Upper school science teacher Laura Nickerson discusses Beaver’s real-world science curriculum.

The Beaver Science Program offers students an opportunity to study physics, chemistry, and biology using equipment and laboratories of exceptional quality. Learning in the science curriculum is a student-centered and interactive process that reinforces investigation and discovery. Each course offers students unique opportunities for developmentally appropriate experimental and project work. Through experimental work, students exhibit their approach to scientific inquiry, logical thinking, precision and accuracy in measurement, control of variables, and clear, concise reporting of findings.

The science program has three critical features which incorporate the Beaver core values: providing a progressive curriculum which uses current best practices in education. The 1st feature is our preferred sequence for Core Courses in the Upper School: 9th Grade Conceptual Physics, 10th Grade Chemistry, and 11th Grade Biology introduces students to laboratory exploration based on a progression of fundamental science skills and understandings as they move through the curriculum. The 2nd feature is our emphasis on process learning. Students spend significant amounts of time performing experiments and focusing on primary concepts rather than content-driven science curricula. The 3rd feature is our unique offering in advanced science (e.g., Organic and Reaction Chemistry, Genetics, Anatomy and Physiology, Ecology, and Mechanics and E&M Physics) and integrated science electives (e.g., Astronomy, Bioethics, Biotech Investing, Environmental Science, Forensics, Nutrition, etc), where students extend and apply their core science understandings to in-depth and applied science topics.

Independent Study

Students have the opportunity to explore English, History, Mathematics, Science, Language, or Arts topics of interest under the supervision of a member of the appropriate department. After designing a project with a faculty member, the student presents a formal proposal to the Department Heads for approval. (An Independent Study may not duplicate the content of another course already being offered by the department because of schedule conflicts.) The student works in his or her own time and meets with the specified department member during one scheduled period per week for discussions and planning. Application forms are available from the Upper School Director. Proposals must have been submitted by the regular course selection dates.

Science: Advanced Biology - Engineering and Environmental Science

Over the course of this two-term class (fall/winter), students will tackle a real-world environmental science question and design the technologies and experimental methodology for researching an aspect of it. We will think critically about how we impact the places in which we live and reflect on humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Through the exploration of environmental issues we will learn about biodiversity, sustainability, climate change, and environmental justice. After choosing and heavily researching an environmental question, students will go through the engineering process to design, build, test, and implement an experiment to investigate that question. Students will be asked to use engineering tools such as drafting, electrical design, programming, and iterative design. In addition, they will be required to learn tools of project management to plan, schedule and report their work. The class will culminate with the students testing their devices and obtaining data.

This course involves significant research and field experience. Students may have the opportunity to conduct their original research locally or on a research expedition to Belize during Spring Break.

Prerequisites: Engineering Design Foundations or NuVu or Biology Foundations. Departmental permission required. Offered at the Honors level only.

Science: Advanced Chemistry – Organic Chemistry

Organic molecules are the building blocks of all life on Earth, and the carbon atom is central to the formation of all organic molecules. The importance of chemistry in biological systems will be the focus of the course, and modern biological topics will be explored. The course will investigate the properties and functions of several categories of organic molecules including alcohols, acids, and ethers. The synthesis and decomposition of synthetic and biological molecules will be performed in the lab. Experiments will include synthesizing and purifying aspirin, extracting caffeine from tea, and examining the properties and behaviors of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates as organic compounds.

Prerequisites: Chemistry Applications – Quantitative Analysis. Biology Foundations or Molecular Biology or equivalent. Departmental permission required. Offered at the Honors level only.

Science: Advanced Chemistry: The Natural Order (Equilibrium, Thermodynamics, and Electrochemistry)

The balance of chemical systems is a critically important theme in Nature. Students will cover in this course the challenging fields of thermodynamics, thermal and chemical equilibrium (including advanced acid-base chemistry), and chemical kinetics, which all describe how chemical balance is achieved. A thorough understanding of how chemical systems behave will be gained through hands on laboratory experiences, and students observe how these systems will respond to external stress. Students will research chemical system this in the context of key environmental, industrial, biological situations.

Prerequisites: Chemistry Applications – Quantitative Analysis. Departmental permission required. Offered at the Honors level only.

Science: Advanced Engineering Design - Project Studio (Honors)

Advanced Engineering Design is the second in a pair of engineering courses at Beaver. This course is intended to give students a more challenging and demanding environment to apply the skills they learned in either Engineering Design Foundations or at NuVu and allow them to solve real-world challenges. This course is largely project-based, and students will be expected to use the full term to research and design solutions to an engineering design challenge. Projects will be guided by the instructor, and the emphasis of the class is to use effective technical communication to present engineering designs. At the end of the term, students will present their findings and solutions to their clients and to the school.

