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The science department fosters enthusiasm and confidence in the sciences, prepares students for a college-level science curriculum and graduates scientifically literate women. Its ultimate goal is to provide a strong foundation in the three core sciences: physics (freshman year), biology (sophomore year), and chemistry (junior year), with interesting electives in senior year.

Our curriculum is designed to follow the students’ progression in mathematics, and each girl is expected to explain scientific phenomena in both written essays and discussions. We also encourage the application of creativity through project-based assessments. Whether or not she chooses science as her ultimate career path, we believe that every girl can “do science.” We strive to foster an atmosphere of respect, confidence, and leadership through classroom discussions, group assignments, and laboratory work.

Our core sequence provides:

  • progression of difficulty of material
  • scaffolded independence in learning

Laboratory based core courses provide:

  • hands-on science
  • application to class lectures
  • proficiency in problem-solving

Student-teacher interactions provide:

  • the opportunity for students to ask questions
  • connections of course content to daily experiences

Senior electives provide:

  • experience in college-level material
  • more specificity of interesting topics
  • opportunities to expand upon science skills learned in the core sequence

Departmental Requirement: 3 years of a lab science and a fourth year in either math or science.

Science Department Chair
Joanie Wienckowski

Course Descriptions

Each of the core courses are heavily laboratory-based, where topics currently being covered in the class are applied in hands-on experiments. Students gain key laboratory skills necessary to perform more advanced college-level labs in the future.

The Honors-level Biology and Chemistry courses are designed so that students will be prepared to take the SAT II subject tests in those topics at the end of the year. The topics in Honors-level courses are covered in greater detail, and students are expected to do more analytical work in both the classroom and lab. Additionally, the Honors-level courses are more writing intensive. Note: Honors-level courses are not prerequisites for AP science courses.

Introduction to Physics

This yearlong course provides the hands-on observations, outcome predictions, and practical applications particularly needed for upper-level science courses. Topics such as the behavior of light, waves, and the fundamentals of motion are taught with a strong laboratory emphasis and an increasing level of quantitative analysis. The application of concepts is emphasized to enhance student understanding of the principles underlying physics.

Biology and Honors Biology

Biology is the study of life, including cells, genetics, organisms, and ecology. This yearlong course places demands upon time-management and study skills as well as upon intellect. Students are called upon not only to understand and appreciate biodiversity, but also to think about current events and the application of what they learn to their lives outside the classroom. Laboratory work, with an emphasis on observation and communication skills is a vital component of this course.

Chemistry and Honors Chemistry

Chemistry includes the study of atomic structure, chemical formulas and equations, phase changes, moles, kinetics and equilibrium, and an introduction to organic chemistry and radioactivity. Mathematical calculations are a part of every topic. In addition to general content, this yearlong course emphasizes laboratory work in order to ensure that every student is confident and competent in a laboratory setting.

AP Biology

AP biology is a yearlong college-level course designed to prepare students for the AP Biology exam as well as for upper-level college courses in biology. The range and depth of topics are extensive, as is the laboratory experience. The major topics covered include evolution, cellular biology, genetics, organismal biology, and ecology. This course is fast-paced, and is both reading- and writing-intensive. This course is designed to be taken by students after successful completion of biology and chemistry.

AP Chemistry

AP chemistry is a yearlong college-level course that prepares students for the AP chemistry exam as well as for upper-level college courses in chemistry. This course covers a wide-range of topics and has an intense quantitative aspect. Students complete an extensive set of laboratory experiments. The major topics covered include atomic structure, chemical reactions, thermodynamics, and kinetics and equilibrium. This course is designed to be taken by students after successful completion of chemistry.

AP Physics C (Mechanics)

This yearlong calculus-based physics curriculum is similar to the material covered in a first-semester college physics course. Topics include motion, momentum, energy, and simple oscillations. Students take the AP Physics C (Mechanics) exam and are prepared for upper-level college physics courses. Because calculus is used in formulating principles and solving problems, students should be taking calculus concurrently.

Please note that enrollment in AP courses is by teacher recommendation only. Students are expected to meet grade requirements in prerequisite courses (at least a B+ in Honors courses and an A in non-Honors courses) and display a history of strong work ethic for consideration.


Including current electives, though not all elective courses are offered each year or trimester. Electives can be mixed and taken one trimester at a time.

Students may also enroll in additional electives and AP's offered through SEM's membership in the Online School for Girls.


These trimester courses involve the anatomy and physiology of specific body systems, including the disorders that occur when the body is not functioning properly.

Infection & Immunity

This trimester course will cover the immune system and how it works to fight infections. The class will discuss different types of infections and how the various aspects of the immune system fight off invaders. Specific topics will include allergies, autoimmune disorders, and numerous infectious diseases, such as influenza, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV.

Internal Medicine

This trimester course will cover several of the major body systems, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems. These systems will be studied individually and in coordination with each other. Specific topics will include blood typing, the effects of smoking, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, and numerous other disorders of each body system.


