MIDDLE SCHOOL COURSES

Integrated Science I

This laboratory course introduces physical and Earth science concepts through independent and collaborative work. During experiments and other activities, students learn to gather data, interpret results, apply mathematical and computational skills, construct arguments from evidence, and communicate findings. Students spend time learning about natural phenomena, solving problems, performing hands-on laboratory work, and participating in small- and large-group discussions. The course helps students develop scientific and critical thinking and provides a foundational skill set for further scientific study.

Integrated Science II

Building on the laboratory and problem-solving skills introduced in seventh grade, this course presents chemical and physical processes and how they apply to observable phenomena through laboratory investigation, class discussions, independent reading, and both individual and group projects. Students learn to organize and process laboratory data to synthesize a deeper understanding of the principles that guide the natural world they inhabit. The central theme of the course is energy. Topics include energy in chemical reactions, heat, power sources, energy transport through waves, and mechanical energy.

Biology

This course is a laboratory-based overview of the fundamentals of biology. Students learn about genetics, the structure and biochemical processes of the cell, ecology, evolutionary trends within and among the various kingdoms, and human-systems physiology. Students improve upon the laboratory skills acquired during Integrated Science I and II as they continue to collect and analyze data. Students gain proficiency with a microscope and are introduced to techniques of dissecting specimens and performing physiological experiments. The course helps students make informed decisions regarding the biological issues that society faces.

Honors Biology

This course covers similar skills and topics as those taught in Biology, but at a faster pace, in greater detail, and with an emphasis on the molecular approach to biology. The course is designed for, and limited to, those students who have an intense curiosity about the natural world and life as a process. Due to the advanced and accelerated nature of the course, independent student learning and initiative are required. Students are expected to invest the time and energy necessary to synthesize complex and detailed processes. Prerequisite: Permission of current instructor.

UPPER SCHOOL COURSES

Genetics and Biotechnology

This course introduces fundamental techniques of biotechnology; it examines how these techniques have revolutionized our understanding of genetics, medicine, and human evolution, and it considers selected ethical and societal issues stirred by this revolution in biology. In the first semester, students learn how scientists discovered that DNA controls heredity and address the issues of scientific priority, competition, and genetic variation. Students perform experiments using some of the basic techniques of biotechnology (bacterial transformation, genetic recombination, the polymerase chain reaction, protein purification, and RNA interference) on different model organisms and examine how these techniques are used in connection with protein and DNA sequencing, microarrays, and bioinformatics. In the second semester, students learn how to identify genes and apply that knowledge to raw sequencing data. Students then focus on how disease-related genes are discovered and investigate associated issues, such as cloning, stem-cell research, and the CRISPR/Cas9 system. They study how genomics has provided a new perspective on evolutionary processes and relationships within and among species. Prerequisite: One year of chemistry and permission of current instructor.

Honors Topics in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Chemical basis of biological structure and function, experimental design, data analysis, and evolutionary change are major themes reinforced throughout the year. Subject areas include macromolecules, enzyme regulation, cell structure and function, energy transformation (cell respiration, photosynthesis), cell communication, cell reproduction (DNA structure/function, mitosis), protein synthesis, gene regulation, and biotechnology. Inquiry-based lessons and interactive lectures present topics at a level similar to a first-year course for the college biology major. Assessments measure students’ general knowledge in the subject, as well as their ability to apply biological concepts to the explanation of real-world phenomena, analyze and evaluate evidence presented in data tables and graphs, and solve quantitative and qualitative problems. In the laboratory, students define biological questions, formulate hypotheses to answer those questions, design experiments that quantitatively test their hypotheses, and analyze collected data using statistical methods. Throughout the course, students practice reasoning and compositional skills that strengthen their oral and written arguments. Prerequisite: Honors Chemistry or B in Chemistry and permission of current instructor.

