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Science Courses

Why Take a Science Course?

In CTY science courses, students discover the world around them. They learn to ask questions and are challenged to explain their observations. Students develop their own theories, then test and refine them through experimentation. They also share their results with each other to develop a deeper understanding of the natural world.

CTY science courses offer students the opportunity to delve into topics that are not generally part of a standard school curriculum. Young people are naturally curious about how things work, and academically talented students have a need for in-depth study that challenges them to answer open-ended questions. In a CTY science course, they are able to go beyond household or kitchen science and use more formal scientific equipment.

In all CTY science courses, students spend time each day performing laboratory exercises, hands-on activities, or field work. Students not only explore unique content, but also learn science processes as they work individually or in groups to gather and interpret data, master scientific concepts, and recognize relationships among physical phenomena. Students may write concluding lab or project reports on experiments they have completed. All CTY science courses emphasize inquiry-based learning, in which instructors facilitate students making their own great discoveries.

Science Courses

Science courses require a minimum score on the quantitative sections of the designated tests. Learn more about Eligibility.
Note: Selected biological science courses may include traditional or virtual dissection.

For second and third graders, offered in the day program only:

For third and fourth graders, offered in the day program only:

For fifth and sixth graders:

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Science Course Descriptions and Syllabi

Be a Scientist!

What can an astronomer learn from a black hole? How does an engineer decide on the best bridge design? How do marine biologists know that dolphins are intelligent? In this course, students are introduced to the methods scientists use to answer questions about the world around us. They build skills essential to scientific inquiry by engaging in hands-on investigations in a range of areas covering biology, engineering, physics, and chemistry.

Students examine strategies and techniques used by scientists and put them into practice. For example, as ecologists, students may experiment with the best ways to stop soil erosion and create a plan to help protect the local community. As geneticists, students may take an inventory of classmates’ inherited traits, calculate the frequency of each, and compare class data to the general population. As chemists, they might work in teams to explore fireworks as they learn what colors different metals produce when they burn.

Students learn to question and hypothesize; identify and manipulate variables; observe, measure, and record data; and analyze and interpret results. They work to design and carry out their own original investigations. Each student leaves the course better prepared to think like a scientist.

Sample text: Materials compiled by the instructor.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 2 or 3

Session 1: Hong Kong, La Jolla, San Mateo, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica
Session 2: 
Alexandria, New York, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica

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Cloudy with a Chance of Science

Would a boat made of bread and peanut butter actually float? Could a single tree be used to manufacture everything from sweaters to bicycle seat covers? Would a pancake as big as a city block weigh enough to crush a school? Children’s books often ask readers to dream up imaginary worlds, but important science concepts lie behind the words and pictures. In this course the science woven through such stories is highlighted as students develop the science-process skills that constitute the scientific method.

During the first week of the course, students hone the techniques that scientists use every day to understand and explain the world through a literary lens. From exact and precise measurement to estimation and rounding, students might be led on a journey through How Big Is a Foot. Later in the week, they could answer the question, “What exactly IS that?” in It Looked Like Spilt Milk by relying on observations, inferences, and predictions. Throughout week one, each book is carefully chosen to highlight and explain fundamental scientific process skills such as classification, experimentation, and data collection through stories that will engage students' imaginations.

The second and third weeks of the course are devoted to scientifically analyzing the concepts covered in two specific children’s classics. Starting with Judi and Ronald Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, students explore the digestive system and nutrition, engage in city planning, engineer stronger structures, and investigate weather patterns. The course concludes with Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax as students explore animal classifications, waste management and pollution, industry and invention, and plants and ecosystems.

Students leave the course with a solid foundation in science skills as well as the ability to recognize and analyze scientific content in the literature they already love.

Note: Students who are eligible for humanities and writing courses may also take this course.

Sample text: The Lorax, Dr. Seuss; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Barrett and Barrett.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 2 or 3

Session 1: Brooklandville, San Mateo
Session 2: Sandy Spring

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Through the Microscope

In 1665, Robert Hooke used a microscope to examine cork, providing the first clues that living things are made of cells. Today, the microscope remains a crucial tool for scientific investigation. In this course, students use microscopy to discover the living and non-living world around them, acquiring an introduction to science in the process.

