Urban’s science program offers a rigorous and experiential introduction to the key concepts and skills needed to understand phenomena in the natural world. With weekly labs, Urban students formulate testable questions, design experiments, analyze data and present their results. Labs, field trips and special projects often anchor an academic unit or an entire course. By participating firsthand in authentic investigations, students gain the ability to evaluate scientific claims critically, both in high school and beyond.
All Urban students take the same core integrated 9th and 10th grade classes, uncovering the connections between physics, chemistry, and biology. During Junior and Senior years, students may choose from a wide variety of science electives based on their interests. These include challenging UAS courses, field-based courses that use the Bay Area as their classroom, and project-based UrbanX Labs courses that allow students to engineer their own creations.
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.
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)
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
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)
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)
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 and bioinformatics activities 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, such as CRISPR. 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 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)
UAS Advanced Physics: Mechanics is an in-depth exploration of some fundamental topics in classical mechanics. The class begins by using equations to precisely describe the motion 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. Students investigate circular motion, gravity, and the conservation of energy, both in the context of motion and in broader systems. At the end of the course, students take a flying trapeze lesson, gather data, and analyze the physics of their flight. 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. In a culminating project, students apply principles to build and electromagnetic device of their choice. 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
Introduction to Psychology
This class will survey the evolution of psychology from psychodynamic theory to contemporary socio-cultural psychology. We will examine how the study of human development has progressed through time. Students will gain knowledge in human behaviors through introduction to basic concepts and theories in psychology. Students will also reflect on how human development might be culturally defined: from Freud’s psychoanalysis theory to today’s rising interest in multicultural psychology, how important is family, education or environment to our development and mental health? Together, we will conduct basic experiments to illustrate our theories, conduct simple field work and engage in conversations with professionals who will share their experiences with us. Students will also keep a journal in which they will reflect on observations of their environment and how it affects them. This class will be project-based, with a final paper reflecting on experiences and observations. (½ credit)
Public Health and Vulnerable Populations
The San Francisco Bay Area is rapidly becoming one of the most inequitable places to live in the nation. Taking a casual BART ride can reveal the environmental disparities that exist between places like the affluent suburb of Pleasanton and an industrialized community like West Oakland. The lack of income and environmental equality is obvious, but the disparities run much deeper. A short ride between BART stations can mean an 11-year difference in life expectancy. Folks getting off the train and living in neighborhoods near BART’s Walnut Creek station live on average 84 years, while folks that exit at and live near the Oakland City Center station live on average only 73 years. In other words, living just 16 miles apart can mean the difference between living more than a decade longer. Why does such a health disparity exist? This course will dissect the factors that influence this social gradient of health. During our face-to-face sessions we will go on a toxic tour of a Bay Area neighborhood, meet with environmental and social justice advocates, participate in habitat restoration activities, and create media to educate the general public about social and environmental inequities. (½ credit)
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 pervasive in our little section of this dynamic planet. We will start with an introduction of the earth and rocks, geologic processes, and tectonics. We then continue into the specific characteristics, stresses, and measuring and reporting tools that are associated with earthquakes. We will deepen our understanding by building and experimenting with hands-on models to show how earthquakes and waves affect structures, and research how to engineer the most stable structures. We will investigate some of the most destructive earthquakes in the world to learn how they have propelled our understanding of the building codes and seismic retrofitting that attempt to make the Bay Area and other earthquake-prone areas safely habitable stabilize buildings. Face-to-face meetings include a geologic study of maps and plate boundaries, a field trip along the San Andreas or Hayward fault, interviews with engineers, and finally, a design competition to test how well student-built towers hold up on an earthquake shaking table. (½ credit)
California Coastal Oceanography
“How inappropriate to call this planet 'Earth' when it is clearly 'Ocean'.” -- Arthur C. Clarke
The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface and contains 97 percent of the planet's water, yet more than 95 percent of the underwater world remains unexplored. The ocean is home to more than one million species and plays an integral role in many of the Earth's systems, including climate and weather. Oceanography involves the study of the entire ocean, from the shallow coastal areas to the deepest trenches.
California Coastal Oceanography is designed to present an integrated overview of the principles and concepts of the geology, chemistry, physics and biology of the California coastal environment. The course begins with a description of the Pacific Ocean Basin and the mechanism of its evolution. Next, the chemical properties of seawater and the role of the Pacific Ocean in elemental cycles, particularly the carbon cycle will be examined. The discussion of physical oceanography includes large-scale patterns such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, as well as, small-scale phenomena such as waves. The geology of the coastal ocean, beaches, and estuaries leads into a discussion of the ocean’s major communities and the biotic and physical factors structuring them. The course emphasizes critical thinking, scientific processes and interrelationships among disciplines. It does not include cuddling with sea otters or swimming with dolphins. Students are expected to be self-motivated, able to comprehend and analyze scientific papers, collaborate on numerous project-based assignments, and complete a significant amount of independent work. The ability to commit to field trips and fieldwork are required for this course. 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. This course is well suited for students who are self motivated, interested in the marine sciences, field and lab work, and who want to spend more time outside!
The class meets every other week during mutually agreed upon times (typically evenings 8:30 - 9:15 pm) through Zoom (virtual) meetings to check in, build community and share work. California Coastal Oceanography will end the year with a culminating project that is designed to assess student depth of knowledge and sustained mastery of subject material. This project will join two scientific disciplines (e.g., environmental science and oceanography) together to demonstrate how closely coastal ocean health is linked to land use and upstream pollution. Students will have the freedom to design a project that will investigate an aspect of water quality and the implications of fecal pathogen pollution on ecosystems and human health. They will develop novel hypotheses using background research and critical thinking. Once data are collected, students will add their findings to a large statewide database that public health managers and the Regional Water Quality Control Board can use to regulate recreational waters.
The following face-to-face outings are required and integral to your success in this course:
Overnight to Point Reyes National Seashore
Blue Water Task Force Water Sampling
Derek M. Baylis Research Cruise - San Francisco Bay
Fitzgerald Marine Reserve Tidepooling
The Marine Mammal Center Tour and Necropsy
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. (½ credit)
Courses Offered in Alternate Years
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)
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)