physical change
  • » Investigate heat and molecular motion, convection, light physics
  • » Discover properties of minerals and rocks through testing and data analysis
  • » Use and create models to understand concepts (genetics, seasons, earthquakes)
  • » Apply best practices in passive solar architecture to a design challenge

Eighth Grade

  • » Perform experiments related to light spectra
  • » Use and create models to understand forces and motion
  • » Investigate the Doppler Effect
  • » Apply the scientific process to learn fundamental concepts in chemistry
  • » Study the solar system, stars, galaxies, universe, astrobiology
  • » Develop models related to global warming to extrapolate to a larger context
  • » Participate in engineering challenge related to roller coasters
Keys School - Lower Campus · 2890 Middlefield Road · Palo Alto, CA · 94306
Keys School - Middle Campus · 3981 El Camino Real · Palo Alto, CA · 94306

Phone: 650-328-1711