Honors Topics in Evolution and Ecology

Evolution and its impact on biological systems, experimental design, and data analysis are major themes reinforced throughout the year. Subject areas include heredity (meiosis and Mendelian genetics), mechanisms of evolutionary change, population genetics, speciation, classification and biodiversity, ecology, and human impact on the biosphere. Inquiry-based lessons and interactive lectures present topics at a level similar to a first-year course for the college biology major. Assessments measure students’ general knowledge in the subject, as well as their ability to apply biological concepts to the explanation of real-world phenomena, analyze and evaluate evidence presented in data tables and graphs, and solve quantitative and qualitative problems. In the laboratory, students define biological questions, formulate hypotheses to answer those questions, design experiments that quantitatively test their hypotheses, and analyze collected data using statistical methods. Throughout the course, students practice the reasoning and compositional skills that strengthen their written and oral arguments. Prerequisite: Honors Chemistry or B in Chemistry and permission of current instructor.

Chemistry

This course includes lecture, discussion, and integrated laboratory experiments designed to introduce students to the nature of matter. The major topics presented are nomenclature, chemical reactions, stoichiometry, atomic structure, periodicity, bonding, molecular geometry, phases of matter, equilibrium, thermodynamics, and acid–base chemistry. The course presents abstract concepts and emphasizes quantitative problem-solving skills. Analytical thinking, more than memorization, is the key to success in the course. The year-end final focuses on material presented after winter break, but requires application of cumulative skills and knowledge. Students who took Algebra I and earned less than a B- in Biology and those who took Algebra and earned less than a B in Biology will not be granted permission to take this course during sophomore year. Prerequisite: Permission of current instructor.

Honors Chemistry

This course is a qualitative and quantitative introduction to the macroscopic chemical behavior of inorganic substances based on molecular structure. Extensive laboratory work introduces, reinforces, and extends theoretical topics covered via reading and lecture. The first semester is devoted to learning to recognize, explain, predict, and express chemical changes. Thermodynamic considerations in predicting chemical change are also covered, and the term concludes with a correlation of molecular structure to the chemical and physical behavior of pure substances. In the second semester, more attention is paid to the molecular level of reactions. Solution properties, reaction kinetics, equilibrium, and electrochemical processes are studied in detail. A short unit on nuclear reactions and related topics is also included. Honors Chemistry assumes a greater comfort level with applied algebra than Chemistry and requires a significant degree of independence. Students who have succeeded in previous science courses by spending significant time doing the maximum amount of work possible with frequent teacher intervention are likely to find the course very difficult and its time commitment excessive. Students will need to determine for themselves how many of the suggested homework problems (not collected) are necessary for them to gain facility with the concepts. Prerequisite: Permission of current instructor. Corequisite: Advanced Algebra II or higher. Corequisite: Algebra II with Analysis or higher.

AP Chemistry

This course presents topics commonly encountered in the first year of college chemistry chiefly through challenging laboratory investigations. This laboratory work is used to expand concepts beyond their fundamentals and provide students with real chemical situations to study and interpret. Students are exposed to modern analytical techniques (both wet and instrumental) as well as to data analysis and reduction using spreadsheets. The course is designed for the highly motivated student with a strong interest in chemistry who enjoys working in the laboratory and is able to learn new material with guidance rather than via traditional lecture. The pace and depth of the course require a strong background in high school chemistry. Students who have succeeded in the prerequisite course by spending significant time doing the maximum amount of work possible are likely to find this course very difficult and its time commitment excessive. Students must work independently and budget their time wisely. The majority of class time is spent in the laboratory. The rest of the class time is divided between homework problem sessions, infrequent lectures, and examinations. Students have the option to take the AP Chemistry examination in May. Prerequisite: Honors Chemistry and permission of current instructor.

Physics 1

This course provides an introduction to physics through the study of mechanics, fluids, waves, and basic circuits. It covers the same topics as Honors Physics 1, but with less emphasis on mathematical problem solving and more on real-world application of physical principles. Students can expect regular hands-on laboratory experiences with less rigorous analysis than Honors Physics 1. The course is for students who possess an interest in physics, basic algebra skills, and a willingness to think abstractly. Students may enroll in either Physics 1 or Honors Physics 1, but not both. Prerequisite: Algebra II with Analysis, Advanced Algebra II, or higher.

