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Science Curriculum

High School Science

The State of Washington raised graduation requirements for all students in the state through the passage of Washington State Law RCW 28A.230.090. Under the new law, all students in Seattle starting with the class of 2021 will need to earn 24 credits to graduate, an increase from 21. The 24-credit framework is designed to be flexible, so students can keep all post-secondary options open. Students graduating with the 24 required credits are prepared to enter a 4-year university, a 2-year community college program, or an apprenticeship.

Under the state’s 24-credit graduation requirement, students must earn 3 science credits: at least two lab sciences, and a third credit of choice. In previous years, students were able to graduate with 2 science credits. In addition to the course work, students will be required to pass the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS) at the end of their junior year. This examination will be based on the new Washington State Science and Learning Standards, also known as the Next Generation Science and Engineering Standards (NGSS).

In response to the new state requirement, Seattle Public Schools has developed a 3-year sequence for our students:

  • 9th Grade: Physics A (PHYS A) and Chemistry A (CHEM A)
  • 10th Grade: Biology A (BIO A) and Biology B (BIO B)
  • 11th Grade options:
    • Standard Pathway: Physics B (PHYS B) and Chemistry B (CHEM B)
    • Advanced Path: Advanced Placement (AP), or International Baccalaureate (IB) in PHYS B or CHEM B
    • Alternative Path: Approved Science Elective or Career and Technical Education

Year 1: PHYS A and CHEM A 

PHYS A provides students with units on the concepts of charge, magnetism, and waves. CHEM A covers atomic structure, ionic and covalent bonding, conductivity, and nuclear science. 

Year 2: BIO A and BIO B 

BIO A provides students with units on the concepts of systems and scale, animals, plants, decomposers, ecosystems, and human energy systems. BIO B covers genetics, evolution, and population ecology. 

Year 3: PHYS B and CHEM B 

PHYS B provides students with units on the concepts of energy, forces, and gravity. CHEM B covers the mole, reaction rates, stoichiometry, thermochemistry, and equilibrium. 

Assessments

All courses include Pre-unit Assessments designed to elicit students’ prior knowledge and gauge their facility for using the science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts. Pre-unit assessments also serves as a baseline to show growth over time when compared to the end-of-unit assessment of the same format. End-of-unit Assessments indicate students’ growth over the course of the unit.

Many units engage students in developing explanatory models of unit phenomena. Students develop initial models, revise the models over the course of the unit, and then prepare final models and gapless explanations of phenomena. Explanatory models can also provide insight into students’ developing facility with the science and engineering practices of Constructing Explanations, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, and Developing and Using Models.

State Level Assessment: Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science (WCAS)

For more on the WCAS, visit our State Assessment page.

All of our curriculum is designed around the Next Generation Science Standards and incorporates elements of the Ambitious Science Teaching model developed at the University of Washington.

Course Descriptions

Below are descriptions of each course. If you are an SPS teacher, view the full course descriptions with unit information (SPS login required).

Our Biology curriculum for the BIO A course is called Carbon TIME (Transformations in Matter and Energy), developed by Michigan State University. Carbon TIME is a program that focuses on processes that transform matter and energy in organisms, ecosystems, and global systems. It is aligned with NGSS practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.

Biology A includes 6 units: Systems and Scale, Animals, Plants, Decomposers (optional), Ecosystems, and Human Energy Systems. Using the Carbon TIME (Transformations in Matter and Energy) curriculum, students focus on processes that transform matter and energy in organisms, ecosystems, and global systems: combustion, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, digestion, and biosynthesis. Students use these cellular and chemical processes to explain the functioning of organisms – plants, animals, decomposers – as well as ecological and global carbon cycling. Units are structured around storylines to engage students in figuring out and explaining the unit phenomena.

Systems and Scale
The Systems and Scale unit starts by asking students to express their ideas about the unit’s driving question: What happens when ethanol burns? The unit helps students to develop scientific explanations of how matter and energy are transformed during combustion of different organic materials. The goal of the Systems and Scale unit is to introduce students to organic matter and chemical energy (in the context of combustion) using the tools for reasoning and environmental literacy practices that students will engage with in other Bio A units. Students develop required capacity to distinguish organic matter from inorganic matter, and to understand how differences in the chemical make-up of materials influences how materials and energy are transformed and moved between systems.

