An independent day school serving grades K-12 | St. Paul, MN

Science

In the Upper School, all science courses are laboratory based. 

Physics 9 incorporates research-based approaches that emphasize collaboration, discussion, creativity, and problem-solving. Engineering design and design thinking projects are integrated into the curriculum. Grade 10 biology progresses from evolution to physiology through ecology, molecular biology, biotechnology, and genetics. The Grade 11 chemistry course provides a comprehensive introduction to topics in chemistry with a strong focus on collaboration, including discussions, frequent lab work, demonstrations, and group problem solving. 

Students can select from a broad range of second-level and interdisciplinary science electives for their junior and senior years including Environmental Science, Genetics, Space Science, Advanced Mechanics (offered with and without Calculus), Forensic Science, Honors Biology II, Honors Chemistry II, Relativity and Quantum Physics, Waves, Optics and Acoustics, Electricity and Magnetism with Calculus. There are honors level courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and electives.

Juniors and seniors may also apply for the Advanced Science Research elective in which they pursue independent research in any scientific field. This capstone course builds upon current science skills, including lab technique, scientific writing, and formal presentation. Students enter their research in local and national science competitions. 

Honors biology and chemistry provide preparation for the AP exams in those content areas.

Physics 9

This course explores the foundational physics topics of Newtonian mechanics and waves. Through the use of Modeling Instruction, Physics 9 students investigate motion, forces, energy, and waves and construct scientific models of natural phenomena to represent the world around them. Students develop their skills in collaboration, discussion, analytical thinking, and problem solving, and they develop technical writing and data analysis skills through the creation of laboratory reports. Through design challenges, Physics 9 students integrate engineering and design thinking approaches by creatively applying physics content to relevant and engaging problems. Curricular materials include materials from the American Modeling Teachers Association with supplemental materials from Stanford University's Institute of Design. For students that enter their ninth grade year having already successfully completed differential and integral calculus, and upon conversation with the science department, these students may be placed into upper-level physics electives that require calculus as a prerequisite. These electives may include Advanced Mechanics with Calculus and Electricity and Magnetism with Calculus.

Biology

Biology students encounter the natural world at molecular, organismal, and ecological scales through inquiry-driven laboratory explorations and classroom discussions. The year begins with biochemistry through the lens of cellular processes. Students then move into genetics and evolution, followed by topics including photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and ecology. The year concludes with the study of human physiology. Students are encouraged to apply prior knowledge and newly-developed skills to understand real-world phenomena, such as understanding medical issues and investigating the myriad factors that affect rates of photosynthesis. In addition to content skills, this course focuses on developing sound scientific technique, including proper written and oral communication, implementing the scientific method, and analyzing data sets. Using Campbell, Reece, and Simon, Essential Biology with Physiology 4th edition as a supplementary resource, students encounter biological concepts through guided inquiry assignments and primary literature.

Honors Biology

Honors Biology delves into the major topics of biology, covering ecology, cellular biology, genetics, and human physiology through a rigorous evolutionary approach. Students are challenged to consider the ways that evolution has shaped the natural world at all levels, while also employing the scientific process to develop advanced self-designed investigations on topics ranging from ecological interactions in the Serengeti to everyday factors that influence human physiology. Course content introduces cutting edge methodologies across biological disciplines, such as conducting STR analysis using gel electrophoresis and applying biostatistics to plant growth. Students are asked to apply knowledge gained in discussions and activities to novel situations, such as medical case studies, pushing their understanding beyond the confines of the classroom. Readings are collected from recent science news and scientific journal articles, with supplementation from Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections, 8th edition. Students in Honors Biology develop strong experimental and writing skills through self-designed experiments that guide them toward authentic scientific thinking.

Chemistry

Chemistry is the study of the composition and behavior of matter. This course explores how the structure and arrangement of atoms provide an understanding of matter. It emphasizes how to predict the reorganization of elements and electrons within different chemical reactions. Interactive, hands-on laboratory activities and group problem solving are used investigate the major types of reactions and quantify relative reaction amounts in the solid, solution, and gas phases. Students develop strong analytical and lab skills through many self-designed inquiry projects in which they present results in formal laboratory reports that incorporate primary sources as well as laboratory practicums. The World of Chemistry by Zumdahl, Zumdahl, and Decoste is the primary text for the class.

Honors Chemistry

 

Honors Chemistry is a rigorous exploration of general chemistry concepts at an accelerated, intensive pace. Topics include atomic structure, a quantum mechanical model of bonding, intermolecular forces and solution properties, and a comprehensive exploration of chemical reactions including gas phase, precipitation, redox, and acid-base. Hands-on labs and collaborative problem solving are used in conjunction with direct instruction and guided inquiry to gain a thorough understanding of course concepts. Students develop strong analytical and lab skills through two end-of-semester self-designed projects in which they present results in formal laboratory reports that incorporate current primarily literature. Chemistry by Zumdahl, Zumdahl and DeCoste is the primary text for the class. 

