Science Department Statement of Philosophy

The science program at Durham Academy rests on the assumption that doing science is the best way to learn about science. Experiential learning – doing science – is the central feature of our program from pre-kindergarten to Upper School. Learning experiences are based on presenting developmentally appropriate science concepts and skills as students progress from concrete to abstract levels of understanding and skill development.

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 and laboratory experiments.
  • 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 character development (e.g., creativity, integrity, suspended judgment, etc.).
  • To promote an understanding of basic scientific facts, concepts, principles, and theories.

Our faculty strives to teach students that science is dynamic, that science begins with questions, that answers invariably raise more questions, and that developing a life-long interest in learning science is essential. Students are continually encouraged to formulate questions, to evaluate which questions are best to pursue, and to devise ways to develop answers to those questions. Consequently, the human endeavor called science is viewed as both a noun and a verb. To achieve these goals, instruction revolves around activities, experiments, demonstrations, cooperative teamwork, lectures, discussions, simulations, debates, and research of scientific and popular literature through guided and independent papers and projects.


Our program seeks to prepare students to become future scientists. It also seeks to prepare students to become future users of science, those who may or may not envision a career in science or engineering, but who will be critical consumers of scientific and technological information as well as evaluators of issues arising from science and technology. Our goal is for our students to be scientifically literate citizens, who do the following:

  • Are ready, willing, and able to cope with change and to participate in a global society.
  • View science as an important, exciting, creative, value-laden, rigorous, collaborative, competitive, powerful, and fruitful human endeavor.
  • Possess an understanding of important broad and unifying science concepts.
  • Characterize science as important to everyday life.
  • Possess a working knowledge of the interface between science and myriad technologies.
  • Possess an adequate background and a set of values to critically consider science/technology/society issues and act in an informed, intelligent, and compassionate manner.
  • Use technology to probe the world around us.
  • Recognize the importance of personal character development (e.g., honesty, integrity, creativity, tenacity, resourcefulness, respect for self and others, etc.) as crucial to the pursuit of science and to leading a happy, moral, and productive life. 


This introductory course uses a conceptual framework to study fundamental biological principles as well as the methods and techniques used to explore them. Major topics covered include evolution, biological diversity, homeostasis, cell biology, reproduction, heredity and DNA structure/function. Teachers emphasize an inquiry-based approach and small group learning practices. Biology counts as a biological science.

Introductory Physics – Mechanics

Introductory Physics – Mechanics [project-based introductory physics] emphasizes the conceptual and mathematical aspects of one of humankind's most ambitious and beautiful endeavors. In doing so, this course explores the laws and principles underlying some of Nature's most closely guarded secrets. Topics studied include kinematics, Newton's Laws, momentum, energy, rotational motion, gravitation, astronomy, and projectile and satellite motion.

Graphing and data analysis are mathematical tools that drive many of the course’s investigations. One of the primary vehicles Introductory Physics – Mechanics uses to facilitate its process of exploration and discovery are four major quarter-long projects: The Toothpick Bridge Project, The Sun Study Project, The Egg Drop Project, and The Mousetrap Project. Students successfully completing Introductory Physics – Mechanics will have fulfilled the physics requirement for AP Physics C. Concurrent enrollment in Algebra 2 is recommended. Introductory Physics – Mechanics counts as a physical science.

Introductory Physics – Classical

Introductory Physics – Classical is a lab-based introduction to physics with an emphasis on mathematical models. Using a series of fundamental labs, students establish the foundation of motion and forces. From there the principles of energy, momentum, projectiles, circular motion, and gravitation are explored. Additionally, students study electric forces and fields, basic DC circuits, and magnetism. In order to accommodate the breadth of topics to be covered, the class will move at a rapid pace, and it is critical that students have both a strong interest in science and a strong mathematical background. Students successfully completing Introductory Physics – Classical will have fulfilled the physics requirement for AP Physics C. Physics counts as a physical science.


Chemistry is a course designed to cover the basic topics of introductory inorganic chemistry. Students will work cooperatively to design and implement experiments, analyze results, and communicate findings. Throughout the course, a series of particle models of increasing complexity will be utilized to answer questions about how we view matter, how it behaves, and how energy is involved in the changes matter undergoes. The first semester focuses on the particle nature of matter, kinetic theory, and phases of matter. In the second semester, students learn about ways to describe matter, chemical reactions, stoichiometry, atomic structure, and chemical bonding. Lab work and problem-solving are integral components of the course. Chemistry counts as a physical science.

Honors Chemistry

Honors Chemistry covers many of the same topics as Chemistry but in greater depth. Special emphasis is placed on a rigorous mathematical examination of chemical principles. The first semester focuses on basic concepts of chemistry including the particle nature of chemistry, kinetic theory of particles, energy transfer between particles, and how particles combine to form different phases of matter.

The second semester opens with chemical reactions, atomic structure, chemical bonding and molecular geometry. Applications of chemical concepts including stoichiometry, the quantitative nature of chemical equations, reaction kinetics, equilibrium, and acid-base chemistry will also be introduced. Throughout the year, the course makes extensive use of laboratory investigations to develop the relationships between experiment and theory. There is a heavy emphasis on scientific writing. Honors Chemistry counts as a physical science.

Human Anatomy and Physiology

This laboratory-based course focuses on human anatomy and physiology. Emphasis is placed on the structure, function, and physiology of major body systems (skeletal, muscular, digestive, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, immune, endocrine, reproductive, and excretory) as well as behavior. Invertebrate and vertebrate animal models are used to demonstrate the complex mechanisms of the human body. These topics are coordinated with laboratory investigations including a strong emphasis on dissection, field trips, case studies, and special projects. This course counts as a biological science.