Animals
The Animals unit starts by asking students to express their ideas about the unit’s driving question: How does a child grow, move, and function? In the unit, students learn how the processes of digestion and biosynthesis transform food molecules into the biomass of an organism during growth, and how the process of cellular respiration transforms organic materials to inorganic materials and chemical energy to energy for function and movement of organisms. At each stage in these processes they answer Three Questions about what is happening: the Matter Movement Question, the Matter Change Question, and the Energy Change Question.

Plants
The Plants unit starts by asking students to express their ideas about the unit’s driving question: How does a plant grow, move, and function? Students build on their learning from the Animals unit to tell the story of how matter and energy are transformed as they move through plant systems in the processes of photosynthesis, biosynthesis, and cellular respiration.

Decomposers (optional)
The Decomposers unit builds on what students learned in the Systems and Scale, Animals, and Plants units by applying their knowledge to a new organism. The most important idea to learn from the Decomposers unit is this: The answers to the Matter and Energy Questions are essentially the same for animals and decomposers. This will be a surprising conclusion, because students generally view decay as an entirely different process from animals eating and moving!

Ecosystems
The Ecosystems unit starts by asking students to express their ideas about the unit’s driving question: Why are there more grasses than rabbits and more rabbits than foxes in an ecosystem? In the Ecosystems unit students apply what they have learned in Animals, Plants, and Decomposers to explain how matter and energy move in ecosystems. Students discover that matter cycles through ecosystems because of the processes they previously learned – digestion, biosynthesis, cellular respiration, and photosynthesis. Energy flows through ecosystems, transforming into different forms of energy.

Human Energy Systems
The Human Energy Systems unit builds on student learning in the Systems and Scale, Animals, Plants, Decomposers, and Ecosystems units about organic and inorganic materials, how all systems exist at multiple scales, and transformation of materials and energy during chemical change. In the Human Energy Systems Unit, students focus on how three carbon–transforming processes (photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and combustion) work in global systems to balance carbon pools and fluxes. Overall, this Unit has four important goals for student learning: 1) Using knowledge of representation, generalizability, short-term variation, and long-term trends to interpret large-scale data sets related to climate change; 2) Relating changes in carbon pools to the balance of movement of carbon between these pools; 3) Relating carbon emissions to energy use; 4) Relating local systems, actions, and choices to global effects and future outcomes.

We have developed our own Biology curriculum for the BIO B course, with teachers and university partners working together to create a program that incorporates the Next Generation Science Standards while interweaving Ambitious Science Teaching principles.

Biology B includes 5 units: 3 Genetics units (Development, Gene Regulation, Inheritance), Evolution, and Population Ecology. The Biology B units are district-developed through a collaboration between Seattle Public Schools teachers and university partners at Michigan State University and the University of Washington. In Biology B students trace information through generations and populations in the processes of mitosis, cell differentiation, protein synthesis (transcription and translation), meiosis, fertilization, and evolution by natural selection. Students use these processes to explain the development and inheritance patterns of organisms, the coevolution of Earth’s systems and life, and the relationships between populations of organisms and their non-living environment (ecology). Units are structured around storylines to engage students in figuring out and explaining the unit phenomena.

Genetics: Development
The goal of Development is to introduce students to how organisms grow and develop as well as heal and regenerate lost parts through cell division (mitosis) and differentiation (turning genes on and off in particular cells). Students will investigate the anchoring phenomenon of how a single cell (fertilized human egg) develops into a complex organism made of multiple complex tissues and organs. In order to understand this anchoring phenomenon, students will investigate planaria regeneration after being cut (experimental phenomenon). Application phenomena include sea star and salamander limb regeneration and development of a human from a child to an adult. By the end of the unit, students can explain how an organism needs to produce new cells to replace damaged ones and to grow. In this process, the DNA is first replicated, so all the resulting cells are identical with respect to their genetic information. However, while the DNA might be the same, different cells have different functions. They will then learn the basic mechanism of differentiation, that different groups of cells specialize to become different organs. They will learn more about how cells differentiate in the next unit, Gene Regulation.

Genetics: Gene Regulation
The goal of Gene Regulation is to show students that an organism’s traits are determined by proteins, which in turn are determined by DNA. They will also learn how the environment can impact which genes are expressed so an organism can respond to it’s environment to maintain homeostasis. Students will investigate the anchoring phenomenon of how human skin cells tan when exposed to sunlight. In order to understand this anchoring phenomenon, students will investigate C. elegans worms before and after they are moved from a low-salt to a high-salt environment (experimental phenomenon). Application phenomena include chlorophyll production in plants and lactase production in humans. By the end of the unit, students can explain how genes are turned on an off based on different environmental conditions (genes respond to the environment). Students will learn that DNA contains the instructions for making proteins and that proteins determine the traits of an organism. They will then learn about how gene regulation maintains homeostasis, stable internal conditions. They will learn more about how DNA is inherited in the next unit, Inheritance.