Prerequisites: Engineering Design Foundations: Tools and Process or NuVu. Departmental permission. Offered at the Honors level only.

Science: Advanced Physics – Electricity & Magnetism

Advanced Electricity and Magnetism is an extension of the skills and concepts learned in Conceptual Physics. These concepts will be more rigorously explored and use more sophisticated mathematical tools than were used freshman year (geometry, trigonometry, functions, pre-calculus). The goal is to develop tools and intuition capable of describing the physical world at a very general level. The topics studied during this term include electricity, electrostatics and electric fields, magnetic fields, and the interplay between electric and magnetic fields. This course is extensively laboratory based and students will be required to draw conclusions based on evidence gathered with such devices as batteries, bulbs, capacitors, wires, hand generators, and motors. If time allows, the course may also include electromagnetic radiation (light, x-rays, microwaves, etc.) as an extension.

Prerequisites: 9th grade physics or equivalent and departmental permission. Offered at the Honors level only.

Science: Advanced Physics – Mechanics

Advanced Mechanics is an extension of the skills and concepts learned in Conceptual Physics. These concepts will be more rigorously explored and use much more sophisticated mathematical tools than were used freshman year (geometry, trigonometry, functions, pre-calculus). The goal is to develop tools and intuition capable of describing the physical world at a very general level. The topics studied during this term can be tailored to student interest but will likely draw from a list of topics including accelerated motion, vectors and projectile motion, Newton’s Laws, 2-D statics and dynamics, rotational motion, torque, and special relativity. This course includes at least one large research project in which students are required to explore a topic of interest and use their mechanics knowledge to analyze and make calculation-supported predictions for a physical situation.

Prerequisites: 9th grade physics or equivalent and departmental permission. Offered at the Honors level only.

Science: Biology Applications - Anatomy and Physiology

In this lab-based course, we will explore the integrated systems that make up the incredible human body and learn about how the structures of the body perform the functions necessary to maintain the balance of life (homeostasis). Students will continue to investigate the relationship between structure and function through dissections, projects, and discussions. We will look into the pathophysiology of diseases and disorders that compromise the functioning of our body systems and, in the final lab exercise, investigate the comparative biology of different vertebrates.

Prerequisites: Biology Foundations. Honors section with departmental permission.

Science: Biology Applications - DNA and Genetics

DNA is often referred to as the “code of life”. Its connection to protein synthesis and everything that happens within living systems is awe-inspiring. This course seeks to understand what we know about this connection and how our understanding has changed in recent years. Included in this course will be discussions of protein synthesis, heredity, genetics, evolution, and recombination. In addition, students will be introduced to laboratory techniques that have driven our understanding of these topics, including gel electrophoresis, bacterial transformation, proteomics, and bioinformatics. Emphasis on effective communication of experimental design and findings through formal reports and presentations will also be an integral part of this course.

*Offered in alternating academic years (2016-2017, 2018-2019, etc.)
Prerequisites: Biology Foundations. Advanced Honors section with departmental permission.

Science: Biology Applications - Ecology and Systems

Ecology is all about relationship and interconnections. In this course, students will focus on the interdependence of living organisms (biotic factors) and their environment (abiotic factors) and how energy flows through Earth’s systems and connects us to all living things. Topics covered in this course include photosynthesis, cellular respiration, nutrient cycles, water quality, and ecological principles. In addition, students will be asked to critically consider the relationship between humans and the environment and explore the impacts we have on living systems. All of this will be done through the lens of a term-long aquaponics design project. Throughout the design process, students will think critically about the political, geographic, and economic challenges of food systems and connect their lessons learned to the larger global community. This interdisciplinary course integrates concepts from biology, ecology, environmental justice, coding and engineering.

*Offered in alternating academic years (2017-2018, 2019-2020, etc.)
Prerequisites: Biology Foundations. Advanced Honors section with departmental permission.

Science: Biology Foundations - The Structure & Function of Life

From the development of antibiotics to solar panels, the living world has provided countless solutions to the most challenging problems we have faced as a human race. These solutions have all been developed from a deeper understanding of the relationship between structure and function, a major theme in biology. This course gives students the opportunity to study this relationship, beginning at the molecular level and continuing up through the cellular and organismal levels. More specifically, topics to be covered include biochemistry, enzymes, cellular biology, evolution, and comparative anatomy and physiology. In addition, this course seeks to help students develop advanced scientific skills and techniques along with the communication skills to articulate their findings and conclusions from independently designed laboratory experiments.

Prerequisites: Chemistry Foundations. Honors section with departmental permission.