Environmental Science

Fall Semester Elective

This semester elective course will examine the complex interactions within and between Earth's biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and geosphere. Major units will include non-living Earth systems, biomes, biodiversity and population ecology. The class will employ a combination of lab-based and field experiments, lecture, assigned readings and student-directed research to investigate these topics and introduce fundamental scientific skills. There will also be several field trips to supplement understanding of agricultural and water sanitation practices, Minnesota’s biomes, and data collection techniques. Because Earth’s biogeochemical systems vary in their ability to recover from human disturbance, this course will also explore feasible ways to mitigate human impacts on the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon completion of this course students will be familiar with introductory environmental science and ecological principles and will have further developed their ability to think critically about environmental systems. They will also be comfortable making accurate observations of their surroundings and using their findings to design field experiments. These skills will be incorporated into a capstone site-analysis project.

Forensic Science

Fall & Spring Semester Elective

The goal of the course is to discover how different disciplines of science collaborate to construct a narrative on how past events occurred. This lab-based semester elective course investigates the intersection between criminal justice and science. Students will explore how forensic science can help solve crimes by processing and analyzing different pieces of evidence in the biological, chemical, and digital realms. The class will evaluate how stereotypes affect the collection and interpretation of this evidence and the resulting impacts on the criminal justice system. Students will apply and expand on what they have learned in their previous biology and chemistry classes and learn how to apply related computer science topics. Topics ranging from the validity of eyewitness accounts, trace evidence analysis, DNA evidence, computer forensics, toxicology, anthropology, and entomology will be explored. Students will analyze case studies, conduct laboratory experiments, and engage in a variety of student-centered projects.

Genetics

Fall Semester Elective

Students in this semester-long, advanced elective explore the field of genetics from molecular, population, and bioethical perspectives. Emphasis will be placed on applications of genetic concepts to both laboratory and “real world” contexts. Students will learn and apply advanced laboratory techniques such as DNA isolation, DNA fingerprinting, and genome sequencing. Special attention will be paid to the ways in which the field of genetics has changed and is changing. This will involve, among other things, explorations of the “genomic revolution” and the bioethics of our powerful new gene technologies, such as gene therapy. Students will have opportunities to pursue projects and lab experiences on specific areas of interest within genetics, including DNA fingerprinting and designing a case study based on primary literature.

Organic Chemistry

Fall Semester Elective

This honors level, lab-based semester elective course explores a set of fundamental guiding principles to predict and explore the movement of electrons in organic molecules. The ability to predict movement of electrons allows students to determine the products of organic reactions as well as the reactivity of everyday organic compounds, such as polymers, pharmaceuticals, and biological molecules. They examine the implications that electrons have on molecular structure and reactivity by building three dimensional models of compounds. Students research a variety of chemical reactions in lab, including substitution reactions, isomerizations, and halogenations. This involves the practice and application of refluxing a reaction solution, distillation, extraction, purification and skills to identify products including melting point determination, thin-layer chromatography, and infrared spectroscopy.

Space Science

Fall Semester Elective

Students in this course explore the nature and evolution of the universe, along with the technologies that have brought us these insights, using discussions, debates, peer teaching, and projects. All of the sciences you can bring to the table – Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics – are used to understand the environment of outer space. The course begins with the Big Bang and the evolution of galaxies; moves on to the formation and evolution of stars and planets; and finally examines the rise of life and civilization. Along the way, we study the technologies related to the exploration of space: telescopes, space probes and propulsion systems, and human culture. We also project the requirements (scientific and social) for the near-term future exploration of the solar system, using currently envisioned technologies. Students research these topics and communicate their results in oral, visual, and written forms. 

Texts include Cosmology, by Coles, and Astrobiology, by Catling.

Advanced Mechanics

Fall Semester Elective

Have you ever looked around you at the physical world and wondered why, or how? Why did that bridge collapse? How do airplanes fly? What limits how fast I can ski down a hill? Physics is the story behind everything, from apples falling to stars shining, and in this course students will work to understand the events and phenomena seen in the natural world. This semester-long, second-year physics course offers an in-depth study of advanced mechanics topics. Students will be introduced to various concepts relating to the nature of matter and energy, and methods beyond those learned in Physics 9 will be developed to master problem solving. Advanced Mechanics is a highly quantitative course that will give students the opportunity to develop their mathematical, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills as they work to develop descriptions of the natural world that correspond closely to actual observations. Students will employ scientific inquiry and problem based learning as they work through complex problems, laboratory investigations, and projects designed to enhance and deepen their understanding of the world around them. While this course is designed to assist students considering majors in the physical sciences or engineering, it is appropriate for any student seeking a college level science experience.

