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Science Courses


Students must take one full-year laboratory course in a physical science (satisfied by a full-year physics or chemistry course), and they must take one full-year laboratory course in biology. The Science Department strongly recommends that all students take three full-year laboratory courses; one each in physics, chemistry, and biology (in this sequence) so that they are well educated in the three major sciences. The department urges this sequence for students planning to take all three because physics will lead to a more thorough understanding of chemistry and both of these will lead to a better understanding of biology. Students taking semester courses and half courses may be in the Class I or II year. In addition, they must have received credit for at least two full-year laboratory courses, or be enrolled in a second full-year laboratory course concurrently with the semester course. Advanced courses in science are open to Class I students who have taken laboratory courses in physics, chemistry, and biology.

Class IV Physics
Class IV
In Class IV Physics, students are introduced to the fundamental concepts of physics as well as basic methods of scientific investigation. Many of the exercises and experiments are inquiry-based, which allows students to experience the physics phenomena first hand and learn to draw conclusions from data. Topics covered will include Newton’s laws of motion, momentum, energy, electricity and magnetism. These topics, taught in combination with fundamental science skills, will prepare Class IV students for higher-level science courses. Students investigate topics in depth with guidance from the instructor, research a topic of interest to them, develop questions, and create an experiment to test their hypotheses. Students culminate their work in Class IV Physics by conducting an independent, self-designed experiment.

Classes I, II, & III
The course covers many of the major topics in the discipline with an emphasis on qualitative understanding of concepts as well as problem solving techniques. Topics covered in the first semester include: kinematics, Newton’s laws of motion, momentum, energy, circular motion, and gravitation. The term will culminate with a comprehensive exam. The second semester includes the study of waves, sound, light, electricity, and magnetism. The weekly lab activities reinforce and/or expand on the concepts discussed in class and stress the experimental procedures of science. Many of these labs use an inquiry-based approach. Students will complete their physics experience by conducting a design-your-own experimental project in place of a final exam. This course provides solid preparation for students to move on to other science courses.

Classes I, II, & III
Chemistry is a full-year course in general chemistry. Topics include an introduction of the study of matter, measurement, atomic theory, stoichiometry, gas laws, nomenclature, and equilibria. The curriculum is skills centered, emphasizing student mastery of problem-solving methods in the laboratory and the classroom. Moreover, the symbiosis of applying qualitative and quantitative analysis facilitates proficiency in the laboratory through the inquiry method. Students will find that formal lab investigations become progressively more inquiry driven. Laboratory work culminates in the design-your-own independent lab project.

Chemistry (Honors)
Classes I, II, & III
Chemistry (Honors) is a rigorous course in which students study the properties and behavior of matter and the laws governing chemical reactions. Among others, the course covers the following topics: quantum atomic theory, molecular structure, stoichiometry, gas laws, thermochemistry, electrochemistry, acids and bases, equilibrium systems, and reaction kinetics. The laboratory work emphasizes an inquiry process by requiring students to design independent investigations based on the formulation of open-ended questions, while also stressing the process involved in real-world scientific research. Both the class work and the laboratory work of this course build on a lab-based physics course. (Prerequisite: a course in physics and permission of the department chair.)

Class I & Class II, or with permission of the department chair
Biology is the study of life. Designed to follow a course in chemistry, this course will explore the evolutionary and ecological diversity of life through an inquiry-teaching model. Broad themes in Biology include ecology and energetics, cell structure and function, genetics, heredity, and molecular biology. As the year progresses, we emphasize connections between broad biological concepts—ecology and human biology, for example.

Biology (Honors)
Class I & Class II, or with permission of the department chair
Designed to follow a course in chemistry, this accelerated course will explore molecular, cellular, organismal, and ecological biology through an inquiry-teaching model. Broad themes in Biology (Honors) include biochemistry, ecology and energetics, cell structure and function, molecular biology, genetics, and heredity. Students will explore the material through class discussions, review of scientific literature and work in the laboratory; they will practice critical thinking and writing as well as designing, conducting and analyzing experiments. There is a substantial out-of-class lab component in Biology (Honors) that students will need to coordinate with their lab partner(s). (Prerequisite: a course in chemistry and permission of the department chair.)

Advanced Courses in Science

Class I or with permission of the department chair
The goal of these courses is to give our most capable, motivated science students an opportunity to further explore topics in each individual subject area. These courses include a significant amount of inquiry-based laboratory work. Through these explorations, students will broaden their understanding of the natural world. These courses may include readings of primary research, other scientific literature, and scientific textbooks, along with class discussions and inquiry-based lab work (both independent from and in concert with the instructor).

