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The Urban School
of San Francisco
1563 Page Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
415 626 2919

2017-18 Science Course Descriptions

Although two years of integrated science constitute the Urban science requirement, the Science Department advises in addition one-half credit of physics and one-half credit in an elective course to be essential to a well-rounded college preparatory program.
Urban Advanced Studies (UAS) science classes lay the groundwork for our students to succeed in college classes intended for science majors. These courses require independent inquiry and capacity for a high volume of work at a faster pace. Students are expected to acquire foundational knowledge and learn concepts and skills via self-study (including textbook and other readings and resources), reserving class time for deeper inquiry and problem solving. Topics are often open-ended, requiring students to apply and transfer concepts to new and challenging contexts. Accordingly, labs often introduce new content instead of reinforcing material that was previously taught. In many classes, topics are treated more quantitatively, and students are expected to read and accurately interpret primary scientific sources.

Required Courses

Fundamentals of Science 1A and 1B welcomes all ninth graders to lab science at Urban. This integrated course lays down the mathematical, physical, chemical and biological foundations of the natural world. Students are introduced to problem solving, experimental design, data gathering and analysis. Though students enter this course with varied experience in science, this two-term sequence gives students the necessary knowledge and skills for success in later classes. The first term takes an in-depth look at matter, the physics of energy and chemical reactions. Picking up from this point, the second term of this sequence focuses on chemical bonding, molecular structure and properties, and the fundamentals of cellular life. (1 credit)
Fundamentals of Science 2A and 2B continues the sequence begun in the first year with a greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, both in the laboratory and in analyzing academic problems. More is expected of students, in terms of their level of critical thinking, laboratory fluency and tenacity in grappling with challenging concepts. Major topics in 2A include genetics, heredity, evolution and comparative anatomy. The topics in 2B include a review of atomic structure and chemical naming, stoichiometry, gas laws, equilibrium, and acids and bases. In both classes, the scientific concepts are connected to real-world issues and concerns. (1 credit)

Elective Courses

Applied Physics: Electronics & Robotics is a project-based course that applies the fundamental concepts of analog and digital circuits to a variety of devices ranging from simple to complex. Students learn to create circuits, write and debug code for microprocessors, and design interactive electronics. Along the way, they will develop an understanding of modern electronic hardware and software and how it functions in computers, robots and electronic devices. Students will gain hands-on experience assembling breadboard circuits, soldering and programming in Arduino. A significant portion of this course is a final project, where students design and build an interactive electronic creation of their choice using acquired skills and knowledge. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B. (1/2 credit)

Applied Physics: Motion & Machines is a project-based course that explores some of the most fundamental aspects of physics, including forces, gravity and energy. Students learn how to describe 1D and 2D motion and then explore the causes of motion. Students study concepts of velocity, acceleration, and aerodynamics and apply them to experimental observations. They also learn to use various hand and power tools to build projects that become increasingly more complex and more open-ended as the term progresses. In a culminating final project, students construct a catapult, trebuchet or other projectile launcher designed to answer a research question of their choice. The course spends considerable time relating concepts to student observations of the world around us. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B. (1/2 credit)

Geology is a field course that introduces students to the causes and effects of different earth processes. Students will study plate tectonics and earthquakes, the rock cycle and surficial geology. These topics and their connections will be modeled and measured both in the field and in lab. In studying these topics, students will apply their prior chemistry and biology knowledge, and will also gain experience in mapping and field interpretation. Field trips are fundamental to this class: by seeing and interpreting the geology of the Bay Area, students also learn about broader geologic themes. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B (1/2 credit)

Entomology: Bugs & Biodiversity
is the study of insects and their relatives, and this class will introduce students to a wide variety of topics regarding this diverse group of living things. Numerous field trips will teach students how to identify commonly encountered insects in the Bay Area, and learn about their ecological roles. Students will also study insect anatomy and physiology, classification and evolution, behavior, and applied entomology (including medical entomology and pest management/agricultural entomology). The history of human interactions with insects will also be covered, such as the effects of black plague, malaria, locust swarms, honeybee domestication and bedbugs. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B. (1/2 Credit)