This course begins with an overview of scale and size and an introduction to the history and proper use of microscopes. Students then examine and compare living one-celled and multi-cellular organisms such as algae, elodea, rotifers, and paramecia as they differentiate between bacterial, animal, and plant cells. Emphasis is placed on cell structure, nutrient needs, and growth. Students also gain a new appreciation for the intricacies of familiar things such as newsprint, fibers, or blades of grass. They develop laboratory skills including staining, preparing wet mounts, DNA extraction, and inoculation.

After their introduction to the microscope and cell biology, students consider atoms and larger molecules like DNA, learning why some things can’t be seen with light microscopes. Students also explore the various ways microscopes are used in the field as they investigate forensic science and pathology. Through laboratory work, model building, drawing, writing, and research, students leave the course with an understanding of microscopy and its role in science.

Sample text: The Usborne Complete Book of the Microscope, Rogers.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 3 or 4

Session 1: Brooklandville, Hong Kong, La Jolla, San Mateo, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica
Session 2: 
Alexandria, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica

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The Edible World

We often joke, “You are what you eat,” but in this chemistry class students learn how true that adage really is. The three basic components of food—proteins, carbohydrates, and fats—are the building blocks of all life as we know it. They are also the fuel the body burns to provide the necessary energy for everything from taking a breath to reading a book to running a marathon. In this course, students take a closer look at the common products on grocery shelves and use these items as a springboard to learn about chemistry, biotechnology, and nutrition.

Through laboratory experiments and class discussions, students look more closely at the composition of familiar foods, consider the chemical reactions necessary to make certain foods, and explore the role that food plays in health and disease throughout the world. In their unit on nutrients, for example, students may complete a vitamin C titration of common fruit juices to compare nutrient value, analyze the labels of various multivitamins, and then discuss vitamin D deficiency. When learning about proteins, students might first test for peptide bonds using biuret solution and then compare the calories in protein, fat, and carbohydrates to measure the caloric content of their favorite fast food meal. When discussing chemical and physical properties, they might make their very own ice cream flavor and then discuss freezing point depression, the periodic table, and elemental properties. Students may keep a food journal and conduct nutritional analyses of their own diets, examine the connection between smell, taste, and molecular formula, or prepare a poster presentation comparing the chemical structures of different sweeteners. Students leave the course with a greater understanding of food chemistry and nutrition.

Sample texts: Food Rules!, Haduch; It’s Disgusting and We Ate It: True Food Facts from Around the World and Throughout History, Solheim.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 3 or 4

Session 1: Brooklandville, San Mateo, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica
Session 2: 
Alexandria, New York, Santa Monica

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Inventions

Did you know that the idea for the microwave oven was set in motion by a melted chocolate bar? While standing in front of a magnetron, inventor Percy Spencer noticed that his treat had begun melting in his pocket. To further test the potential of the magnetron, Spencer held a bag of corn kernels next to it and watched them pop. From this simple experiment that led to the microwave oven to students’ own creations, this course is about inventors, inventions, and their impacts on our world.

How does a toaster work, and what might make it work better? How can a package be designed to mail a potato chip so that it doesn’t break? In this physical science course, students dismantle gadgets to figure out how things work. Using science knowledge such as an understanding of simple machines, they create their own new inventions. Students apply for mock patents, collaborate with their fellow inventors, keep an inventions journal, and work in teams to create hovercrafts or design more effective burglar alarms.

Throughout this process of inquiry, discovery, and problem solving, students explore not only the how and why of various discoveries and inventions, but also the impact they have had across the centuries. This integrated examination of inventions in our world offers young inventors a fuller understanding of the implications and promise of their creative imaginings.

Sample text: Inventing Stuff, Sobey.