Science: Biotechnology & Investing

The three main goals of this course are to help students achieve the following outcomes: 1) understand the fundamentals of the stock market and basic principles of investing, 2) gain familiarity with the biotech industry, including the process of how a drug is brought from the early stages of research to through FDA approval and commercialization, and 3) learn to create and maintain a diversified portfolio through a virtual stock exchange. There are also opportunities to learn about some key aspects of personal finance: developing a budget, credit cards, and investing for retirement.

Does not count as a lab-based science.
Prerequisites: None.

Science: Chemistry Applications - Quantitative Analysis

In Quantitative Analysis, students will build on the basic chemical concepts and skills learned in the foundations course. The concept of a mole will be explored and students will use stoichiometry to predict and analyze products of chemical reactions. Students will be able to assess their experimental efficiency by determination of percent yield in the different reactions/experiments.

Prerequisites: Chemistry Foundations. Honors section with departmental permission.

Science: Chemistry Foundations - Atoms and Reactions

Chemistry Foundations covers essential core content, while providing hands on opportunities for students to learn how to think like a chemist. In this course, the structure and bonding characteristics of atoms are emphasized. The organization of the Periodic Table will be explored as students discover common characteristics between families of atoms. Topics covered include atomic structure and theory, ionic and covalent bonding, molecular geometry, balancing chemical equations, and classifying types of reactions. Students will learn to identify clues that indicate a chemical change is taking place, and to predict and test reaction products. Students begin to develop skills around formalizing scientific writing skills. The course will culminate with a research project and presentation on a common drug molecule.

Prerequisites: Conceptual Physics A & B or departmental permission. Honors section with departmental permission.

Science: Conceptual Physics A and B

A student’s first upper school science course at Beaver, Conceptual Physics is a two-term course that introduces many of the major skills and themes of science through collaborative investigations and design challenges. The first term uses a hands-on, model-building approach to develop an understanding of how circuits work while developing foundational skills of inquiry, problem-solving, collaboration, experimentation, data analysis, communication of ideas, and more. The first term concludes with an introduction to kinematics and the use of algebraic and graphical tools to represent motion.

In the second term of physics, students will complete either a standard or honors curriculum (based on instructor recommendation) as they continue exploring kinematics, dynamics, Newton’s Laws, and energy. Basic algebraic expressions are used to describe various relationships, and development of problem-solving skills is an important goal. At the honors level, more complex mathematical manipulations are essential to deepening understanding of physical relationships.

Science: Engineering Design Foundations - Tools and Processes

Engineering Design Foundations is designed as an introductory class that does not depend on any prior knowledge. This course provides a general introductory experience with engineering design techniques, focusing on the creative design process and providing a strong foundation in project work and presentations. The introduction of basic design in this course is intended to stimulate the student’s insights and understandings concerning both mechanical and electrical design and the relationship of the design process and project management to the final product. The student will develop the necessary technical skills to communicate ideas in an understandable, efficient, and accurate manner. The topics studied during this term can be tailored to student interest, but will focus on core techniques and tools used in most engineering fields. Topics include the engineering design process, project management, hand drafting, computer aided design (CAD) software, workshop skills and safety, soldering and various electronics management, coding, and engineering report writing. This course will have several small projects designed to develop and assess the various engineering skills.

Prerequisites: None.

Science: Forensic Science – CSI BCDS

Forensics is the application of science to solve crimes using evidence that will be admissible in a court of law. A multidisciplinary approach that encourages analytical thinking and problem solving in biology, chemistry, and physics will be used. Students may cover the following topics: deductive reasoning, fingerprinting, qualitative analysis of substances such as hair, blood, metal, soil, glass, and fibers; toxicology, entomology, DNA fingerprinting, document analysis, and ballistics. Along with lab work, students may do research projects, look at the legal aspects of forensic science, take field trips, keep a science journal, and solve mock crimes.

Prerequisites: None.

Science: Physics Applications

This course is designed for students who (a) would like to explore physics but did not take Conceptual Physics in ninth grade or (b) would like a follow-up course to freshman physics that focuses on exploration and application of physics concepts without the mathematical rigor of Advanced Physics. This elective explores a myriad of physics concepts (ranging from mechanics to electricity & magnetism to waves to optics to modern physics) through the lens of real-world applications (both existing and potential). While there are hands-on components to the course, it does not count as a lab-based science.

Does not count as a lab-based science.
Prerequisites: Algebra II and Geometry.

Senior Colloquium

This course will be built around a series of multi-disciplinary projects, all of which will be designed by the students themselves.  As a group, the students will determine which topics they’d like to pursue, which questions they’d like to answer, and how they’d like to answer those questions.  In this course, students will put skills and knowledge from prior courses to good use, but they will also undoubtedly explore new territory and tackle unfamiliar real-world problems.