To register for any of these courses, students must have completed laboratory courses in physics, chemistry, and biology and have permission from the department chair. Students may take Advanced Physics or Advanced Chemistry concurrently with Biology (Honors) with permission from the department chair. If a student chooses to move out of Biology (Honors) for any reason, they will be required to drop the Advanced course being taken concurrently. All full-year science courses at Milton Academy qualify as laboratory courses. If students have taken courses at other institutions, they should contact the Registrar’s Office and the department chair, who will determine whether they can receive credit for that work. All students in Advanced Courses in Science will be required to present at our end-of-year Science Symposium.

Advanced Biology
This course allows students to deepen their understanding of biological concepts and hone their laboratory technique, skills, and writing. Much of the work in class will integrate molecular biology techniques to elucidate principles studied. In the first semester, students will study cell signaling and prokaryotic gene expression. In the second semester, students will study evolutionary biology. Studying evolution will allow students to integrate all areas of biology with understanding the process and outcome of evolution. Possible explorations include analysis and synthesis of synthetic DNA devices; assay of gene function in bacteria; analysis of mc1r sequence and mitochondrial DNA in the student’s genome; tissue regeneration in flatworms; sexual development of c-ferns, evolution of biofilms in bacteria, genome sequencing, and behavior of c. elegans. Students will practice laboratory techniques necessary in the study of the organisms, and they will further their understanding of the concepts and protocols of molecular biology. Students should enjoy working in the lab and want to push themselves in studying biological sciences. We will use primary scientific articles as models of research and as a means of learning the material.

Advanced Chemistry
The goal of this course is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to investigate chemistry as it relates to their own scientific interests. Students will be introduced to advanced laboratory equipment and will more deeply study technology used in previous classes. Mini design-your-own labs are incorporated into the class every six to eight weeks to enable students to design and execute projects that apply the skills we have mastered to areas of personal interest in science. Topics of study include qualitative and quantitative analysis, kinetics, equilibrium, and electrochemistry, as well as more innovative fields such as nanotechnology, polymers, and molecular gastronomy. Assessment in this class is laboratory based and includes a wide range of reporting formats, as well as creative projects. A successful student must be able to work well independently and in close partnerships; demonstrate a strong commitment to safe lab work; and be willing to take intellectual risks in pursuit of creative research.

Advanced Environmental Science
The study of Environmental Science is driven by the relationship between humans and the natural environment. In this class, students will explore this relationship using an interdisciplinary approach that builds on students’ science backgrounds with new material from Earth system science. Our focus is on understanding how nature works, and on finding solutions to real environmental problems through the “doing” of real science. Coursework is heavily weighted towards fieldwork, and as such, students should be excited about frequent outdoor field activities. Our proximity to the Blue Hills, the Neponset River Estuary (the only remaining salt marsh estuary in Boston Harbor), and numerous local wetlands and streams provides an unusually rich natural laboratory learning resource. In recent years, this course has focused on a long-term ecological monitoring study of a local ecosystem in collaboration with the Neponset River Watershed Association, a local watershed authority.

Advanced Physics
In Advanced Physics, students study Newtonian mechanics in the fall and the experimental foundations of quantum mechanics in the spring. Throughout the fall, students develop a fluency in problem-solving skills through weekly problem sets and engage in weekly lab challenges that make theoretical mechanics relevant to the actual world. Further, students engage with the real-world applications through two major lab reports. In the spring semester, having constructed a solid foundation in Newtonian mechanics, students explore the classic experiments that indicated to us that Newtonian mechanics alone is not an apt description of our universe. As they study a series of the classic experiments in modern physics, students uncover strong evidence for wave-particle duality. Finally, students end the year by designing and conducting their own physics experiments to be presented to both the other advanced science students and the science faculty.

Science Electives

Classes I & II
Students must have credit for two full-year laboratory science courses, or previous credit for one full-year laboratory science course and an additional full-year laboratory course taken concurrently with the elective semester or half courses. Students should be aware that if a required concurrent full-year course is dropped for any reason, the elective course(s) will also have to be dropped.

We will begin this course by venturing into the scientific study of the brain with a focus on the anatomical structures of the brain and their functions. We will follow with in-depth exploration of neuronal communication. We will explore concepts in neuroplasticity, learning, and memory. As we finish the course, these topics will be applied through investigation of stress and relaxation, addiction, mental health disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases. A few relevant dissections and labs will be performed. As this is an ever-changing field, students will learn to read and investigate scientific literature in the latter part of the course to understand the most recent theories and latest pharmacological interventions for what we study. (Prerequisite: A course in biology.)

