Science Program

The science program begins with wonder and puzzlement about the physical universe and proceeds to scientific inquiry. The science curriculum is designed to engage the student in direct observation of the world and to elicit the desire for explanation. Once wonder is aroused, students are introduced to methods of scientific observation, experimentation and mathematical analysis that enable them to more fully explore their inquiries. Seventh- and eighth-grade courses focus on observation and developing a sense of wonder in the student. In grades nine through twelve, science students move toward more carefully constructed experiments, the development of theories, and a deeper grasp of the mathematical foundations of scientific models. Trinity School understands that science has its own unique subject matters, methods and ends, and cannot be adequately taught in a humanistic or historical mode.

Since Trinity School believes that the student is the primary agent of his or her education, the seventh- and eighth-grade science program promotes active engagement with the physical world. In addition to classroom learning, the students spend a large portion of class time outdoors, exploring the environment in and around campus. The primary goal of the seventh- and eighth-grade science curriculum is the development of a vibrant sense of wonder about the natural world and of basic analytical skills needed for a deeper understanding of it.

Students completing the seventh- and eighth-grade curriculum learn to appreciate the complexity of the physical world and develop basic skills to begin to understand and model it.

During grades nine through twelve the students' understanding of nature is enhanced by gathering their observations under a framework of scientific models, laws and theories. In ninth grade Trinity students study topics in biology, moving from simple structures (organic molecules) to complex organisms and interactions. Tenth-grade students study chemistry, which includes topics in inorganic, organic and biochemistry—each unit is lab-based. The eleventh- and twelfth-grade students study physics. The eleventh grade covers Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics and wave properties. Each student is given a laptop and taught how to create graphical user interface tools (GUIs) that model physical phenomena in MATLAB. The students also use MATLAB for data analysis of labs. In twelfth grade students study Newton's second law as a differential equation, then move on to electricity and magnetism. They conclude their science curriculum with special relativity and an introduction to quantum mechanics. Labs are also performed on the classical topics covered.

Science (seventh and eighth grades) - Seventh-graders collect insects, observe the stars, build detailed dioramas of endangered species and present their findings, and explore the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Students develop skills in scientific observation, qualitative description and the scientific method. Eighth-grade students create field guides using detailed observations of trees, create maps of the physical world using topographical techniques, study plate tectonics, explore basic principles of Newtonian mechanics, and build working models of simple and complex machines. In the eighth grade, students build upon their descriptive skills to include more quantitative analysis of cause and effect.

Biology (ninth grade) - This is a full-year course which might be viewed as occurring in four major segments: cellular biology, principles of life, ecology, and anatomy and physiology. The course begins with the basics of scientific procedure and the parts of a cell, and moves through cellular functions, e.g., respiration, photosynthesis, growth and division. At this point, certain concepts and understandings are necessary, including diffusion, DNA structure, transcription and translation. With these in place, the course moves into a study of genetics and the theory of evolution by natural selection. Following these fundamentals, the biology of organisms is studied. Five of the six kingdoms are studied and students are responsible for the classification of organisms by kingdom, phylum, class and representative genera. Plants were covered in the seventh- and eighth- grade courses and are only referenced here. As more complex organisms are studied, students make connections to simpler life forms and begin to appreciate better the theory of evolution and the diversity of life. It is at this part of the course that students dissect six different organisms: earthworm, clam, crayfish, starfish, shark and frog. Through the dissections, students begin to compare and contrast various systems, e.g., digestive, circulatory and respiratory.

The biology course is enhanced not only by dissections, but microscope work during the study of unicellular organisms, a family genetics study and the construction of a cell model. The course is rigorous and our students are challenged, but a discussion/ lecture style and several projects keep students engaged in the learning and most students are very successful. The final exam, which is an in-depth dissection of the fetal pig, demonstrates how much students have learned and the dissecting skills they have acquired in the process.

