In the Upper School, all courses are laboratory based. The Science core curriculum requires a year in each lab science, starting with Physics and moving to Biology and Chemistry. Physics 9 incorporates research-based approaches that emphasize collaboration, discussion, creativity, and problem- solving. Engineering design and design thinking projects are integrated into the Physics 9 curriculum. Grade 10 (Biology or Honors Biology) progresses from evolution to physiology through ecology, molecular biology, biotechnology, and genetics. The Grade 11 (Chemistry or Honors 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. Honors-level placements are done by the Science Department.
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, Advanced Biology, Advanced Chemistry, Relativity and Quantum Physics, Organic Chemistry, Electricity and Magnetism, and Neuroscience.
Juniors and seniors may also apply for the Advanced Science Research elective in which they pursue independent research in various scientific fields. 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, in combination with a third semester of Advanced Biology and Chemistry provide preparation for the AP exams in those content areas.
- Physics 9
- Honors Biology
- Honors Chemistry
- Environmental Science
- Organic Chemistry
- Space Science
- Advanced Mechanics
- Advanced Science Research (Semester I)
- Forensic Science
- Human Physiology
- Advanced Biology
- Advanced Chemistry
- Relativity and Quantum Physics
- Waves, Optics, and Acoustics
- Electricity and Magnetism
- Advanced Science Research (Semester II)
This course explores the foundational physics topics of Newtonian mechanics and waves. Through the use of Modeling Instruction and curricular materials from the American Modeling Teachers Association, 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. For students that enter their ninth grade year having already successfully completed calculus, and upon conversation with the science department, these students may be placed into upper-level physics electives that require calculus as a prerequisite that may include Advanced Mechanics with Calculus and Electricity and Magnetism with Calculus.
Biology students encounter the natural world at molecular, organismal, and ecological scales through laboratory explorations, modeling, and student-centered classroom discussions. The year begins with an introduction to biochemistry. This is followed by studies of cellular processes, current biotechnology tools, and the use of bioethics to assess various applications of biotechnology in society. Students then move into genetics and evolution, followed by topics including photosynthesis, cellular respiration, ecology, and climate change. The year concludes with an independent laboratory investigation of the student’s choice in which they have a chance to further explore an area of interest as well as apply the laboratory, analytical, and communication skills that they have developed throughout the year. Using Campbell, Reece, and Simon, Essential Biology with Physiology 4th edition as a supplementary resource, students also encounter biological concepts through guided inquiry assignments, recent science news, and primary literature.
Honors Biology addresses core biology topics, but at a faster pace and with more independent student work in order to engage in each topic at a deeper level. Students are frequently responsible for preparing for lessons using the textbook or other resources so that class time can be used for further applications. Students start the year with an extensive biochemistry unit that helps them to build the conceptual knowledge needed to explain key phenomena throughout the year. We then move to the cellular level and examine key structures and their functions, including transport across the cell membrane. In the second semester, students study additional cell processes like protein synthesis and cell division in combination with biotechnology, bioethics, and genetics. Then we begin studies at larger scales: we study micro- and macroevolution, ecological relationships, the carbon cycle (with a specific focus on cellular respiration and photosynthesis), and climate change. Woven throughout all of these units are hands-on activities, modeling, real-world applications/scenarios, discussions & student presentations, laboratory investigations, and the development of critical data analysis skills. By building their skills throughout the year, students are prepared for our final unit of the year: the independent investigation. Each student designs an experiment of their choice and reports their findings. Class resources are collected from recent science news and scientific journal articles, animations/simulations/videos, and our textbook Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections, 8th edition.
Chemistry is the study of the composition and behavior of matter. This course explores the structure and arrangement of atoms to provide an understanding of matter and how to predict the reorganization of elements and electrons within different chemical reactions. Students investigate the major types of reactions and learn to quantify relative reaction amounts in the solid, solution, and gas phases through interactive, hands-on laboratory activities and group problem solving. Students develop strong analytical and lab skills through three major self-designed projects in which they present results in formal laboratory reports that incorporate primary sources. The World of Chemistry by Zumdahl, Zumdahl and DeCoste is the primary text for the class.
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.
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.
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, CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing, 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.
Neuroscience is a semester-long, advanced elective designed to explore our understanding of the brain from the cellular to the societal, building from neuroanatomy to neural communication up to neurobiology and observed behaviors. Heavy emphasis is placed on scientific methodology by asking students to question how we know what we know. Hands-on labs, in-depth analysis of scientific literature, classroom discussions, and guided inquiry are used to gain a thorough understanding of course concepts. Lab-based activities and research projects will engage students in meaningful neuroscience research from the cellular level up to coding for behavioral research, giving students a well-rounded but rigorous preparation in neuroscience. Lastly, students will learn about cutting-edge Neuroscience research currently changing what we know about the brain.
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.
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.
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. As enrollment warrants, a section of the course may be taught with calculus skills and may support preparation for the AP Physics C Mechanics examination.
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, research question, and methods. 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 teacher of the course. 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.
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 explore how new technology is impacting forensics evidence collection. 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.
Through a series of inquiry labs and case studies, students will learn about 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 science process skills which include forming an argument based on evidence and correctly selecting and running a statistical test given data that they initially developed in their biology course. This skill development 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.
Building on the framework of the full-year Honors Biology course, this semester-long elective provides an opportunity for further and deeper exploration of the biological sciences using a more thematic approach. There are four major units of study, each connecting prior knowledge and new advanced topics, including: evolution, energetics, information storage & transmission, and system interactions. Students have opportunities to further develop the science process skills they gained in Honors Biology, including a suite of microbiology skills (aseptic technique, preparing growth media, plating & identifying various bacteria, and genetic transformation) as well as investigations of photosynthesis in algal beads, fermentation of root beer, transpiration in plants, and soil ecology. Learning resources include guided notes, student-centered discussion, case studies, primary literature, modeling, and the college-level textbook Campbell Biology: 11th edition. Completion of this course may support preparation for the AP examination in Biology.
This semester-long course is a 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. Students can be co-enrolled in Honors Chemistry and Adv Chemistry in the spring semester. Completion of this course supports preparation for the AP examination in chemistry.
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 a 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.
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.
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. As enrollment warrants, a section of the course may be taught with calculus skills and may support preparation for the AP Physics Electricity and Magnetism examination.
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, research question, and methods. 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 teacher of the course. 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.