Human Anatomy and Physiology
(Semester 1 or Semester 2)
Human Anatomy and Physiology challenges students with a variety of approaches geared toward developing a strong fundamental understanding of the structure and functioning of the human body. Classroom discussions emphasize physiological concepts, with special attention to the anatomical features of the system being studied. The course begins with an overview of cellular anatomy and physiology. The systems addressed over the course of the semester typically include the skeletomuscular system, cardiovascular system, lymphatic system, respiratory system, endocrine system, and excretory system. Other body systems are touched upon in the context of discussions of the previously mentioned systems. Evaluation for the class is based on participation in class discussions and in group work, in-class and take-home assessments, dissections, and one or two in-class presentations.

Marine Science
(Semester 1 or Semester 2)
This course investigates the biology, ecology, and adaptations of marine life, as well as the most recent and intriguing research in this content area. The course emphasizes independent and small-group lab work, research into current topics, and presentations of these investigations. Major topics studied will be biological oceanography, the fundamental concepts of biology that relate to the marine environment, a survey of marine life, and important, timely issues in marine science. Lab work is a key component of this course, as students will work in the lab every week exploring the concepts of the course. Additional assignments require students to take advantage of the resources available in the area, such as the New England Aquarium, and visits to local marine and estuarine habitats. Lab work includes comparative anatomy done through dissection and direct observation of live marine animals.

Issues in Environmental Science: Solutions for a Sustainable Future
(Semester 1 or Semester 2)
The world faces a number of urgent environmental issues such as human population growth, air and water pollution, and climate change. While many of these topics seem overwhelming, all can be addressed with existing or emerging technologies ranging from the obvious (e.g., renewable energy, urban farming, and electric vehicles) to the futuristic (e.g., lab-grown meat, floating cities, and geoengineering). This course will begin with environmental science fundamentals and move to the development of practical solutions based on that science. By investigating changes that we can make on a personal or local level, students will gain insight into how to affect change on the national and global stage. This project-based curriculum uses current scientific literature, interaction with professionals in the environmental field, and podcasts, TED talks, and other media to give students a variety of perspectives.

Observational Astronomy
(Semester 1)
In this course we study all things astronomical, from the life and death of stars to the evolution of the universe, from the solar system to the history of astronomy. Students conduct semester-long projects of their own choosing in consultation with the instructor. In the past, students have observed variable stars, sunspots, the moons of Jupiter, and the setting position of the sun. In the weekly observing sessions, students locate objects discussed in lectures using the Robert C. Ayer double-domed observatory that is equipped with permanently mounted 9- and 12-inch reflecting telescopes as well as several portable telescopes. Students also take pictures of celestial objects using the special cameras provided.

Molecular Genetics 1
(Semester 1)
This course educates students about the science and technology of the field of molecular genetics. Students briefly review the basic structure and function of DNA. For the first half of the semester students will isolate, amplify and sequence their TASR38 gene. Students will determine their haplotype and correlate it with their ability to taste a bitter tasting chemical. Students then complete a set of cloning and sequencing protocols of a plant housekeeping gene. After completion of these protocols, students will have the fundamental skills necessary to clone and sequence a gene in the laboratory. Skills developed in the course include nucleic acid extraction, performance and analysis of nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR), electrophoresis, size-exclusion chromatography, DNA ligation and bacterial transformation, microbial culturing, and sequencing and bioinformatics. The majority of the work in this class is laboratory-based. (Prerequisite: A course in biology.)

Organic Chemistry 1
(Semester 1)
Enter the world of medicines and plastics, of skunk spray and gasoline, of steroids and sugars. Enter the world of organic chemistry—the chemistry of carbon! This challenging course will focus on the fundamentals of organic chemistry and will include an introduction to molecular structure, stereochemistry, and the mechanisms of synthesis reactions. These fundamental ideas will be exemplified in discussions revolving around relevant synthetic molecules as well as important, naturally occurring biological entities. To deepen their understanding of the course material, students will be expected to participate in, and ultimately drive, laboratory experiments exploiting an inquiry-based learning approach. In total, knowledge gained from this class will equip the students with the critical rudiments in organic chemistry, a common collegiate requirement for science and engineering, pre-medicine, pre-dentistry, and pre-pharmacy majors.

Molecular Genetics 2
(Semester 2)
Molecular Genetics 2 is a laboratory course where students apply the skills, techniques and knowledge learned in Molecular Genetics 1 to explore topics including Drosophila genetics, gene regulation by RNAi in C. elegans and molecular cloning of GAPDH genes and bioinformatics. Topics change periodically depending on student interest and skills. Several topics provide opportunities to engage with professional researchers in the Boston area. Students should be interested in planning and conducting long-term projects in the lab. Students are required to present their work at the Science Symposium at the conclusion of the second semester. (Prerequisite: A course in biology and Molecular Genetics 1.)