Human Anatomy and Physiology
is an in-depth study of the design and function of the human body that gives students the knowledge and tools to understand how the human body operates in health and disease. The primary emphasis will be organ systems, and students will enjoy the opportunity to be the subjects of several laboratory exercises. This course will focus primarily on the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Within these broader topics, we will investigate the fundamental mechanisms that regulate homeostasis. In addition, students will explore various interruptions in homeostasis caused by diet and exercise, lifestyle, diseases, infections and environmental agents. Coursework will include laboratory exercises, supplemental readings, case studies, interesting field trips, collaborative group work and student presentations. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B (1/2 credit)

Marine Biology is a field course that examines a wide variety of life forms inhabiting the oceans and their adaptations to specific habitats. Focusing on coastal California ecosystems, students will gain an appreciation for the abundance and diversity of marine life and complex food web relationships. The course will provide a brief introduction to the circulation and structure of the ocean, but the primary emphasis will be on ecological relationships among species. Students consider human impacts, particularly overfishing, on the marine environment throughout the course. The course emphasizes application of scientific methods in various field studies along the northern California coast. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B (1/2 credit)

UAS Advanced Biology: Infectious Disease explores various aspects of immunology, microbiology, epidemiology, global public health and disease ecology in order to identify the root causes that affect the detection, transmission and treatment of communicable diseases. The course includes an in-depth investigation of the human immune system and its ability to respond to a variety of pathogenic agents. Students will also categorize pathogens (viral, bacterial, protozoan, fungal) and explain how they disrupt the body’s ability to maintain health and homeostasis. In the process of studying bacterial infections, students will learn microbiological techniques, from culturing to microscopy, in addition to molecular and genetic analysis. The course develops a global perspective of infectious disease through the investigation of emerging and re-emerging disease and the environmental and ecological components involved. Specific topics for investigation may include: tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, MRSA, dengue fever, bubonic plague, cholera and HIV. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B and instructor recommendation. (1/2 credit)

UAS Advanced Biology: Genetics
 offers students an in-depth look into one of the most exciting and rapidly expanding fields of biology. The course encompasses learning about complex modes of inheritance, as well as performing cutting-edge labs that offer students a chance to master practical techniques widely used in research today. We begin first by exploring the structure and function of DNA, and how its replication and maintenance are crucial to maintaining our genetic database. This sequence is followed by learning about phylogenetic analysis, the genetic basis of common diseases, human evolution and population genetics, how genes influence behavior, the genetics of cancer, and methods used in genetic engineering. Illustrative labs and activities accompany each unit. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B and instructor recommendation. (1/2 credit)

UAS Advanced Chemistry A and B aims to give students a high level of understanding and competency in chemistry at an advanced pace. The content and laboratory sequence is roughly equivalent to a general chemistry course usually taken during the first year of college. Students will develop a deeper ability to think analytically and conceptually, expressing their ideas in writing and problem solving. Students will delve into topics studied in previous classes, and will also explore new topics including thermodynamics, quantum theory, advanced topics of equilibrium and electrochemistry. Advanced Chemistry is a fast-paced class requiring an active interest in chemistry, previous success with chemistry topics, and a willingness to work hard. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B, Math 3B and instructor recommendation. (1 credit)

UAS Advanced Chemistry C: Environmental Chemistry is a culmination of the advanced chemistry sequence where students apply concepts and knowledge to real world problems and scenarios. These include environmental chemistry topics like atmospheric chemistry, local air pollutants, stratospheric ozone depletion and global climate change. Along the way, students also encounter chemical engineering and materials science topics like reactor design, photovoltaic solar cells, biofuels and nanotechnology. This course emphasizes student projects and real world solutions. Students are expected to perform independent research, design experiments, and engineer devices throughout the term, culminating in a final research project of their own choice. Prerequisites: Advanced Chemistry A and B. (1/2 credit)

UAS Environmental Science: Physical Resources
explores the complex relationships between humans and their environment. Recurring themes include interconnection of the systems that constitute our environment, material and energy cycling, and the question of what is sustainable. Specific topics include water resources, energy sources, local and global air pollution and global climate change. This class involves a field component, augmented by in-class labs and modeled simulations. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B and instructor recommendation. (1/2 credit)

