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Life Science

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Prerequisites: Qualifying math score and completion of grade 5 math

Course Format: Individually paced

Course Length: Typically 3 months

Recommended School Credit: One-half academic year

Course Code: LIF

Course Description


CTY Online Programs’s middle school science series includes individually paced Life Science, Physical Science, and Earth and Space Science courses. Students who are interested in scientific inquiry, problem solving, and critical thinking are engaged through an award-winning, vibrant online environment with graphics, animations, video, real-time feedback, activities, projects, and tests. Students apply knowledge and reinforce concepts learned in the lessons with “real world” interactive applications that build critical thinking and reinforce skills. The content in the middle school science series correlates to state and national curriculum standards and draws on software provided by Edmentum.

Life Science explores the development, classification, and interaction between organisms. This course includes units on cells, the structure and functions of organs, classification and diversity, genetics and heredity, organisms and their environments, human health and reproduction, and change over time. Student progress is monitored through unit tests, comprehensive midterm and final exams, and one student project.

Materials Needed

There are no required materials for this course.

Detailed Course Information

Course Details

Cells: The Basis of Life Unit

What is Life?

How do we really know if something is alive? This course walks students through six characteristics of living things: they are made of cells, they perform complex chemical activities, they respond to their environment, they have an information system, they grow and develop, and they are capable of reproducing. Students will learn what it means to be alive while being introduced to the difference between unicellular and multicellular organisms, metabolism, response to stimulus, and the difference between sexual and asexual reproduction.

Biogenesis rather than spontaneous generation, and the tenets of Cell Theory are introduced and reinforced. Students apply their knowledge when they find themselves onboard a research submarine where they must help identify whether two different specimens could be alive based on their characteristics.

The Chemistry of Living Cells

What makes up living cells? Examine the different chemical constituents found in cells while learning how cells use them. An introduction to the characteristics of matter lays the groundwork for understanding chemical terminology and atomic structure. After students check their understanding of general chemistry knowledge, they explore the inorganic materials (water, salts, minerals, and respiratory gases) and the organic compounds (vitamins, carbohydrates, lipids, adenosine rriphosphate, nucleic acids—DNA and RNA, and amino acids) necessary for life. Students are challenged to show what they've learned by determining what is missing or wrong with cells when given information about problems particular cells are having.

Similarities in Cell Structures and Functions

What makes a cell a cell? Learn the four characteristics all cells have in common (cytoplasm, cell membrane, DNA, and ribosomes) and what distinguishes eukaryotic cells from prokaryotic cells. Finally, investigate the structures, functions and importance of organelles inside a generalized eukaryotic cell. Students demonstrate an understanding by identifying the importance of cell components and using them to build prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

Differences and Specialization in Cells

You know common cell structures, but what makes different kinds of cells so different? Find out how plant and animal cells get energy and what the central vacuole, cell walls and chloroplasts do for plant cells. Bacteria and other unicellular organisms come in several different shapes and can do all they need to survive in one cell. Students will learn that as multicellular organisms develop, their cells specialize for performing various roles. Apply new knowledge to using various cell structures to build a plant and an animal cell.

Cellular Processes

You've learned about cells: what they need to survive, what they have in common, and what makes them different. But how do they do what they do? Find out in Cell Processes. Students will learn about the processes of photosynthesis, cellular respiration, passive and active transport methods, protein synthesis, and how cells divide through mitosis and meiosis. Step-wise illustrations and animations depict these processes happening within a cell. Students use their knowledge of cell processes when they find themselves trying to save a classmate who's been reduced to the size of a plant cell.

Structure and Function in Living Organisms Unit

Levels of Organization

How do all of the tiny cells actually work together to make a complete living organism? They form networks that work together on many different levels. Learn how cells work together as tissues, how tissues form organs, and how organs comprise entire organ systems that make up your body. The levels of organization don't stop there, however. Individuals assemble into populations, different populations become communities, and communities with all of the living and nonliving factors are part of an ecosystem. Students apply their understanding when they identify and arrange the various levels of organization in an organism and use higher levels of organization to assemble an ecosystem.