Advanced Mechanics with Calculus

Fall Semester Elective

Have you ever looked around you at the physical world and wondered why, or how? Why did that bridge collapse? How do airplanes fly? What limits how fast I can ski down a hill? Physics is the story behind everything, from apples falling to stars shining, and in this course students will work to understand the events and phenomena seen in the natural world. This semester long, second year physics course offers an in depth study of calculus-based mechanics. Students will examine the laws that govern how the universe works by being introduced to various concepts relating to the nature of matter and energy. New concepts and methods beyond those learned in Physics 9 will be developed to master problem solving on the level of a university physics or engineering course. Mathematical concepts including limits, derivatives, and integrals will be used as tools in making measurements and calculations in the study of motion, forces, work, and energy. Critical thinking, scientific inquiry, and problem based learning are an integral part of this course as students work through complex problems, laboratory investigations, and projects designed to enhance and deepen their understanding of the world around them. Students will work to develop descriptions of the natural world that correspond closely to actual observations. While this course is designed to assist students considering majors in the physical sciences or engineering, it is appropriate for any student seeking a college level science experience. This course may support preparation for the AP Physics C Mechanics examination.

Advanced Science Research (Semester I)

Fall Semester Elective

This is the first semester in a two-semester sequence that provides our strongest science students the opportunity to pursue independent research in any scientific field. Students enrolled in this capstone course apply and improve upon current science skills, including lab technique, scientific writing, and formal presentation. Prior to conducting their own research, students investigate the current state of knowledge on a topic of their choice and then delve deep into the scientific literature to develop a novel research focus and question. Students then design and conduct an original research project which leads to a formal research paper and presentation and the end of each semester. Students employ relevant statistical analysis to draw conclusions from their data and use these results to communicate their findings to larger school community during a formal evening presentation. Juniors and seniors apply for placement in this course, and enrollment is contingent on approval of the department including an interview with the Department Chair and another member of the science faculty. Advanced Science Research students combine strong laboratory and writing skills with an avid interest in science. They are confident in the lab and have excellent problem-solving skills. It is not necessary for a student to have a research topic determined prior to being admitted to the course. While students are supervised in the lab at all times, they are responsible for developing all aspects of a scientifically sound and safe experimental protocol. Because of the nature of scientific inquiry, it is expected that students will spend time in the lab outside of the time scheduled for the course. Depending on their project, students may conduct their research either in the lab at SPA or in a research lab associated with another institution, co-mentored by a supervisor at that institution. All research students are required to enter a local science competition, and most are encouraged to enter a national science competition.

Human Physiology

Spring Semester Elective

Using the brain and nervous system as a lens, this semester-elective, lab-based course explores human physiology, extending the initial exploration of this field from Biology. Through a series of inquiry labs and case studies, topics explored will include the cardiovascular system, the urinary system, the digestive system, and the musculoskeletal system. This course approaches human physiology from a “form fits function” lens, particularly focusing on system interrelatedness. Homeostasis, the maintenance of stable internal conditions in the face of widely varying environmental ones, will be a connecting theme in the course. Upon completion of this course, students will also have further developed the science process skills (i.e. forming an argument based on evidence, correctly selecting and running a statistical test given data, etc.) that they initially developed in their biology course. This will be accomplished through frequent inquiry investigations, as well as a capstone human physiology lab where students will design and implement a quantitative study of a human body system addressed in the course.

Honors Biology II

Spring Semester Elective

Building on the framework of the full-year Honors Biology course, this semester-long laboratory-based elective provides an opportunity for further and deeper exploration of the Biological sciences. Special topics span the scales of Biology, and include: enzyme catalysis, cell-to-cell signaling, population genetics, the evolution of biological diversity, nutrient cycling, animal behavior, human reproduction and homeostatic mechanisms. Each special topic will be complemented by an inquiry investigation and lab report, allowing students an opportunity to further develop the science process skills they gained in Honors Biology. The capstone assignment for this course will be a month-long research project integrating primary literature to create a review paper and presentation on an advanced topic in Biology, such as the evolution of flight or how climate change is impacting circadian rhythms in angiosperms. Completion of this course may support preparation for the AP examination in Biology.

Honors Chemistry II

Spring Semester Elective

Honors Chemistry II is a semester-long continuation of Honors Chemistry. This course dives deeper into general chemistry concepts through rigorous problem-solving and experimentation. Advanced topics include kinetics, thermodynamics, and electrochemistry. Students will continue to strengthen lab skills and critical thinking through an end-of-semester, self-designed project exploring an advanced topic in chemistry that interests them. The goal of this course is to deepen students’ understanding of college-level chemistry topics through hands-on activities and robust student-designed projects/labs. Chemistry by Zumdahl, Zumdahl and DeCoste is the primary text for the class. Completion of this course supports preparation for the AP examination in chemistry.  

