By teaching essential content and practices of science, the Science Department strives to provide students with opportunities to look at the world and themselves through a scientific lens. We hope to nurture students’ inherent curiosity about science, and we hope to inspire them to be lifelong learners, informed global citizens, and creative problem solvers.
The lower school science program is designed to encourage students to think critically and creatively. By supporting each child through guided discovery and exploration, we hope to spark each child’s curiosity and knowledge about the foundations of science. Lower school students, from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade, are taught by our lower school science specialist in a laboratory setting. Topics covered include measurement, geology, animal and plant diversity, and engineering. Exciting demonstrations and laboratory activities make learning hands-on. For one trimester each year, students in second and third grades enjoy classes taught at the Academy of Natural Sciences. At the Academy, students learn about paleontology and freshwater ecosystems, areas in which the Academy is world-renowned.
The middle school science program combines content study with hands-on learning inside and outside of the classroom. Through the use of technology, research, and careful observation, students are encouraged to problem-solve through critical thinking. In our fifth grade Science of the City course, students learn about physical science principles and how they relate to aspects of the city of Philadelphia. In sixth grade's Science of Stuff, students are challenged to think about their footprint on this planet as they study the chemistry of matter, energy and the environment, with a culminating two day marine ecology trip to Cape May, NJ. From cell biology to organism to evolution, seventh grade students focus their studies on biological concepts in Science of Life. In eighth grade, students deepen their understanding of the principles of chemistry and physics by applying them to key earth science issues, including global water availability and climate change. In each grade, there are designated laboratory activities, engineering projects, and field trips which help bring the lessons of science to life.
Independent investigations and thinking
The upper school science program strives to provide students with a thorough appreciation of the more rigorous core science from Physics to Chemistry to Biology (required for graduation), as well as an opportunity to explore more individual interests through our variety of electives. Through informed lectures, inquiry-based activities, hands-on laboratory experiences, and independent study projects, we aim to foster each student's intellectual curiosity and appreciation of the creative aspects of scientific discovery. To further each student's experience, we extend our laboratories beyond the classroom. From Physics students considering our city's electricity to Chemistry students studying the chemical restoration of Rodin's Thinker, to Biology students visiting a nearby medical school cadaver lab, we value showing students the tangibility and practicality of science and how it relates to their lives in invigorating ways.
This course is a conceptual introduction to the principles of physics, with emphasis on problem-solving using basic algebra skills. Students strengthen their algebraic and geometric reasoning skills by connecting equations to the physical world. Through hands-on explorations and group activities, students gain a deeper understanding of principles of physics that affect them every day. Topics include motion, forces, energy, waves, electricity, and light. They are guided through the practice of scientific investigation through activities that require graphing, writing laboratory reports, and analyzing data.
This course provides a basic foundation in chemistry while emphasizing the role of chemistry in our surrounding world and the importance of scientific inquiry for learning and innovation. The chemical and physical properties of elements and compounds as they are related to atomic structure, bonding, and the modern periodic table are examined. Mass relationships in chemical reactions and some common types of reactions are also covered.
This yearlong course explores the big picture and nuances of introductory biology. Through daily class discussions, interpretation of scientific text and laboratory investigation, this class challenges students to sharpen their critical thinking and analytical abilities. During laboratory activities, students apply their scientific method skills to the study of life. Topics covered include: evolution, cellular and molecular biology, plant and animal biology, genetics, human body systems, and ecology.
This class is a calculus-based study of physics intended for students with a high level of mathematical skills who are interested in applying those skills to the principles of physics. Topics include mechanics, light, sound, electricity, and magnetism. The rigorous mathematical study of the subject is balanced with hands-on explorations and experiments where students design apparatus and procedures. Students are encouraged to become independent problem-solvers, connecting observations, intuitions, principles, and mathematics. Prerequisite: Calculus (may be a co-requisite).
The Advanced Chemistry course is designed to apply greater mathematical rigor to the principles and concepts that were introduced in Chemistry. A larger emphasis will be placed on student inquiry and problem solving to further investigate many of these principles, and a greater emphasis will be placed on different forms of technical communication and writing. Atomic structure and chemical bonding is studied in greater depth. Chemical reactions are studied in terms of both kinetics and thermodynamics. The concept of chemical equilibrium is introduced using specific examples of acid/base and solubility equilibria, and equilibrium considerations will be connected to thermodynamic principles. Prerequisite: B+ or higher in Chemistry.
The aim of this course is to provide a foundation in computer science both to students interested in pursuing software engineering as a career, and to students who are interested in experimenting with new media. Students will learn to write programs in Python that can solve math problems, sort data, communicate with the internet, and generate images. By working with hardware such as Arduino microcontrollers and Raspberry Pi mini-computers, students will develop an understanding of how information is collected, routed, and changed as it passes through a computer program. This course will value creativity and collaboration as much as logic and clarity. In addition to creating programs to solve problems, we will be discussing social issues around encryption, digitization, and technology.
Advanced Computer Science
Students with a strong interest in computers who have completed our introductory Computer Science course will continue their study of programming methodology, data structures, and algorithms using the language Java. This course will prepare students for the Advanced Placement test in computer science.
Advanced biology is a yearlong course that is designed for students who have a deep interest in science and have a solid understanding of biology from a previous high school level course. In addition to learning about basic biological themes in greater depth, students are exposed to more advanced subject matters such as biotechnology, microbiology and biostatistics. Emphasis is placed on experimentation, as students work on advanced lab activities and complete an independent research project. Prerequisite: Chemistry (may be a co-requisite), and B+ or higher in Biology.
Chemistry of Materials
This first-semester course explores the science behind our perception and preparation of various artistic media. We’ll look at how artists have used chemistry to develop and manipulate new tools and materials, and at how the chemical changes and interactions that take place dictate how a specific medium is used. The course will include many hands-on opportunities to synthesize your own dyes and painting media, as well as modeling the atomic behavior of solid art media such as glass, ceramics, and metals. Other topics covered include color, photography, and art restoration.
Anatomy and Physiology
In this course, students study the human body’s structures and functions. Associated diseases and pathology are also explored, often through case studies. Through laboratory activities, various field trips, guest speakers, and collaboration with the College of Physicians, students achieve a deeper understanding of the human body, diseases, and medicine. Prerequisites: Chemistry and Biology.
Engineers are experts at breaking complex problems down into manageable, solvable parts. By combining NASA's Engineering Design Process and Stanford University’s Design Thinking Process, students will develop innovative solutions to real-world challenges. Students will learn how to develop ideas from drawings to models to full-scale prototypes. We will use both computer-aided design and hands-on prototyping with a variety of materials in this heavily collaborative course.
How does nature sustain life? How do we interact with our natural environment? How can we live in a sustainable fashion? These are the broad questions students explore in the semester-long environmental science course. Students utilize their knowledge of general biology and chemistry to study the dynamics of ecosystems. In an effort to understand the benefits and challenges of sustainability, students analyze the causes and consequences of major environmental problems, as well as discuss possible solutions. Students conduct laboratory experiments, work collaboratively on problem solving activities, go on field trips, and complete an independent research project.