Structure and Function of Tissue and Organs

Tissues and organs are made of cells, but what do they do? Students learn that four specialized types of tissue (nervous, epithelial, connective and muscle tissue) form all of the organs that make up their bodies. Organs play various roles. Organs provide protection, support, and flexibility; supply the body with oxygen and blood; obtain nutrients; remove waste; allow reproduction; prevent illness; create hormones; and even relay nerve impulses that allow humans to think and react. Students will also explore and interact with the structures that comprise the eye and ear. New-found knowledge is used to help determine the health of various tissues and organs of an ailing bigfoot character.

Organ Systems

How do organs help to keep us alive and healthy? The human body's organs work together in eleven different organ systems. An overview of major organs, their role in a system, and the importance of the eleven human organ systems to human survival yield an understanding of how organ systems work and how they are put together. Exploring the different type of bones and joints in the skeletal system show students that components of organ systems function together. The interplay of the integumentary system and the circulatory/lymphatic systems in preventing disease demonstrates that even the body's separate organ systems work together. Understanding is applied when students assemble a heart and then choose the appropriate system for a particular function in the human body.Classification and Diversity of Life Unit

Classifying Life

What makes a dog different from a wolf, and how would you know if you've found a new type of organism? Taxonomy is the science of naming and classifying organisms. Study the history of naming systems and how Linneaus' binomial nomenclature system prevented familyusion over common names and eventually led to our present-day, seven-step hierarchical classification system. Students will be introduced to the five and six kingdom classification schemes while learning the meaning of species through kingdom, gaining familiarity with branching diagrams, even practicing using a dichotomous key. Apply new wisdom by assembling the levels of the hierarchical classification system, arranging organisms on a branching diagram, and finally designing a dichotomous key that helps identify an unknown organism.

Bacteria, Protists, and Fungi

Did you know that most of the organisms on Earth are not usually visible with the naked eye? Explore three groups of organisms that play a large role in our lives but are seldom seen. Learn general characteristics of bacteria and why they are considered either one (in the five-kingdom classification scheme) or two (in the six-kingdom classification) different kingdoms of life. Investigate the plant-like, animal-like and fungus-like protists and the four divisions/phyla of fungi (sac fungi, zygote fungi, club fungi, imperfect fungi). Bring meaning to these often-misunderstood organisms while giving an appreciation for the diseases they may cause and their roles in human survival. Students differentiate between different organisms when they find themselves in an old-west roundup scenario.

The Plant Kingdom

It's usually easy to see the difference between plants and other organisms, but what distinguishes different types of plants? Review general characteristics of plant anatomy, explore plant adaptations to life on land, then survey differences that separate plants into four plant divisions (mosses and other bryophytes, ferns & fern allies, gymnosperms, and angiosperms). Students explore the reproduction and lifecycles of plants while gaining an understanding of useful plants each division. The importance of vascular tissues, seeds and various reproductive structures stress the differences between plant divisions. Distinguish monocots from dicots, then take a tour of flower structure from a bee's perspective.

The Animal Kingdom

Did you know that "spineless" describes nearly 95% of Earth's animals? Find out what makes all animals similar and how they are separated into their different phyla. Survey the simplest of sponges through the most complex mollusks and chordates while investigating symmetry, organ systems, body plans, and specially adapted features that make each phylum unique. Students inspect the lifecycles and reproduction of invertebrates before learning that each human had characteristics as embryos that they share with all chordates. Knowledge of the animal kingdom is applied when students find themselves abducted by aliens who they must help understand Earth's animals before being safely returned.

Exploring Vertebrates

Have you ever thought about all you have in common with a goldfish and a housecat? Examine the Phylum Chordata with this tour of vertebrate classes. A review of animal and specific chordate characteristics leads to a tour of the different types of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Students learn differences in how young are born to each class, unique characteristics suited to their survival, differences among various organisms in each class, and features humans share with other vertebrates. Information gained in the program is reinforced when students must use specific characteristics of vertebrates to determine where to place certain types of animals in a very foreign zoo.