This trimester course will cover the movement of the body, specifically the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. The class will study the development and function of these body systems, as well as their integrated functions. Specific topics will include osteoporosis, knee replacement, athletic injuries, muscular dystrophy, and forensic science.


This trimester course will cover the control of the body, specifically the nervous system and the senses. This class will study the structure and function of the peripheral and central nervous systems, as well as the interaction of the five senses. Specific topics will include experimental testing of the senses, learning and memory, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, vision correction, and auditory disorders.


These trimester courses include topics encompassing our own solar system, as well as the wider universe.

Solar System

Students will explore how the universe affects Earth (lunar phases, eclipses, seasons, tides, comets and meteor showers) and how our view of the universe has changed with time. We end the trimester by discussing humans in space—our journey to the Moon and our exploration of Mars, in the hopes of going there someday. Projects for this course include planning a human mission to Mars.

Space Missions and Aliens

The sky is filled with artificial satellites—some launched from Earth and maybe someday, some originating from other worlds. We learn about the history of our exploration of the solar system and about the space telescopes that fly above Earth’s atmosphere, taking the most amazing pictures. Some of these pictures show us other planets like Earth, revolving around other stars. Which planets might be home to intelligent life?

Stars and Galaxies

Students will explore the night sky and take a closer look at the various stars and galaxies that inhabit it by examining the only information we get from these objects: light. We end the trimester by looking back in time to the Big Bang and ahead in time to the…?


Environmental Studies

(E5: Earth, Ecosystems, Endangered, Extinct, and Exotic)

E5 examines the precarious relationships between the dynamic systems that make up the Earth and the biologically diverse populations living here, particularly focusing on endangered, extinct, and exotic organisms of our world and the effects of loss of biodiversity. Topics will include ecosystems, trophic levels and energy exchange, and conservation methods. This trimester class includes both lecture and hands-on activities, including simulation of biomes. The analysis and interpretation of data will be emphasized. Student assessment will be based on homework, tests, projects, and class participation.


Meteorology is a trimester course that provides students with an introduction to weather. It includes studying the makeup of and human impact on the atmosphere. Seasonality is investigated along with heat and radiation balance, temperature, humidity, and precipitation. Students will learn and be able to apply the five principles of meteorology. The motion of the atmosphere, atmospheric pressure and wind, air masses and fronts, and severe weather will be studied. An in-depth investigation into meteorological instrumentation, local weather, and synoptic forecasting will help the students survey jobs in this expanding field. All will be pulled together by investigations into the relationship between weather systems, technology, and humans. All lectures will be supported by in-class activities and laboratory investigations. Student assessments will include tests, projects, and class participation.


This trimester course will answer the questions that our students have about the oceans that cover nearly 75% of the Earth. The course is an overview that investigates ocean exploration, marine biology, waves and tides, plate tectonics, and the impact of humans on the oceans. A major project in the course is the assembly and maintenance of a saltwater aquarium. Class will be conducted using lectures, hands-on-activities, and discussions which will use the tank and all of its components as a platform from which the class will learn the topics from the list above. Other activities, such as simulations of wave actions and a simulated oil spill, will be conducted, and analysis and interpretation of data will be emphasized. Assessment of student understanding will include tests, quizzes, projects, essays, and class participation.


Medicinal Chemistry

This course will cover a very basic, introductory level of medicinal chemistry. This course will focus on qualitative information over quantitative information. It will include a brief review of introductory organic chemistry, and then cover three main topics relating to medicinal chemistry: sources and development of drugs (including a research project component), drug structure and biological activity, and the fate of drugs in the body.

Organic Chemistry

This trimester course is designed to gain an understanding of the chemistry of living things, including the human body. The topics in this class will build on the introduction provided in Chemistry. Organic reactions such as combustion and polymerization will also be explored. Students will construct simple organic compounds in the laboratory and will learn the basic fundamentals of drug design and pharmacology.


Forensic Science

This trimester course will cover studying the technique of observing, collecting, and analyzing evidence from the past, and how to interpret that information. The tools of forensic science can apply to uncovering information about crime scenes, in addition to other fields such as astronomy, geology, and archaeology.

Scientist For Life

As future decision-makers, SEM graduates should have the ability to collect information and develop an informed opinion on any topic. In this yearlong course, students choose five or six science-related topics of current significance and collaborate on a quest for information - they determine the questions that must be asked, and then find the answers. Topics previously covered include forensics, climate change, alternative energy, nutrition, and infectious disease. Class participation is vital to this course, both in the class and in online discussions, and assessment for this course is project-based.

Women in Science & Math Who Changed History

Students will explore a variety of fields in science and math as we build a timeline of scientific contributions from women in this blended learning course.

Next, we will examine the historical context which enabled these women to make their discoveries. Finally, we will look at current trends of women in various science and math fields, culminating in groups of students creating a plan to help increase gender parity in math and science fields.

This is a project-based class; in addition to the timeline, there will be several small and two large projects with a mix of individual contributions and group efforts. As this course only meets for two short periods per cycle, students will be expected to complete work and participate in various forums outside of class.