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Upper School Science Curriculum

Science must be dynamic in response to complex problems. Acquisition and application of new knowledge are critical for science students in developing agency and stewardship of the world. The Upper School Science Department prepares students to make meaningful contributions as ethical, global citizens in solving real-world problems and working to create a more just society. Science students formulate questions, evaluate which questions are best to pursue, and develop answers to those questions. Students develop collaboration skills and communicate data-driven ideas and findings to diverse audiences. We maximize opportunities for curiosity and creativity, failing forward, advocacy, and social responsibility.

Experiential learning — doing science — is the central feature of the Durham Academy science program. Our program has these major emphases:

  • To foster a wonder of and respect for the natural world, including one’s self.
  • To develop curiosity, science process skills and critical thinking skills — primarily through hands-on activities, laboratory experimentation and analysis. This involves modeling phenomena that are difficult to observe directly, as well as analyzing data and drawing conclusions to support evidence-based claims or design decisions.
  • To develop scientific habits of mind and an understanding of the ethics of science — those attitudes and values inherent to the scientific enterprise and to life in general.
  • To link scientific habits of mind with the Durham Academy mission; the school’s sustainability goals; and DA’s Diversity, Equity and Engagement priorities.
  • To promote an understanding of — and ability to evaluate — basic scientific information, concepts, principles, and theories.  

Required Science Course Sequence

Class of 2025: recommended course of study is biology, physics and chemistry. Any deviation must be approved by the science academic leader and the registrar.

Class of 2026 and beyond: Students are required to take three years of laboratory-based science in sequence — Physics (grade 9), Chemistry (grade 10) and Biology (grade 11).

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Students will be able to independently use their learning to:

  • Evaluate claims for scientific validity and bias in order to develop opinions and make informed decisions.

  • Formulate testable questions and apply the scientific method to investigate possible solutions.

  • Model phenomena that are difficult to observe directly.

  • Analyze data and draw conclusions to support evidence-based claims or design decisions.

  • Communicate data-driven ideas and findings so that they can be understood by diverse audiences.

  • Apply knowledge and processes of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on issues relevant to a changing world.

Upper School Science Course Offerings

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Physics 9

Students will learn and practice the physics content through experiments and projects structured around scaffolded practice, mathematical modeling, and data graphing and analysis.

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Chemistry 10

Chemistry 10 is a course designed to introduce students to fundamental ideas about matter and energy that make up our world, and to explore different techniques scientists use in their investigations. Students work cooperatively to design and implement experiments, analyze results, and communicate findings visually, verbally, and in writing, with a focus on developing scientific argumentation skills using the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) framework. 

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Honors Chemistry 10

Honors Chemistry 10 covers many of the same topics as Chemistry 10 but in greater depth. Emphasis is placed on mathematical as well as conceptual understanding of chemical principles. Teamwork, critical thinking, and written communication skills are emphasized. Students in this class are expected to demonstrate sophisticated mathematical reasoning, individual responsibility, and time management skills. 

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Biology 11

Biology 11 is a dynamic and exciting opportunity for students to engage in the intersection of biology, sustainability, and equity while exploring several major branches within the field of biology: evolutionary, ecological, organismal, molecular, and cellular.

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Anatomy and Physiology

This laboratory-based course focuses on human anatomy and physiology. Students will take a deep dive into the structure and function of specific body systems (integumentary, skeletal, muscular, and nervous), followed by a focused overview of other body systems (circulatory, respiratory, digestive, immune, endocrine, reproductive, and excretory).

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Astronomy will enable students to understand and apply the physics and principles guiding astronomical phenomena to topics ranging from the solar system, to stars and galaxies, to black holes and the fate of the universe.

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(CL) Environmental Science

Environmental Science is designed to equip students with the foundational scientific knowledge and methodology required to understand cycles and interrelationships within the natural world and humans’ place within it.

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Fundamentals of Engineering

Fundamentals of Engineering introduces students to the mindsets, practices, and disciplines of engineering. Applying the engineering design process, students will have a project-based introduction to various fields of engineering including mechanical, biomedical, electrical, environmental, and civil engineering.

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Biodiversity: Local and Global Contexts

Did you know that lawns are the most extensively cultivated crop in the United States? They are ecological dead zones, producing no food for human consumption and very little for other organisms. But students can be part of efforts to shift our landscapes toward a more sustainable model for humans and wildlife!

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Special Topics in Engineering

Special Topics in Engineering applies the principles, practices, and disciplines of engineering to address problems in our community. Students will choose a problem that aligns with their passions and strengths.

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ADV Chemistry

This Advanced course is an in-depth exploration of topics and experimental techniques introduced in a standard first-year college chemistry curriculum. ADV Chemistry includes a more sophisticated treatment of many of the topics studied in Honors Chemistry, as well as additional topics such as thermodynamics, quantitative kinetics, and acid/base chemistry.

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ADV Physics: Electricity and Magnetism

In this Advanced course, students will gain an understanding of advanced topics in physics built from a calculus-based study of electricity and magnetism. These foundational concepts will be strengthened through real-world applications such as renewable energy and sustainable transportation in a way that supports DA’s strategic goals in sustainability.

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ADV Physics: Mechanics

In this Advanced course, students will gain an understanding of advanced topics in physics built from a calculus-based study of mechanics. Topics addressed will include statics, dynamics, energy, momentum, and rotation.

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Science, Society, And Social Justice

This semester-long elective digs deeply into the interplay between justice and science, unraveling the intricate threads that connect these two domains. Students will embark on a thought-provoking exploration of the role science plays in shaping our societal framework.

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ADV Biology

Building on the first courses in biology and chemistry, students in this Advanced course will explore more complex content and experimental practices used by biologists. The Advanced Biology course will approach biological concepts through inquiry-based learning, using a combination of research and project-based learning, case studies, and laboratory experiments.

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ADV Medicine and Malady

How does a shark bite heal? What does it mean to receive a diagnosis? How do we decide who gets an organ for transplant? In this course, students will become confident reading about, discussing, and questioning medical topics. The course also presents students with a more nuanced, global, and realistic view of the field than they get from TV shows and other media.

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ADV Biotechnology 

This Advanced course offers students an opportunity to delve into the fascinating world of biotechnology — emphasizing its applications, ethical considerations, and impact on society.

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