Organic Chemistry 2
(Semester 2)
This course is designed to directly follow and build upon the content from Organic Chemistry 1. Specifically, students will garner a thorough understanding of both substitution and elimination reactions and their respective mechanisms. This knowledge will then be utilized in both laboratory and thought exercises aimed at predicting product formation from a given set of reactants as well as deliberate molecular design. The semester in Organic Chemistry 2 concludes with a major project in which students will profile a complex, biologically relevant organic molecule of their choosing. (Prerequisite: A course in chemistry and biology; biology may be taken concurrently. Students must also have completed Organic Chemistry 1.)

Cosmology and Modern Physics
(Semester 2)
Discoveries made during the last 60 years in physics have radically changed our view of the universe. Astronomers and physicists use their understanding of the very small structures of matter, such as quarks, to explain the very large structures, such as the distribution of galaxies in the universe. In this course, students learn about the wave-particle duality of matter, the quark model of matter, elementary particle discovery and classification, the grand unification of forces, the Big Bang theory, black holes, and the end of the universe. (Prerequisites: A course in both physics and chemistry.)

Introduction to Aerodynamics
(Half Course)
In this course, students will explore what makes airplanes work: from lift, thrust, and drag to control surfaces, stalls, and spins. We will cover the conceptual framework for flight as well as the theoretical basis for unconventional aircraft like the Piaggio Avanti and Burt Rutan’s canard aircraft. Students will build wing-in-ground effect models to explore the difference between pressure and lift and work toward a major project in the spring: designing a 21st-century ERCoupe, an airplane with simplified controls meant to appeal to a wider flying market. Students will evaluate their design ideas by building a flying model of their aircraft.

Engineering the Future
(Half Course)
The Engineering the Future course welcomes intrepid thinkers to engage in imagining new and exciting ways to design a world that better serves all of its inhabitants. We begin by exploring the basics of structural analysis, culminating in a building challenge that requires students to build a functional cantilever, a horizontal skyscraper!

In the second portion of our course, students push themselves to explore and experience what it means to be an engineering problem solver. They will learn about other types of engineering and choose the way they want to improve the community of the future.

In addition to a basic understanding of design principles, this course aims to develop important life skills. These skills include the ability to assess a task, to design a product, to collaborate with others, to problem solve, to be open to others’ ideas, to think critically about our own ideas, and to present one’s observations and conclusions clearly.

(Half Course)
Have you ever wondered about how rocks form, and what stories can they tell us about the Earth’s history? Why are there mountains, canyons, and coastlines, and how have these features formed over time? What are volcanoes and earthquakes, and how do we know if we’re living in an area that might be prone to natural disaster? This course is designed to introduce students to the world of geology, including the Earth’s origin, composition and structure; minerals and rocks; and the major Earth processes that have shaped and continue to shape the surface of our planet. Plate tectonic theory is a theme central to the course: mountains and rivers, geologic hazards, weather and climate, and even the evolution of life on Earth is intimately linked to this theory. Another overarching theme will be exploring the relationship between humans and geology, defined by our place in geologic time: the Anthropocene. The study of geology is, at its core, a field science. The proximity of Milton to the Blue Hills, in addition to other local resources, provides unique field opportunities to learn about major rock types, plate tectonics, weathering and erosion, and glacial processes, as well as the human impact. As such, students should be eager to participate in regular outdoor fieldwork that promotes the learning and practice of geology.

Science in the Modern Age
(Half Course)
The need for students to be scientifically literate and able to detect bias in the media is critical. Students must not only be informed of current science topics, but they must also be able to critically examine issues at hand and consider multiple perspectives. Through a seminar-style format, Class I and II students will be encouraged to examine their basic assumptions about science and will investigate the interplay between science and society. Students may interact with the greater scientific community in a variety of ways, including interviews, guest speakers, and a field trip. Using multimodal assessment, students’ learning will be measured by discussions, reading responses, debates, persuasive and journalistic writing, journaling, presentations and projects. With citizens and future voters in mind, this course promotes scientific literacy, critical analysis and good decision-making. Topics could include, but will not be limited to, bioethics, public health, epidemiology, DNA technology, genes and health, forensic science, sustainability, pharmacology, biodiversity, reproductive technology, and medical dilemmas. Students will read current science publications as their primary resource.

Making Science Visible: Field Sketching and Illustration in Science
(Half course)
Creating imagery while learning about science can be influential in students’ learning. The craft of looking closely at the world and sharing those observations through illustration requires exposure to nature and the development of tools and strategies to visually represent experiences. This process can also engender responsible stewardship for our planet and a greater connection to the facts of the world around us. This course will provide opportunities for student-centered investigations utilizing active focused observation, questioning the meaning behind observed phenomena, and developing habits of nature drawing and journaling.