Integrated Science

Developed by members of the Upper School Science Department, the Integrated Science Program incorporates aspects of chemistry, biology and physics into each of Key's required science classes in lieu of teaching them separately. Through purposeful integration, the meaning and relevance of abstract topics become evident because students apply their learning as they explore topics traditionally found in other disciplines.

In one of many examples, Key’s Integrated Science Program enables students to immediately apply what they learn about the force of collisions (previously learned in ninth grade Conceptual Physics) to understand the behavior of gases (previously studied as gas laws in tenth grade Chemistry).

While a common teaching practice internationally, Integrated Science has been embraced by forward-thinking schools and colleges in the United States including Princeton University, Greenwich, CT, Public High School, and now, Key School.

Integrated Science Course Descriptions

9th Grade—Data

Through a series of explorations students experience various aspects of the scientific method, from making careful, specific and quantitative observations to thoughtful mathematical analysis. They learn how the scientific method leads to the formation of hypotheses and theories.

One of the early steps in the scientific process is observation. Students learn the difference between observation, inference and expectations by observing a series of objects at a variety of scales. For example, the way a leaf looks very different from 2 meters away is very different from how it looks under a dissecting microscope.

When designing an experiment, a scientist must learn how to narrowly define a question, determine the experimental variable, and determine what factors must be controlled. Students gain experience with these aspects of the scientific method as they design experiments to test factors that might influence the rate of a chemical reaction.

In the next phase of the course, students gather quantitative observations about position, velocity and acceleration. Using graphs and equations, they derive Newton’s laws of motion. Using similar techniques, they look at the properties of gases and how pressure is a direct result of molecular motion and Newton’s laws at a molecular level.

Throughout the Integrated Science - Data course, students cultivate Brassica Rapa plants. They will plant, pollinate and cross breed their plants, keeping careful track of the occurrence of a series of traits, and come to appreciate long-term experimentation. They eventually analyse the data to rediscover Mendel’s laws of heredity.

As they encounter examples of co-dominance and incomplete dominance they confront the limitations of simple models and see the need for continuous refinement of scientific theory. A theory on the pattern of gene movement begs the question of what are genes. Students will answer that question through a historical study of the experiments that have established DNA as the genetic material. Finally, they look at microscope slides of mitosis and meiosis to understand how that genetic material moves as cells divide.

Just as incomplete dominance seems to violate Mendel’s laws, so the elliptical path of planets seems to violate Newton’s laws of motion. Of course, the apparent contradiction leads to a deeper understanding of matter and the theory of gravity, the last topic of the year.

Again, students will gather data and derive, through their experiments, the equations and constants Newton developed in the 17th century. Those equations will be the basis of the first unit in the sophomore course, Energy

10th Grade—Energy

When hot metal is placed in cool water, the metal transfers its thermal energy to the water. When a bat hits a baseball, it transfers its kinetic energy to the ball. In this course, students explore the many ways in which energy is transferred in the processes that make our world and universe function.

After a study of gravitational potential energy and careful definition of energy and its units, the course turns its attention to electricity. Just as mechanical energy is stored when an object is lifted against gravity, so electrical energy can be stored as a separation or concentration of charge. Students experiment with circuits in parallel and in series and with resistors.

That understanding of electrostatic attraction opens the door for students to understand the fundamentals of atomic structure, particularly electron structure. Electron structure is reflected in the organization of the periodic table and understanding both allows students to predict what elements will react and which will not. The natural tendency for stability allows us to exploit oxidation-reduction reactions in batteries and explosives, forces us to counteract them in corrosion, and powers natural systems through cellular respiration.

As students come to understand the basic equations for cellular respiration and photosynthesis, they explore the cellular mechanisms for carrying out those processes. Particularly focusing on the different ways in which energy is stored and transferred, especially the creation of electrochemical gradients within the mitochondria and chloroplasts. They will also discover the crucial and limiting role that the molecule NAD plays in cellular respiration which will lead to a more general study of quantities in chemical reactions.

Of course the reactions of cellular respiration are not abstract principles; they are employed to do all kinds of work and much of that work happens in the cell. Students will learn the full range of structures and organelles that make up typical cells. Particular attention will be given to the machinery needed to make proteins, a process that, like many other cellular activities, consumes the energy produced during respiration. Moving from general cells to the specific functioning of muscle cells, students will see how energy is used to prepare the cell for action and how a muscle cell uses energy to contract. Further, they will learn how muscles contract and create forces, and how those forces can be unbalanced and create motion (Newton’s 2nd and 3rd laws).

Finally, students will study how energy moves through ecological systems. Why are there so many plants but so few lions? The reason seems to contradict all that we know about the conservation of energy, but actually reveals a deeper truth about the universe.

11th Grade—Systems

The final course in Key's integrated science program, Systems, examines dynamic systems and how they reach a steady state of equilibrium. Picking up discussions from the previous course Energy, students assess ecological systems and how the organisms competing for scarce resources find the balance to become an enduring system. They also study how disturbances in those systems will cause the organisms to evolve until a new equilibrium can be reached.

As part of the study of evolution, students revisit the structure of DNA, looking at how it replicates, how mistakes are made and corrected and the intermolecular forces involved in maintaining the distinctive helix of nucleic acids. Intermolecular forces also feature prominently in issues of solubility and membrane structure.

Students learn about simple harmonic motion, a physical representation of a system at equilibrium, and about acids and bases as examples of a chemical system in dynamic equilibrium. They also study cases of buffered solutions, and how the system changes in response to various inputs.

By junior year, students are qualified to enroll in Physics, Experimental Design, or Astronomy. As seniors, students are able to add Advanced Biology and Advanced Chemistry to their elective options. Students are also able to take AP exams in Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

Curricular Comparisons

See the scientific topics/principles taught in Key's Integrated Science Program and for a comparison with the traditional Physics First sequence.

Curricular Comparisons

Why Integrated Science?

Science is not three distinct disciplines, but rather a mosaic of interrelated topics that inform, support and enrich each other.

  • Researchers investigating how cells protect their genetic heritage by repairing DNA received the Nobel Prize in 2015. However, the prize was awarded not in biology, but rather in chemistry, and that designation highlights the arbitrary nature of the divisions found in science.
  • The electric current produced in batteries is the result of chemical reactions. Why is electricity traditionally taught in physics classes and the reactions in chemistry classes?
  • Cell membranes form spontaneously because of the solubility properties of the constituent molecules, yet in most high schools, solubility is discussed in chemistry courses while the cell membrane is an important part of biology courses.

Having the opportunity to learn sequentially about the interrelationships among scientific properties and topics through Key's Integrated Science program gives students a more meaningful learning experience. Additionally, by presenting the holistic picture of science, Key teachers are able to incorporate more iterative and experimental design and engineering projects throughout the courses than previously possible in the segmented curriculum.