Chemistry (tenth grade) - The first semester consists of inorganic chemistry, while the second is split between organic chemistry and biochemistry. The course begins by reviewing basic scientific procedures, including laboratory techniques and units of measurement, and then moves through atoms, ionic compounds, molecular compounds and an understanding of the structure of the periodic table. After these concepts are in place, the course moves toward chemical reactions. The specifics studied in this area include balancing equations, stoichiometry and classes of chemical reactions. Students are then led through an exploration of energy, reaction rates and equilibrium, providing an in-depth understanding of why chemical reactions take place and how they proceed. The semester concludes with the study of states of matter, solutions and a more detailed look at acid-base reactions, which are necessary to proceed with organic chemistry and biochemistry. The second semester begins with an introduction to organic chemistry that includes learning to name and draw organic molecules. The organic families covered include alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, amines, carboxylic acids, esters and amides. The knowledge of these organic families allows the course to proceed to biochemistry. During the study of biochemistry, the covered topics include amino acids, proteins, enzymes, neurotransmitters and drugs. The course continues the study of biochemistry with nucleic acids and DNA.

Several labs accompany the course throughout the year, enabling the students to learn some basic skills and to view chemistry in action. The inorganic labs include exploring chemical changes, ionic compounds, precipitation, rates of chemical reactions, energy changes, solution formation and Le Chatelier’s Principle. The organic labs involve working with polymers, esters, DNA isolation and gel electrophoresis. The final exam consists of identifying proteins through various chemical reactions.

Physics I (eleventh grade) - This two-semester course is designed to familiarize students with topics in physics at an introductory level. Algebra, trigonometry and vectors are employed throughout the course. When appropriate, the students will be shown the calculus approach to an idea since they are concurrently taking the first year of calculus. The first semester consists of a study of kinematics, forces, circular motion, and energy. The second semester continues with a study of momentum, angular motion, thermodynamics and wave motion. The course consists of lectures, discussions, demonstrations, labs and problem-solving. The students are taught to engage the text and use the example problems to improve their problem-solving skills.

The students complete four to five labs per semester. In these labs the students learn how to take data properly, to perform mathematical analysis on the data and to draw conclusions from the analysis. The students also learn how to account for uncertainty in their measurements. The students learn that when taking data there is always a level of uncertainty and that it can be quantified. Topics for the labs include: constant velocity, finding the acceleration due to gravity, conservation of energy, conservation of momentum, Newton's law of cooling, and simple harmonic motion.

Throughout the year the students are also taught how to program using MATLAB. The purpose of the programming is to have students create models with which they can interact and explore various situations. The students develop interactive tools that deepen their understanding of the physical phenomena and also demystify computers. The MATLAB software is also utilized to perform the mathematical analysis for the labs - primarily linear regressions in the junior year. The final exam consists of applying the students' knowledge of simple harmonic motion to the case of an oscillator resting on an incline.

Physics (twelfth grade) - This year-long course continues with the classical ideas from the junior year and moves into twentieth-century topics. With a full year of calculus having been studied, the course revisits Newtonian mechanics from a differential equation approach. The students create MATLAB tools that model various forms of harmonic motion (simple, damped and driven). The course then moves into a study of electricity and magnetism utilizing concepts from calculus to explain Maxwell's equations. Direct current and alternating current circuits are also discussed. The course then explores the thought experiments of Albert Einstein to arrive at his introduction of the special theory of relativity to account for the discrepancies in some data from the late nineteenth century. The course concludes in the second semester with the development of quantum mechanics. The students finish by being able to perform elementary calculations using quantum theory.

The lab portion of the course occurs primarily in the first semester, while doing electrostatics and circuits. The use of MATLAB as a programming tool is also reduced due to the sophistication of the mathematics needed to describe the physical phenomena. The teacher usually demonstrates several MATLAB tools in class and utilizes them for discussion. Emphasis is placed on problem-solving and conceptualization of the abstract models that are used to describe Newtonian dynamics, electromagnetism, special relativity and quantum mechanics.