Genetics: Inheritance
The goal of Inheritance is for students to understand how traits are passed between generations. They will learn how gametes are formed and why they are all unique, why siblings are not identical even though they come from the same parent, and how a trait persists in a family. Students will investigate the anchoring phenomenon of how a fatal disease (Sickle Cell Disease) persists in a family from generation to generation. Application phenomena include PTC taste, Maple Syrup Urine Disease, and Cystic Fibrosis. By the end of the unit, students can explain how gametes form in meiosis and fuse to produce offspring through fertilization.  They will be able to explain how sexual reproduction produces diverse offspring, and they will practice predicting the probability of particular outcomes. They will learn more about mutations in the Evolution units that follow.

Evolution

The goal of Evolution is for students to understand changes in populations of organisms over time, including the coevolution of Earth’s systems and life on Earth. Students will investigate the anchoring phenomenon of changes in populations (evolution) due to climate change. This is a large unit which includes several lesson phenomena: antibiotic resistance, Sickle Cell Disease prevalence in areas with high rates of malaria, and patterns of human skin pigmentation based on latitude and UV exposure.  Antibiotic resistance is further understood with the experimental phenomenon of growing bacteria on agar plates with and without antibiotic discs. Additional application phenomena include similarities and difference between tetrapods, the evolution of domesticated dogs from wolves, and the occurrence of “pizzly” bears from breeding of polar and grizzly bears in areas where they overlap due to climate change. By the end of the unit, students will be able to predict and explain how species have/will change over time in response to changes in environmental conditions.  Students will use multiple lines of evidence to identify variation in the heritable traits of individuals in a population, ecological factors that influence survival and reproduction, and the interaction between variation and ecology to produce changes in populations such as adaptation, speciation, and extinction.

Population Ecology

The goal of Population Ecology is for students to understand how a population of organisms interact in their ecosystem.  Students will learn about a local ecosystem and how the biodiversity of an ecosystem is affected by both abiotic and biotic factors.  They will evaluate a proposed solution and make a scientific argument to support the solution for improving the biodiversity in our local ecosystem.   Students will study a problem about the declining population of orca whales in the Puget sound.  Students will apply their content knowledge and hone their research skills to evaluate a solution to a real-world problem, the Orca Task Force Recommendations for increasing the orca population.   This is a project-based learning unit where students will collaborate in groups to present their work in a final presentation. By the end of the unit, students can explain that the biodiversity of the populations is determined by both abiotic and biotic factors.  Students will able to explain how the human activity may have negative effects on the biodiversity of an ecosystem.  

Chemistry A has been developed through a collaboration of science teachers across the district. The curriculum has been designed for students to develop their scientific practices as well as learn Chemistry content. Students work collaboratively to develop their ability to argue using evidence, evaluate scientific data, and use scientific models.

Chemistry A includes 4 units: Atomic Structure, Ionic Bonding and Conductivity, Covalent Bonding and Intermolecular Forces, and Nuclear Science. Each unit is grounded in a Phenomenon that students work to explain using the evidence they collect throughout the unit. Chemistry A builds continues to build foundation for the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP). Primarily this curriculum aids in preparing students to argue using evidence, construct explanations, and analyze and interpret data. Although students don’t develop models as much as in Physics A, they will use well established models to support ideas.

Atomic Structure: Students start by observing the different colors in fireworks and develop questions about where they come from. To explain this phenomenon, they start by exploring the basic structure of atoms. The focus is then brought to the electron/proton interaction and the forces between them. As they collect evidence, they discover the movement of electrons and how it relates to light. Students can then use their models to explain where the different colors of light come from.

Ionic Bonding and Conductivity: Students start by reading an article about the dangers of using your cell phone in the bathtub and the risk of electrocution. To explain this phenomenon, they start by exploring which substance can dissolve and conduct. They then connect this evidence to types of bonds. The focus shifts toward Ionic Bonding and it’s relationship to electricity. After exploring how ions behave in a current, they can then use all the evidence to argue for how electricity travels in water and the necessary requirements. They then apply this to how using your cell phone in the bath could be dangerous.

Covalent Bonding and Intermolecular Forces: Students start by observing what happens when frozen food is fried. They make observations of the behavior and sound of the objects. To explore where the popping is coming from, students start by exploring thermal energy and phase change of different substances. They then apply this evidence to electronegativity and covalent bonding. As they explore the characteristics of covalently bonded substances, they can then explain how oil and water differ. They then use this understanding to explain why frying food leads to popping and could be dangerous.