UAS Advanced Physics: Mechanics
is an in-depth exploration of some fundamental topics in classical mechanics. The class begins by learning a language to precisely describe motion and solving equations predicting the motions of objects in one and two dimensions. Then students study Newton’s laws of forces and motion, and see how they can be applied to the real world. Various types of forces are discussed, and then the special case of centripetal force and circular motion is investigated. The class ends with an exploration of the fundamental ideas behind conservation of energy, and its relevance to motion and broader contexts. As an advanced class, Mechanics demands strong mathematical problem solving skills and abstract conceptual reasoning. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B, Math 3B and instructor recommendation (1/2 credit)

UAS Advanced Physics: Electricity & Magnetism builds on some of the major themes and skills of Mechanics, applying them to topics of electricity and magnetism. We begin the course by developing concepts of electrical charge, force and field through the study of static electricity and learn to apply those concepts to more common and useful examples with electrical current. Magnetism, especially as it relates to electrical current, is then explored and developed. Although the topics are abstract and difficult to imagine, many demonstrations and experiments help to make them tangible and relevant to real-life applications. Prerequisites: UAS Advanced Physics: Mechanics and instructor recommendation; Math 3B (1/2 credit)
UAS Advanced Physics: Waves & Light continues to develop major themes and concepts from prior physics coursework. New topics include simple harmonic motion, sound waves, physics of music, electromagnetic waves, light and optics. The study of light also leads to a survey of modern physics, including quantum mechanics, high-energy physics and relativity. Students in this class will continue to investigate both abstract physics concepts and real-world applications. A significant amount of time is dedicated to experimental and procedural design, so that students become more adept in laboratory situations. Throughout the term, the science is linked to specific technologies and real-world situations. Completing all three terms of the UAS Physics sequence prepares students well for the SAT Physics subject test. Prerequisites: Successful completion of UAS Advanced Physics: Mechanics and instructor recommendation. (1/2 credit)

Bay Area BlendEd Consortium Courses
(click here for a complete listing of BlendEd Courses for fall and spring semesters)

FALL 2017

Climate Change: From Science to Action  Some scientists and politicians have identified climate change as the single greatest issue that humans will grapple with in our lifetimes. We’ll study scientific principles that govern our earth’s atmosphere, see how humans are affecting earth’s energy balance, and explore how human-caused changes will likely affect earth systems in the future. In addition to thoroughly studying the science behind climate change, we will look at an how economists respond to global warming and offer strategies to address climate change. Similarly, we’ll examine political proposals to address climate change, on a local, national, and global level. We will interview people in the governmental, energy, and non-profit world to see how the approach the problem from different perspectives. Prerequisites: Successful completion of one full year of introductory chemistry. (1/2 credit)

 This is a Trimester-Length Concentrated Course:  8/29/2017 - 11/20/2017 (12 weeks)

Seismic Studies and Earthquake Engineering Why does anyone live in the Bay Area when there is the threat of an earthquake at any moment? This course will focus on geology, specifically the geology that surrounds the Bay Area, and our continued attempts to engineer structures that will withstand the earthquakes and tsunamis pervasive in our little section of this dynamic planet.  We will start with an introduction of geologic processes and tectonics, and continue into the specific stresses that create earthquakes and tsunamis.  We will build upon studies of how earthquakes affect buildings, and research how to engineer the most stable structures by testing our own designs, including a design competition.  We will learn how the building codes and seismic retrofitting that attempt to make the Bay Area safely habitable provide support to constructions even in the face of earthquakes and tsunamis.  Finally, we will investigate some of the most destructive earthquakes in the world and how to avoid a recurrence from an engineering perspective.  Face to face meetings will include a shake table construction challenge, a field trip along the Hayward fault with a Bay Area geologist, and an interview with a structural engineer. (1/2 credit)

