“The world is awash with high school and college students who know the content of their science text books but can’t think their way out of a paper bag. That’s not what grad schools want, that’s not what labs want and that’s not what makes for an informed citizenry."
The study of science at The Putney School revives, instills and encourages curiosity about the natural world by equipping students with the habits of mind needed to ask and answer questions using scientific method. Courses introduce fundamental biological, chemical, and physical principles through active inquiry, experimentation, direct instruction and exercises in problem solving. Advanced tutorials in the sciences are available. Upon graduation, students have understanding of essential methods and content sufficient for lifelong learning, responsible citizenship, and for further study of science at the university level, all with curiosity intact.
Ninth Grade Integrated Course
Ninth grade students take Humans in the Natural World which integrates English, Social Science and Natural Science.
Humans in the Natural World (three credits)
Using the tools of these three disciplines, this three-trimester course begins by asking “How Do We Know What We Know?” Starting with things we can observe locally, we will expand to connect to the global community. Students will be expected to collaborate with each other, make connections and synthesize information about their world from historical, scientific, artistic and literary sources. Each student will undertake several long-term projects, including detailed studies of a plot of land, a country, and a commodity. Students will read novels, poetry, and both primary and secondary sources in all the disciplines. Ultimately, our 9th graders will hone their skills in analytical and creative writing, oral presentation, collaboration, research and analysis. They will also learn the habits of reflection, self-evaluation, perseverance, and practice. Throughout they will demonstrate their skills and understanding through presentations, experiments, Wiki creation, writing and teaching. After completion of the integrated course, Putney students will be expected to accurately sketch the world around them, critically observe and analyze their environment, collect and use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) data, write in both analytical and imaginative forms, synthesize scientific and historical facts into meaning and be fearless enough to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity, and the benefits of failure. Students will earn credits in science (.5 biology .5 earth science), history/social science (1.0), English (1.0). In addition they will learn some basic tools and vocabulary of economics, GIS, data analysis, and political science, as well as the rudiments of epistemology. Mathematical thinking will be an integral part of our study.
Biology (full credit)
This is a sophomore level course. Through the lens of evolution, students will study the characteristics of living systems: biochemistry, molecular interactions at the cellular level, the structure and functions of cells, tissues and organs within organisms, inheritance and mutation, and interactions between animals, plants, and the environment. The course’s lab component emphasizes learning by experimentation both inside the classroom and outside in the local environment, making use of The Putney School farm, woods, and fields. Students will learn how to ask a good scientific question, gather and analyze data, and present their findings in a clear, concise report. Other aspects of the course include learning to use scientific texts and journals, researching authoritative sources and discerning scientific claims from pseudo-scientific ones.
Chemistry (full credit)
Chemistry is the study of the composition and properties of substances and the changes they undergo. We begin our study with an examination of atomic theory, electronic structure, chemical bonding, and the periodic table. We then expand our study to aqueous systems, reaction types, and electrochemistry. Laboratory work is inquiry based and is an integral part of the course where students engage in the scientific method, work cooperatively, and hone writing skills. The course emphasizes analysis, observation and critical thinking about these topics using solid scientific evidence to support or refute a viewpoint. By the end of the course, the student will have a sound understanding of chemical principles.
Chemistry of Microbiology (full credit)
Structure dictates function. This is the underlying principle of chemistry and biology. Using an understanding of the essentials of chemistry: Atomic Structure and functions, Periodic Trends, types of chemical bonding, intermolecular forces and reactivity we will explore fundamental biochemical pathways such as photosynthesis and cellular respiration. The properties of solutions such as diffusion gradients and electrical potentials produced by ions will enable us to understand the functions of specialized cells. We will see how the behavior of polymers leads to the functions of DNA and RNA. This sets the stage for understanding the marvelous arrangement of cell organelles that constitute life.
Physics (full credit)
Students look at familiar phenomena from the perspective of an experimental scientist. Reasoning is developed through an emphasis on deriving equations to make predictions and then designing experiments to test those predictions. The skills of computation and estimation are developed throughout the course. We begin by studying kinematics, Newton’s Laws of Motion, momentum, energy, rotational motion, and planetary systems. The second part of the course concentrates on electricity and magnetism. The course ends with a brief survey of topics in modern physics. While this class is best taken in conjunction with Precalculus or Calculus, two years of Algebra is a prerequisite.
Advanced Chemistry (half credit)
This upper level chemistry elective uses laboratory based inquiry to explore complex chemical systems. It will focus on honing a student’s skill in the laboratory as well as exploring topics not covered in introductory chemistry. A substantial component of the course will be dedicated to independent research designed and executed by each student. Prerequisites are Chemistry and Algebra 2.
Anatomy and Physiology (half credit)
This biology course explores the natural history of the human body, the anatomy of its parts and the processes of our physiology. Using the systems of the body as our organizational framework, the complex interactions that keep life in balance will be understandable as common patterns appear. Through lectures, discussions, dissections and quantitative lab experiments, we will make sanitized conceptual images of the body come alive and see the processes of physiology in action. Texts: Principles of Anatomy and Physiology by Tortora and Grabowski, The Anatomy Coloring Book by Kapit and Elson, Visible Body 3D Human Anatomy Atlas. Prerequisites: Biology and Chemistry or permission of the instructor.
Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology (half credit)
This biology elective will give students an introduction to community ecology and how ecosystems give rise to biodiversity. We will examine how our local ecosystems are structured, disturbed and change over time. We will observe special habitats that enhance biodiversity and how we can protect these. We will also examine threats to ecosystem integrity and how we can prevent, mitigate or reverse them. Class time will include short lectures, lots of discussion, habitat explorations, field labs, participation in research and monitoring activities underway on campus and in our region, meetings with professionals working in the field and presentation of fieldwork. Emphasis will be placed on field methods. Prerequisite: Biology.
Complex Systems: Agroecology (half credit)
This biology course will use The Putney School and other local farms to explore the sustainability (ecological, economic, and social) of these agricultural systems. We will study the history of farming in our area, investigate how past and current practices affect the land and economy, and familiarize ourselves with soil and plant ecology and how nutrient cycles determine how and what we can grow. Readings will consist of excerpts from a variety of scientific texts, trade publications, scientific journals, newspapers, and agricultural texts and histories. Throughout the course we will use farm visits to practice analyzing the sustainability of farm systems. While the focus will be on dairy farming, we will also work with local vegetable farmers, orchardists, and permaculturists. Final projects will provide the opportunity to delve into sustainability issues with respect to agriculture, such as climate change, organics, GMOs, rotational grazing, permaculture, water conservation, pest management, etc.
Complex Systems: The Built Environment (half credit)
This elective will use The Putney School campus as a laboratory to learn about sustainable building systems and practices. Students will come away with a knowledge of how certain cycles impact life on our planet, how we can intentionally and inadvertently change these cycles, and what we can do to live more sustainably. We will examine geopolitical, economic, and ecological forces driving our concern about sustainability, especially with regards to energy. We will investigate the ways we use energy at school for food, fuel, and manufactured products, calculate how this contributes to our carbon footprint, discuss alternative methods for meeting our energy needs, and debate how science, politics, and economics affect our ability to make sustainable decisions. Main text: Tom Wessels’ Myth of Progress.
Introduction to Astronomy (half credit)
It hardly seems reasonable to detect an object that by its very nature is unobservable, or to claim knowledge of the composition of stars with any scientific certainty. Yet astronomers have reached many such conclusions, and we will follow their chain of reasoning. Topics to be discussed are planetary motion, stars and their life cycles, galaxies and cosmology. We will use our observatory to view, image, measure and make inferences about the objects we find. Over time, we will reconcile observations made at night with knowledge developed in the classroom. By the end of the course students will know their way around the sky, have a sense of the scale of our universe, how it develops over time and the nature of the objects in it. A chemistry background is preferred. Completion or concurrent enrollment in Algebra 2 or above is required.
Molecular Genetics (half credit)
This investigative course is an introduction to molecular biology and genetics. We will touch on the four core pillars of science: understanding principles, designing experiments, analyzing data, and clear dissemination of knowledge, while learning standard laboratory techniques such as gel electrophoresis, transformation, protein extraction, chromatography, and tetrad analysis. Projects range from labs that confirm principles and introduce techniques to investigative projects where student data will be compiled over several terms to form a complete story. Collaboration with the arts department allows exploration of different concept presentation mediums. Throughout, we examine how science impacts society and vice versa. Prerequisites: Successful completion of biology, chemistry and algebra 2 or permission of instructor.
Advanced Molecular Genetics (half credit/full credit)
Docendo Discimus - We learn by teaching. Students have the option to assist in the instruction of introductory molecular genetics and hone their skills through teaching peers what they have learned. In addition, all students use the background and techniques learned in the introductory class to pursue challenging group and independent projects. All projects, whether group or individual, are generated through a collaborative process. Students delve into the finer points of experimental design and present their work to the entire class several times throughout the course. Prerequisites: Successful completion of Molecular Genetics and permission of the instructor.
Ornithology (half credit)
This advanced biology elective will use the world of birds to explore scientific ideas and practices in depth. We will practice identification and learn taxonomy of common and rare birds of the campus and region. We will explore avian anatomy and behavior to learn the evolutionary adaptations that make birds unique. We will monitor birds in the field and in the hand. We’ll use our data and study the observations of other ornithologists to find out how birds give us information about our environment. As we appreciate the beauty of birds, we’ll find that practice and persistence open new worlds of science to life-long learning. Texts include The Sibley Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, by David Sibley and Ornithology, by Frank Gill.
Physiological Ecology (half credit)
This elective will use the 320 acres of Putney School’s forests to understand the distribution, adaptations and interconnections of organisms in a New England wooded ecosystem. In addition to learning about plant physiology, students will learn how to identify the most common plant and tree species living in our forests and a variety of forest types, investigate our area’s geologic history, soils, natural and human disturbance histories, and current stressors (climate change, acid rain, pests, etc.). Through first-hand field work and readings, students will discuss and explore concepts like natural resource management, sustainable forestry, and other ecological and forestry principals. Main text: Tom Wessel’s Reading the Forested Landscape. Prerequisites: Biology.