Genetics and Heredity Unit

Genes and Traits

Why do we hear so much about DNA these days? Investigate the structure and function of the molecule of heredity in "Genes and Traits." Learn how chromosomes contain the DNA that organisms use to create new copies of themselves. A closer look reveals that DNA is made of specific pairs of nucleotides that always fit together in a precise way. Students explore DNA duplication and take a journey into the cell to learn about the processes of transcription and translation that are necessary for making the proteins that compose their bodies. Our DNA functions as genes, how genes influence various traits seen in offspring. Put knowledge into practice by building strands of DNA and RNA transcripts before arranging steps in transcription and translation.


Why do children often resemble their parents, but rarely look exactly like them? Enhance your understanding of genes and traits with this introduction to genetics. Help Gregor Mendel perform his famous pea plant experiments while learning how to use Punnett squares. Progress from dominant and recessive traits to an introduction to how individuals who are homozygous or heterozygous for certain alleles will show a particular phenotype depending on the particular dominance pattern for the trait (complete, incomplete, or codominant). Students also learn about karyotypes, pedigrees, and genetic disorders caused by various type of mutations. Practice applying new knowledge by arranging organisms in a pedigree and interpreting Punnett squares to determine genotypes and phenotypes.

Genetic Variation and Biotechnology

If all living things have the same type of DNA, why are there so many differences? Explore genetic variation and human innovations that use of genetic information to make novel organisms. Asexual and sexual reproductive strategies possess different advantages and disadvantages for offspring. Sexual reproduction and different types of mutation create variation in offspring; selective breeding and genetic engineering purposely limit variation to produce a desired outcome. Explore the cutting edge of biotechnology with an introduction to DNA fingerprinting, the Human Genome Project, genetic counseling, and steps for transferring genes through genetic engineering. Apply knowledge to helping a king select horses to breed so he can make a mare that's "just right" for his queen. Students will also enjoy helping a wizard use important steps in genetic engineering to turn a smoke-spewing dragon into a real fire-breather.

Organisms and Their Environment Unit

Maintaining Conditions for Life

How do our bodies know what to do to keep us alive? All organisms respond to internal cues and external signals from the environment to maintain conditions for life. Investigate physiological, nervous, hormonal, seasonal and behavioral responses that help organisms maintain homeostasis. Students discover that both plants and animals exhibit various innate responses (tropisms in plants; instincts and reflexes in animals) that allow them to respond to their environment. In addition, animals have learned responses that help them find food and shelter or avoid danger. Put new knowledge to the test by choosing the correct responses to help a researcher survive while collecting a rare plant in the jungle and then identify types of tropisms to describe the new specimen.

Living with the Environment

Organisms have natural systems that help their bodies survive, but how do organisms interact with other factors in the environment? Each organism has a particular role (producer, consumer, decomposer) and niche in their environment. Groups of the same species form populations, populations form communities, communities interact with both biotic and abiotic factors to form ecosystems, and all the ecosystems on Earth are found within our Biosphere. Students learn about factors that limit populations (limiting factors, competition, carrying capacity) and ways organisms have developed relationships of interaction (preying on one another; and symbioses -- commensalism, mutualism, and parasitism) that enhance or ensure their survival. Reinforce new wisdom by applying for a job with an ecologist who needs help photographing different components of the environment and arranging photos that show different relationships and factors that affect ecosystems.

Flow of Energy and Matter in Nature

What is one thing all living organism need to survive? Living organisms get energy to survive through different processes, but they all need energy. Learn how energy is transferred in food chains, through the producers, consumers (herbivores, omnivores, & carnivores), and decomposers. Greater numbers of feeding relationships are shown with food webs and energy pyramids show the transfer of energy among different feeding levels. Students learn that matter is cycled in the environment as well as energy. The carbon and oxygen cycle, nitrogen cycle, water cycle, and cycle of living material that occurs during ecological succession show the interconnectedness of life and resilience of nature. Students find themselves in the role of a ranger whose job is to arrange organisms in food chains, identify feeding relationships in food webs, and describe various cycles of matter in an ecosystem.