Bay Area Field Ecology This course focuses on using ecological field tools and journaling to explore one’s “backyard ecosystem.” During the semester students will have the opportunity to research in depth their own backyard environment.  Students will be supplied with a kit which contains tools that they will use throughout the semester to study bay area ecology.  The course will focus on journaling and documentation to demonstrate growth in the field.  Participants in this course will document their weekly studies through inaturalist observations and field journal entries.  Students who like the outdoors and/or want to know more about the biodiversity of the San Francisco bay area should strongly consider this course.  All students will also complete an individual field service project that relates to an area they are interested in. During our face-to-face meetings students will work with scientists and naturalists and learn instrumentation and methodology for field study and practice it in a field setting.  Students will have the opportunity to present an interpretive talk during one of our face-to-face trips on a topic or species that interest them.  The class meets every other week during mutually agreed upon times (typically evenings 8:30 to 9:15 pm) through ZOOM (virtual) meetings to check in, build community and share work.  This course culminates with a certification field practical that tests students’ growth in the field of bay area ecology and naturalists skills.  This course is well suited for students who are self motivated, interested in ecology, journaling and who want to spend more time outside! Students should expect to spend 2 hours a week outside for this course and 1.5 to 2 hours indoors reading, analyzing and sharing data. (60 second promo of course here) (Click here to see class meeting details).


Introduction to Organic Chemistry This introductory survey course will cover organic chemistry and relevant biochemistry. The cast of organic compounds is a virtual who’s who of chemicals, including foods, medicines, drugs, and cellular components. Their compositions and structures determine how they perform their functions. The course will cover the chemistry of carbon, functional groups, hydrocarbons, determining molecular structure via a variety of lab techniques, reaction mechanisms, and biochemicals. Organic chemistry is considered to be one of college’s most challenging and difficult science courses, and one aim of this course is to at least partially allay these notions prior to attending college. Students will work both individually and collaboratively on homework, problem sets, and projects. Molecular modeling will be emphasized. During our face-to-face sessions, we will work collaboratively doing experiments, solving problems, making animations of chemical mechanisms, and educating one another via presentations about specific chemicals at a culminating event. Regular online meetings will take place as virtual classes. Prerequisites: Successful completion of a high school chemistry course. (1/2 credit)

California Coastal Oceanography Description TBA

Offered in Alternate Years

Astronomy offers a survey of our universe, starting from the solar system and moving outward. Through fieldwork, classwork, labs and projects, students will investigate fundamental questions from both a historical and contemporary perspective. Where did planets and stars come from? Why do objects in the sky move as they do? How do stars and galaxies shine? How does the universe change over time? Could life exist elsewhere? And, vitally, how do we know what we know? Students in astronomy should be prepared to collect night sky observations, complete independent readings, analyze data, model simulations, apply concepts from prior science classes, and utilize conceptual problem solving skills. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B. (1/2 Credit)

UAS Environmental Science: Ecology introduces students to the principal concepts and processes that operate in ecological systems. Beginning with simple interactions between water, the atmosphere, and basic life processes (respiration and photosynthesis), the course develops a dynamic view of ecosystems, covering the principles of energy flow and the cycling of matter, population dynamics, trophic interactions, ecological networks and community change. Throughout the course students consider human impacts on these global processes and environmental change. Both lab and fieldwork will provide opportunities for students to investigate these concepts and processes in-depth – students will gain experience in experimental design and statistical interpretation of data. Prerequisites: Science 2A and 2B and instructor recommendation. (1/2 credit)

Applied Chemistry: Materials Science is a project-based course that uses the fundamental concepts of chemical bonding and electromagnetism to understand solid state materials. Through study of real world applications of those materials, students will learn to analyze metals, ceramics, and plastics. Emphasis will be placed on students’ ability to relate micro- and nano-structural features to macro-scale properties, such as corrosion resistance, strength, thermal response, and light absorption. Students will use also their understanding to engineer a solution to a practical materials selection problem. Prerequisites: Science 2B


The Urban School curriculum provides an exceptionally strong foundation in college preparatory subjects. Many of our classes have distinctive features that set them apart as particularly challenging and comparable to college level work. These classes, designated as UAS (Urban Advanced Studies), are developed by the Urban faculty and comprise the school's most rigorous coursework. UAS classes are offered in every subject area and most are recognized by colleges (including the University of California) as honors level courses. Many Urban students choose to take Advanced Placement subject exams after taking these courses.

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