Honors Physics 1

This course introduces the study of mechanics, fluids, waves, and basic circuits. Conceptual understanding and qualitative explanations are emphasized, along with more traditional numerical problem solving. Students take part in extensive laboratory work and focus on experimental design and written analysis of results. The curriculum provides more in-depth study and complex problem solving than Physics 1, as well as more rigorous laboratory analysis. The course serves as a good background for those who wish to continue in science or engineering. It offers a college-level, noncalculus mathematical treatment of physics. Students may enroll in either Physics 1 or Honors Physics 1, but not both. Prerequisite: B in Honors Chemistry or Honors Algebra II or A- in Chemistry, Algebra II with Analysis, or Advanced Algebra II and permission of current instructor. Corequisite: Advanced Precalculus or higher.

AP Physics C: Mechanics

Taken together, these two courses constitute the equivalent of a full year of university physics for science and engineering students. Mechanics includes the study of vectors, motion, dynamics, work and energy, momentum, rotational motion and dynamics, oscillations, and gravitation, and Electricity and Magnetism (E&M) covers charge, electric field and potential, capacitance, resistance, inductance, circuits, the magnetic field, electromagnetic oscillations, Maxwell’s equations, and electromagnetic waves. These courses focus on advanced problem solving and require a high degree of mathematical competence. Test and quiz problems are designed to evaluate a student’s awareness of the fundamental principles. Accordingly, they often differ significantly from the problems found in homework assignments. Students may enroll in just Mechanics or both Mechanics and E&M concurrently; only students who have completed Honors Physics 1 may enroll in just E&M. Prerequisite: AP Calculus BC or concurrent enrollment in AP Calculus C. For Electricity and Magnetism, Honors Physics 1, or Mechanics taken previously or concurrently, is also required.

AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

Taken together, these two courses constitute the equivalent of a full year of university physics for science and engineering students. Mechanics includes the study of vectors, motion, dynamics, work and energy, momentum, rotational motion and dynamics, oscillations, and gravitation, and Electricity and Magnetism (E&M) covers charge, electric field and potential, capacitance, resistance, inductance, circuits, the magnetic field, electromagnetic oscillations, Maxwell’s equations, and electromagnetic waves. These courses focus on advanced problem solving and require a high degree of mathematical competence. Test and quiz problems are designed to evaluate a student’s awareness of the fundamental principles. Accordingly, they often differ significantly from the problems found in homework assignments. Students may enroll in just Mechanics or both Mechanics and E&M concurrently; only students who have completed Honors Physics 1 may enroll in just E&M. Prerequisite: AP Calculus BC or concurrent enrollment in AP Calculus C. For Electricity and Magnetism, Honors Physics 1, or Mechanics taken previously or concurrently, is also required.

Astronomy

This course introduces students to the fundamentals of astronomy. A wide range of topics is presented, including the history of astronomy, radiation from space, astronomical instruments, the solar system, stars, galaxies, cosmology, and space technology. Class time is allocated to presentations, laboratory exercises (including the use of telescopes for limited solar observations), class discussions, and instructional videos. Weather permitting, the class includes at least one optional field trip for astronomical observing. Although basic algebra is employed, no prior physics knowledge is required. The course is more descriptive than quantitative and is designed for anyone with a general interest in astronomy.

Sound and Acoustics

This course introduces the science of sound as a broad interdisciplinary field of physics, engineering, physiology, and music. Students learn about the physical properties of sound; its production and transmission through solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas; the scientific study of musical scales; and the characteristics of musical instruments, rooms, and concert halls. The format of the class allows students to pursue topics that interest them in greater depth. The course is not demanding mathematically; it is designed for students of all academic backgrounds.

Electronics

This course is an introduction to the principles of electronics, which include the principles and applications of electricity, fundamental circuits, electromagnetic induction, alternating voltage and current, inductive and capacitive circuits, semiconductor devices, transistor amplifiers, integrated circuits, and a large variety of other electronic circuits. The course is based on laboratory work—from building simple electronic circuits to constructing a well-regulated power supply, a metronome, an electronic organ, an electronic alarm, a transistor radio, and more. The format of the class allows students to pursue topics that interest them in greater depth. In lieu of a final examination, a final project is required. This project may consist of building an electronic device such as an FM transmitter, IC electronic organ, or another electronic device agreed upon by the instructor and the student.