Biomes and Biodiversity

Organisms, energy and matter are interrelated in the environment, but why are different types of organisms found in different parts of the world? Learn about adaptations of plants and animals that allow them to survive in Earth's various climates. Survey the major land (tundra, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, rainforests, grasslands, and deserts) and water (marine and freshwater) biomes. Study the importance of preserving biodiversity and its threats. An introduction to problems associated with pollution, habitat loss, overpopulation, over-hunting, and introduction of nonnative species is countered with a look into solutions for solving these potentially life-threatening problems. Students demonstrate an understanding when they act as travel agents who must suggest trips to picky customers based on their preferences for certain climates or types of organisms. When a few clients find their trips ruined, the agent is called upon to identify the problem and suggest a solution.

Human Health & Reproduction Unit

Immunity and Preventing Disease

What makes people sick and how do they stay healthy? Explore steps that led to the germ theory of disease. Learn about communicable diseases, the pathogens causing them, and ways technology (vaccines, antiseptics and antibiotics), the immune system (barriers and the immune response) and various methods of hygiene help cure or prevent disease. Students also explore the sources of non-communicable diseases (genetics, exposure, lifestyle) and ways to maintain health.

Human Reproduction and Development

How did I get here? Sexual reproduction requires two parents to produce offspring. Investigate the anatomy of the male and female reproductive systems and learn how they contribute to the development of a human child. Follow important stages of the nine-month process where an embryo develops into a fetus and emerges as a newborn baby. Complete this tour with an exploration of human development from infancy to adulthood. Terminology and processes are highlighted, while the details of copulation are spared, making this program appropriate for sensitive or younger audiences.

Change Over Time Unit

Fossils and the Geologic Time Scale

How do we know that dinosaurs really once existed? The fossil record has gaps, but provides evidence that organisms that are now extinct once roamed the earth. Students will also learn that similarities in embryos of different organisms and shared characteristics are also used to support the ways organisms have changed over time. Learn how fossils are made and dated while exploring major developments and extinctions of life on Earth over the geologic time scale. Most of the organisms that have lived on Earth are now extinct, but millions of plants, animals and microorganisms alive today. Some traits have changed very little over time (conserved), while others have diverged (derived characteristics) to enhance survival or make an organism more suited to a particular habitat. Knowledge is applied by dating fossils and arranging them along a time scale.

Evolution and Natural Selection

How do organisms change over time? Take a trip with Charles Darwin while you investigate how early thoughts on evolution were changed by Darwin 's theory of evolution by natural selection. Learn how overproduction, genetic variation, competition for resources, and reproductive success drive natural selection. Find out how speciation and diversity results from gradual processes over many generations where organisms fill new or available niches. Each organism's structures are adapted to perform a function that enhances their survival and reproductive success. Students determine that genetic variation and factors in the environment are the driving force for evolution and diversity. Students will also explore ways in which both natural and artificial selection can drive evolution so that descendents can appear very different from their ancestors.

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System Requirements

This course requires a properly-maintained computer with Internet access and a recent-version web browser (such as Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer) with the Adobe Flash plugin. Note that many tablets or handhelds (particularly the iPad) do not support Flash and cannot view the lessons.

Students are expected to be familiar with standard computer operations (e.g. login, cut & paste, email attachments, etc).

This course requires high-speed Internet access (such as Cable or DSL) for online lesson videos. Your browser will need to allow javascript, login cookies, and popup windows from and other CTY course web sites.


This demo requires the Flash plugin.

Life Science Demo

CTY Online Programs Science - Comments and Feedback from Students, Parents, and Teachers



"Fabulous course! The content is informative and appropriately challenging for this age level, well-organized and interesting. I think my daughter liked the experiments the best. I anticipate that she will also take the Biology and Chemistry courses in the future. Thank you!"

"The instructor was extremely positive and attentive. We especially loved her interactive 'question of the week' which challenged my son to do his own scientific research and inspired discussions about how science is applied to real life at our dinner table. Excellent course."

"The instructor is truly outstanding. She had a tremendously positive impact on my son. In addition to helping him build a richer understanding of the course material, she helped him to further develop self-confidence and determination."