Relativity and Quantum Physics

Spring Semester Elective

Einstein’s relativity and quantum physics comprise the foundation for all of physics and provide our best understanding of ideas like black holes, teleportation, and the multiverse. Students will delve into the nitty-gritty of how the universe works on its largest and smallest scales, which will give surprising insight into how the world operates on the human scale. Topics will include the nature of space and time, the nature of gravity, how experiments led to the ideas of quantum physics, how those ideas are applied, and what all of this means about the nature of existence. This semester elective is mathematically rigorous course that focuses on the concepts and applications of these theories. It takes a quantitative approach to problem solving and critical thinking, yet will also tackle the meaning behind the ideas. We will also delve into the purpose of scientific theories, and the difference between a theory and a model. This course is appropriate for any student looking to challenge their view of the universe and their ability to confront abstract concepts.

Waves, Optics, and Acoustics

Spring Semester Elective

Have you ever wondered how science connects to your daily life? We may not always take notice, but waves are all around us affecting everything from the technology we use to those things we find beautiful, such as art, photography, or music. This semester elective, lab-based course focuses on wave behavior and includes an in depth study of optics and acoustics. It will provide students with an opportunity to explore the physics of some particularly interesting phenomena we observe in our daily lives such as light and sound with examples and applications that include musical instruments, photography, and more. Students will plan and conduct experiments and give oral and written presentations of the results. Student-directed projects in both optics and acoustics will be incorporated which will allow students to complete an in-depth study of an area of particular interest.

Electricity and Magnetism

Spring Semester Elective

What are the rules of electricity and magnetism that govern the universe? How did we develop our understanding of these phenomena? How do those rules explain the northern lights, electric circuits, and even light itself? You will find the answers to questions like these here. This advanced, one semester physics course offers a mathematically rigorous in depth study of electricity and magnetism. The ideas of calculus will be incorporated as they are developed. Critical thinking, scientific inquiry, and problem-based learning are an integral part of this course as students work through complex problems and laboratory investigations designed to enhance and deepen student understanding of the concepts covered. Students will be challenged to master problem solving on the level of a physics or engineering university course. While it is designed to assist students considering majors in the physical sciences or engineering, it is appropriate for any student considering a college major in science or simply seeking a college level science experience.

Electricity and Magnetism with Calculus

Spring Semester Elective

What are the rules of electricity and magnetism that govern the universe? How did we develop our understanding of these phenomena? How do those rules explain the northern lights, electric circuits, and even light itself? You will find the answers to questions like these here. This advanced, one semester physics course offers an in depth study of calculus based electricity and magnetism. Mathematical concepts including derivatives, path and surface integrals, and differential equations will be the conceptual tools used to inform the study of electric and magnetic phenomena. New concepts and methods beyond those learned in Physics 9 will be developed to master problem solving on the level of a university physics or engineering course. Critical thinking, scientific inquiry, and problem based learning are an integral part of this course as students work through complex problems and laboratory investigations designed to enhance and deepen student understanding of the concepts covered. While it is designed to assist students considering majors in the physical sciences or engineering, it is appropriate for any student seeking a university-level science experience. This course may support preparation for the AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism examination.

Advanced Science Research (Semester II)

Spring Semester Elective

This is the second semester in a two-semester sequence that provides our strongest science students the opportunity to pursue independent research in any scientific field. Students enrolled in this capstone course apply and improve upon current science skills, including lab technique, scientific writing, and formal presentation. Prior to conducting their own research, students investigate the current state of knowledge on a topic of their choice and then delve deep into the scientific literature to develop a novel research focus and question. Students then design and conduct an original research project which leads to a formal research paper and presentation and the end of each semester. Students employ relevant statistical analysis to draw conclusions from their data and use these results to communicate their findings to the larger school community during a formal evening presentation. Juniors and seniors apply for placement in this course, and enrollment is contingent on approval of the department including an interview with the Department Chair and another member of the science faculty. Advanced Science Research students combine strong laboratory and writing skills with an avid interest in science. They are confident in the lab and have excellent problem-solving skills. It is not necessary for a student to have a research topic determined prior to being admitted to the course. While students are supervised in the lab at all times, they are responsible for developing all aspects of a scientifically sound and safe experimental protocol. Because of the nature of scientific inquiry, it is expected that students will spend time in the lab outside of the time scheduled for the course. All research students are required to enter a local science competition, and most are encouraged to enter a national science competition.