Introduction to the Geosciences

This course covers principles of geology and planetary geology. Geologic topics include the theory of plate tectonics and its utility in the explanation of earth’s crustal evolution. Topics covered in the course include volcanism and seismic activity, paleontology and paleogeology, geochemistry, and mineralogy. These topics will then be practically applied in a study of the geology of the Triangle area. Students will also learn of the origin, composition and structure of our solar system with an emphasis on the current exploration of Mars. The year culminates with the development of a “real science” project done within the guidelines of the Mars Student Imaging Project overseen by the Space Science Department at Arizona State University. This course counts as a physical science.

AP Biology

This course covers the first year college curriculum and prepares students to take the CEEB AP Biology exam. Emphasis is on developing the conceptual framework, knowledge, and analytical skills necessary to understand, and participate in, the modern field of biology. The curriculum includes the study of molecular, cellular, organismal, ecological, and evolutionary biology, presented in a variety of formats, including class discussions, readings, laboratory work, and lecture. Students interested in this course should be successful independent learners with a strong interest in the field of biology. AP Biology counts as a biological science.

AP Chemistry

This course covers the standard first-year college chemistry curriculum and prepares students for the CEEB AP Chemistry examination. The syllabus includes a more sophisticated treatment of many of the topics studied in Honors Chemistry. Additional topics include thermodynamics, advanced molecular geometry, molecular orbital theory, quantitative kinetics, buffers, weak acid and polyprotic acid titrations, and electrochemistry. The laboratory program emphasizes experiments of longer duration, greater student independence, and the use of more sophisticated scientific instrumentation. This course has a summer assignment designed for review of pertinent concepts from the Honors Chemistry course. AP Chemistry counts as a physical science.

AP Environmental Science

The equivalent of a one-semester college-level course, AP Environmental Science is designed to equip students with the scientific knowledge and methodology required to understand interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and artificial, to assess the risk associated with these problems, and to examine the feasibilities for alternative environmental remediation. The course is interdisciplinary and students’ prior knowledge of earth, biological and physical science will be combined with elements of economic theory and political science. All students will be expected to take the AP Environmental examination in May. This course counts as a biological science.

AP Physics C: Mechanics

AP Physics is a calculus-based, conceptually and mathematically in-depth follow-up to both Physics 1 courses. The emphasis of this course is on developing the vast array of problem-solving skills and abilities needed by learners who aspire to develop their character in areas such as empathy, kindness, integrity, responsibility, courage, curiosity, engagement, authenticity, joy, balance, creativity, drive, resilience, generosity, and last, but certainly not least … wisdom. This is accomplished through an in-depth study of mechanics. This course will also offer instruction in introductory principles of astronomy.

This course is founded on the notion that the deepest and richest understanding of nature emerges only when students are active participants in their learning. Thus, students taking AP Physics must be open to developing their skills as independent learners. Students will be prepared to take the AP Physics Level C Mechanics Examination. AP Physics counts as a physical science.


Forensics is truly a field that integrates all the scientific disciplines. This particular course will focus on the science of solving crimes through case studies (imagined or real) and transform our laboratory into a crime lab. You will survey topics such as ballistics, fingerprinting, DNA analysis, entomology (bugs!) and a variety of techniques used to identify unknown substances. Be prepared to read novels and watch shows such as Bones and CSI so that we can compare real life and fiction. This course is a laboratory science but does not count toward the science graduation requirement.

Fundamentals of Engineering

Fundamentals of Engineering introduces students to the principles, 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. Through collaborative and innovative design projects, students will become engineers as they apply knowledge and creativity to generate solutions to problems in order to help people in society. These problems will span the themes indicated in the National Academy of Engineers Grand Challenges of Engineering: health, security, sustainability, and the joy of living.

Genetics in the 21st Century

Answering the question of how organisms transmit successful traits from one generation to the next has always intrigued scientists and society in general. Darwin knew that traits were passed from parent to offspring; Thomas Hunt Morgan rediscovered Gregor Mendel’s principles of inheritance and was able to induce mutations that revealed ever more complicated genetic patterns. Developments in the understanding of protein synthesis and the interaction between the environment and the genetic code have led to our ability to sequence the human genome, genetically modify organisms, and even clone organisms. In this laboratory-based course, we will explore how the study of genetics has changed over time, use techniques such as gel electrophoresis, PCR, and genetic transformations, and discuss the social and ethical ramifications of humanity’s ability to alter the course of evolution.


This course will center on the issues that confront individuals in making decisions involving life and death. These issues will be studied from the perspective of ethics, law and biology. The course will begin by establishing the principles of moral ethics involving life, the value of life, quality of life, rights of individuals, and the good of society. Students will examine philosophical, legal and biological aspects of these life questions. These basic principles will serve as a foundation for analyzing case studies and understanding how judgments of ethics and law are made. Various online references, Supreme Court decisions and case studies will serve as resources for the course. Note: This course is not considered a laboratory science.

Material Science

Material Science is a course designed to follow biology, physics, and chemistry. It is a multidisciplinary look at properties and uses of materials such as ceramics, glass metal, wood, polymers and composites. Students will learn, through hands-on activities, why glass shatters, wood splinters, and nylon can be drawn. Through experiments, demonstrations and projects, students will learn why one class of material is preferred over another for certain products and how they can change or “improve” certain materials.

Special Topics in Engineering

Special Topics in Engineering applies the principles, practices and disciplines of engineering to solve problems in our immediate community. Through student-driven problem definitions, students will collaborate to analyze the problem and design, test and iterate solutions. Students will employ principles of Universal Design to make their solutions accessible, keeping the end user in mind. They will make data-driven design decisions as they complete the engineering design process.

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
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