Nuclear Sciences: Students start by exploring the benefits and dangers of Nuclear Sciences. Throughout the unit, students will develop a pro/con argument about the use of Nuclear Sciences for society. Students start by exploring radioactivity and stability of elements as a foundational understanding. They then explore different forms of nuclear change. With each type of nuclear change, they explore how it is used to benefit society as well as how it can be dangerous. Students explore these forms of nuclear change: radioactivity, fission, fusion, alpha decay, beta decay, and half-life. The unit ends with a seminar discussion where students use the evidence they’ve compiled to argue either for or against the pursuit of Nuclear Sciences.

This second semester Chemistry course focuses on developing scientific models and mathematical explanations for chemistry principles. In each unit students will have the opportunity to observe experiments, make sense of results, come to consensus based on evidence, and apply concepts to new scenarios.

The Mole unit introduces students to the use of the mole as a unit of measurement which will form a baseline for the stoichiometry unit later in the course. During this unit, students are re-introduced to important concepts from Chemistry A, such as atoms and molecules, the periodic table and atomic mass, and connections between the macroscopic and molecular. In this unit, students investigate the anchoring phenomenon of the spiciness of peppers. Students are introduced to peppers of various heat and must gather evidence to support an explanation of this phenomenon.

In the Reaction Rates unit is for students gather evidence to understand the types of chemical reactions as well as what affects the rate at which a reaction occurs, including temperature and concentration. Students apply this to the scenario of a failing bridge to explain why steel might corrode at a faster rate than engineers anticipate. In this unit, students will investigate the anchoring phenomenon of why a bridge is failing and what factors are affecting how fast it is failing.

Within the Stoichiometry unit students gather evidence to understand how quantitative relationships and proportionality is used to determine the number of products and reactants that are produced or needed in any given reaction. In this unit, students will use their skills and understanding of stoichiometry to determine the amount of products and reactants needed for designing an airbag that will protect a crashing egg. Unlike other unit storylines, this unit does not focus on students using their conceptual learning and understanding to provide a gapless explanation for a real-world phenomenon. Students will experience firsthand how stoichiometry is vital to controlling everyday reactions in the world around them through a series of activities and labs.

Our Physics curriculum is called PEER (Physics through Evidence, Empowerment through Reasoning), developed by the University of Colorado Boulder. PEER is an innovative, student-centered physics curriculum that is designed to engage students in scientific reasoning and follows a guided scientific model-building approach. PEER Physics is based on design principles drawn from sociocultural and cognitive research that allow classrooms to become inclusive learning environments where students develop, share, critique, argue, and revise evidence-based ideas.

Physics A includes 3 units: Charge, Magnetism, and Waves. Physics A is the first course students take in high school sciences. As such, Physics A builds a solid foundation for the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP). The PEER curriculum does an incredible job giving students practice with almost all the SEPs. Primarily this curriculum aids in preparing students to develop models, argue using evidence, construct explanations, and analyze and interpret data. This curriculum gives students a deep understanding of how we model charge, magnetism, and waves.

Charge: Students explore how getting back into your car could lead to a spark and an explosion at the gas pump. They start by exploring what static electricity is and how we can model different charges. As they build on their understanding, they develop their model of static electricity to fully explain how getting into the car can lead to a spark. After exploring this phenomenon, students jump into circuits to explore the algebraic relationships involved in the flow of electricity through a circuit.

Magnetism: Students start by looking at reviews for a magnetic thermometer that happens to stop sticking to a pot. To explain this phenomenon, they first develop their understanding of the properties of magnets. As they collect evidence, they develop the Domain Model of Magnetism to explain how objects can be magnetized or demagnetized. Students discover this model piece by piece to explain how this thermometer could stop sticking.

Waves: Students develop an understanding of wave properties for sound first. They explore what amplitude and frequency are and how they affect sound. Students will then transition into comparing sound and light waves. Finally, they explore the properties of light and the electromagnetic spectrum.



Our Physics curriculum is called PEER (Physics through Evidence, Empowerment through Reasoning), developed by the University of Colorado Boulder. PEER is an innovative, student-centered physics curriculum that is designed to engage students in scientific reasoning and follows a guided scientific model-building approach. PEER Physics is based on design principles drawn from sociocultural and cognitive research that allow classrooms to become inclusive learning environments where students develop, share, critique, argue, and revise evidence-based ideas.