Studies in Scientific Research

This course introduces students to the process of conducting scientific research. Studies in Scientific Research (SSR) has the structure and expectations of a university research course. It provides an open-ended theoretical and experimental research environment in which students: 1) decide what makes a good problem to investigate; 2) decide whether the problem they have chosen lends itself to investigation within the constraints of the laboratory time and resources available to them; 3) analyze their data to formulate clear and logical conclusions; and 4) present their findings in a format that is acceptable to the scientific community. Students are encouraged to consider and plan for experimental uncertainties and, whenever possible, to design and fabricate their own apparatus. Most SSR research topics are in physics and engineering; however any scientific topic that can generate a variety of questions and be built upon from one year to the next is a viable candidate for investigation provided that the research can be conducted within Harvard-Westlake facilities. Early in the first semester, class time is devoted to determining what equipment, funds, library resources, software, computers, and teachers are available to SSR students. Class time also is used to test the methodologies and experimental procedures that others have already used in the area of interest. Once a suitable investigation has been defined and a higher degree of understanding of the topic has been achieved, students work systematically and consistently toward conducting and completing their research project. Students maintain in-class journals and must submit quarterly papers describing the progress of their research. At the end of the year, students produce a scientific paper on their research findings, which is published in the Harvard-Westlake Journal of Science. Enrollment is limited to thirty students. Prerequisite: Permission of current instructor.

Principles of Engineering

This introductory survey exposes students to some of the major methods of thinking encountered in a postsecondary engineering course. It focuses on habits of mind and problem-solving techniques rather than on computations or analytical content. Students develop an understanding of concepts and hone interpersonal, creative, and problem-solving skills through collaborative completion of challenges. They are exposed to the practices of and specialized fields within several major branches of engineering, including chemical, mechanical, aerospace, and civil. The course is well suited for students considering engineering as a career as well as those curious about what it means to be an engineer or who are interested in learning how to better identify and solve real-world problems. No previous knowledge of engineering is required. Prerequisite: Chemistry or Honors Chemistry.

Geology

This course introduces the major topics of physical geology. It includes a study of rocks and minerals, water, wind and glacial erosion and deposition, structural geology, volcanism, earthquakes, and plate tectonics. Laboratory work is an important component. Students take a three-day field trip to Death Valley worth five percent of the class grade. The course is designed to appeal to students with a wide range of scientific backgrounds and interests. The workload tends to be light to moderate compared with other Harvard-Westlake science classes. Prerequisite: Permission of current instructor.

Natural Disasters: Science and Social Impact

Every region on Earth experiences the effects of natural hazards. This laboratory course discusses how science impacts society’s understanding of and responses to the natural world and aims to give students a foundation for critically evaluating future approaches to managing hazards from a technical, personal, and societal point of view. During the first half of each unit, students focus on the scientific understanding of natural processes that cause natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods. In the second half, students examine how society evaluates and confronts the dangers posed by these natural processes from a political, social, and ethical perspective. Students study technological advances that allow a large population to monitor, predict, and warn society about natural hazards and impending disasters. Case studies of recent and past natural disasters are discussed, focusing on both the geological and meteorological context of the hazard and its impact on individuals, society, and the environment. Prerequisite: Chemistry or C+ in Geology and permission of current instructor.

AP Environmental Science

This is a college-level course that incorporates physical and biological sciences in the study of the environment. Topics include the interdependence of Earth’s systems, human population dynamics, renewable and nonrenewable resources, environmental quality, global changes and their consequences, environment and society, and choices for the future. The course includes a considerable reading requirement as well as a laboratory component. Prerequisite: Honors Chemistry or B- in Chemistry and permission of current instructor.

Oceanography and Marine Biology

This is a general course in ocean science. During the first semester, students learn about the physical, chemical, and geological features of the ocean environment (oceanography) and also about the history of ocean exploration and navigation. The second semester explores the organisms that live in the ocean and their ecological relationships (marine biology). Emphasis is placed on our local marine environment and organisms. The course is designed to appeal to students with a wide range of scientific backgrounds and interests. The workload tends to be light to moderate compared with other science classes at Harvard-Westlake. Activities include lectures, laboratory experiments and observations, watching educational films, and field trips. The costs of the field trips vary depending on the specific activities and number of participants.