Upper School Science

Students in our Upper School deepen their understanding of science and form personal connections to it. In our core sequence of biology, chemistry and physics, students gain a strong foundation of skills and knowledge, and then explore topics of interest more deeply through our extensive elective program. Labs and projects allow students to experience the uncertainty and discovery that are intrinsic to science, supported by teachers who know them and their discipline well. We believe that science learning should be relevant to our students’ lives and the world outside the classroom, and our science curriculum strives to accomplish this at all levels of scientific experience and skill.

Courses in this department:

Conceptual Physics

Ninth grade, full year

Topics include measurement, data organization and synthesis, linear motion and free fall, Newton’s laws of motion, energy (including in-depth research and analysis of the current science and economics of renewable energy), electricity and magnetism, and fluids. Throughout the year, emphasis will be placed on the actual application of these topics to students’ lives. Through lab investigations and hands-on activities, students will gain a new level of familiarity with modern scientific technology as they collaboratively solve problems and answer fundamental questions.


Tenth grade, full year

This course emphasizes a conceptual understanding of fundamental topics in chemistry. Subjects include atomic and molecular structure, states of matter, chemical and physical behavior of elements and compounds, kinetics, acid/base chemistry, thermochemistry and electrochemistry. Laboratory activities and demonstrations reinforce core topics, foster inductive and deductive reasoning, connect core topics to everyday phenomena, and hone laboratory skills. Students are engaged both as small groups and as a class with laboratory-based challenges.

Quantitative Chemistry

Tenth grade, full year

This course is for those students who have a strong interest in science and a solid mathematical background. The emphasis is on a conceptual and mathematical understanding of topics such as atomic theory, stoichiometry, chemical equilibrium, and thermochemistry. These topics are covered quickly and in great depth, possibly leaving time to pursue advanced topics. A combination of lecture, laboratory activities, and demonstrations are the major components of the course.

Biology: From Cells to Systems

Eleventh grade, full year

Students gain an appreciation for the diversity of life on Earth in this course, beginning with the cellular and genetic mechanisms common to all living organisms and building up to the life-sustaining systems and traits unique to specific organismal groups. Throughout the year, students explore how evolutionary processes shape relationships between structures and their functions and between organisms and their environments. In addition to providing students with a solid foundation in Biology, the course is designed to provide them with the knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to make informed, socially responsible decisions as consumers and global citizens. The course includes inquiry-based, differentiated, and direct instruction, hands-on labs, modeling activities, independent research, and discussions.


Advanced Topics in Chemistry

Elective, second semester
11th and 12th grades

This course offers students an opportunity to deepen their study of the science of chemistry. Designed in part by areas of student interest, topics may include: kinetics, thermo- chemistry, environmental chemistry, reaction energy, and qualitative analysis of known and unknown substances. Students are expected to expand and deepen their understanding through small-group work, problem-solving, and lab experiences. The class format includes lecture, discussion, and laboratory work with an emphasis on group collaboration and experimental design, similar to collegiate-level laboratory settings. Prerequisite: successful completion of one year of chemistry.

Advanced Topics in Modern Physics

Elective, 10th, 11th and 12th grades
Second semester

This class introduces the fundamental theories and laws of modern physics including special relativity. Students develop an extensive understanding of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity and gain practical mathematical tools for solving relativity problems. Students are also introduced to the wave-particle duality of light and modern quantum theory. By the end of their studies, the students appreciate the difference between the classical Newtonian view of the world, in which time was universal, and the Einsteinian view, in which the speed of light is universal and sub-atomic particles are elusive. The overall goal of this course is to familiarize the student with the physics of space-time and give a cursory understanding of quantum theory. Prerequisite: pre-calculus (may be taken concurrently)


Elective, first semester
Ninth - 12th grades

Astronomy applies the tools of science to the sky above us and the universe beyond our planet. Topics include the size and age of the universe, the diverse history of astronomy, light and telescopes, the formation of the solar system, the life cycle of stars, extrasolar planets, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and looking at astronomy as a way of learning about the nature of science. Some evening meetings may be included.


Elective, 11th and 12th grades
Second semester

This course covers basic ecological principles including ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, energy flow, population ecology, biodiversity, and biogeography. These basic principles are applied to both terrestrial and marine environments, with a focus on Washington State. Students identify common local plants and animals and learn about the life histories of different organisms. Additionally, students consider human influences and impacts on various organisms and environments, and how to minimize their negative impact. Other activities may include student-interest projects, labs, readings, and films, as well as field observations on several weekday outings. Prerequisite: one semester of Biology

Current Topics in Biotechnology

Elective, first semester
Twelfth grade

In this course, students develop an understanding of micro and molecular biology. The course covers classic tenets of biology, including the relationship betweenDNA and proteins, and diversity with a microbiological perspective. Due to the rapidly changing nature of biotechnology, a large part of the course is experiment-driven rather than taken from a specific text. Students are expected to develop and expand their problem-solving skills while designing, implementing, and reflecting on their own experiments in micro/molecular biology. Prerequisites:successful completion of one year each of chemistry and biology.


Elective, full year
Twelfth grade

Physics is designed for students who are interested in understanding the science behind many everyday phenomena. While this course covers similar topics as Quantitative Physics, it is designed to offer more mathematical support for students. It associates physics with real-world scenarios and is recommended for students who have an interest in engineering as many of the topics will be lab or project-based. Students in other grade levels may take the course with permission of the instructor. Prerequisites: Pre-calculus (may be taken concurrently) and successful completion of Conceptual Physics.

Quantitative Physics

Elective, full year
Twelfth grade

Quantitative Physics is designed for students who are interested in a more rigorous analysis of the physical world and understanding the “why” behind many everyday phenomena. With an emphasis on Newtonian mechanics, the course balances conceptual understanding with problem solving. Since this course is highly quantitative in nature, a strong background in mathematics is recommended. Students in other grade levels may take the course with permission of the instructor. Prerequisites: Pre-calculus and successful completion of Conceptual Physics.

Electives Not Offered in 2017-2018

Anatomy and Physiology

Introduction to Organic Chemistry

Science Olympiad

Waves and Optics