Lab and Field Trip Fee: $160

Students must have completed grades: 3 or 4

Session 1: Brooklandville, Hong Kong, La Jolla, San Mateo, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica
Session 2: 
Alexandria, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica

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Marine Ecology

Some 94 percent of life on earth is aquatic, but we have only explored 5 percent of our oceans. Although NASA sent astronauts to the moon in 1969, scientists didn’t explore the Mid-Ocean Ridge until 1973, and we have better maps of Mars than Earth’s oceans. Marine ecologists reduce this knowledge gap as they study habitats, populations, and interactions between aquatic organisms and their habitats. They utilize biology, chemistry, physics, geology, geography, and meteorology to better understand marine environments.

In this field science course, students look broadly at marine ecosystems, the geography of ocean floors, and the physical and chemical properties of ocean water. They visit local habitats to collect and test water samples and examine microscopic organisms that live in the water. Students explore how salinity and temperature affect the ecosystem and how the slightest change can harm the health of its organisms. Through a trip to a local aquarium, boat ride on local waters, and comparative dissections in the laboratory, students then observe and analyze different plants and animals, paying special attention to the adaptations that allow them to live in marine habitats. Using this knowledge, students investigate the relationships, populations, and interactions of all the living and non-living parts of the marine ecosystem. The course concludes with an analysis of human impact on ocean life and a critical evaluation of how we can protect marine ecosystems now and in the future.

Note: Students who have previously taken CTY’s Bay Ecology should not take this course.

Sample texts: Chesapeake Bay: Nature of the Estuary, White; Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Lippson and Lippson.

Lab and Field Trip Fee: $160

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Chestertown, Los Angeles
Session 2: 
Bristol, Chestertown, Los Angeles

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Dynamic Earth

What is happening miles beneath your feet right now? How did Earth become a habitable place for us, and how does it continue to change? In this course, students explore the long and complex history of Earth.

Students begin by examining the universe in which our sun is only one of billions of stars and our planet is a tiny speck. Students then zoom in on Earth—its climate, geologic structures, and plate tectonics. From this perspective, students look at cataclysmic events, including volcanic eruptions, avalanches, and earthquakes. Students also focus on gradual alterations of Earth’s surface through erosion, weathering, and other forces. In labs and field work, students differentiate among Earth’s movements using seismographs, test multiple factors affecting rates of erosion, and simulate sediment transport and deposition.

The class concludes by focusing on basic matter, studying the atom in terms of structure, periodicity, and reactivity, and exploring acid/base characteristics of elements. Field trips may include visits to a fault zone, glacier deposit, or local geologic structure in order to learn more about the Earth’s processes, and further study the interactions between land, water, atmosphere, and human influence. By understanding Earth from its place in the universe to its molecular makeup, students gain a greater appreciation of the constant motion that makes ours a living, changing planet.

Sample text: The Field Guide to Geology, Lambert and the Diagram Group.

Lab & Field Trip Fee: $160

Students must have completed grade: 5 or 6

Session 1: San Rafael
Session 2: San Rafael

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The Sensory Brain

Can cats actually see in the dark? Do snakes really smell with their tongues? How do optical illusions “trick” the brain? Using the senses as a framework, students answer these questions as they explore the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system. They discuss how the brain’s perception mechanisms turn sensory information into an organism’s experience of its surroundings. In addition to human senses, students also learn about sensory abilities alien to our own, such as sonar navigation and electric organs.

In the laboratory, students dissect organs such as a sheep brain and a cow eye in order to investigate how sensory structures relate to function. Students discover how the structure of the ear relates to sound location, balance, and hearing loss and test reflexes to discuss conduction of nerve impulses. After understanding structure and function of healthy systems, students then explore examples of deficiencies and disorders. Throughout the course, students employ the scientific method by creating hypotheses, collecting data from their classmates, and formulating their own answers to questions about sensation, perception, and the brain.

Sample texts: The Man Who Mistook His Hat for His Wife, Sacks; Anatomy and Physiology Workbook, Marieb.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Chestertown, Hong Kong, Sandy Spring
Session 2: Chestertown, Los Angeles, Alexandria

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Examining the Evidence

How can an abandoned car, devoid of license plates or other identifying marks, help detectives solve a jewelry heist? How can a single hair keep a man from going to jail for a murder he did not commit? In this course, students discover the answers to these types of questions as they explore the science behind forensic investigation.

After reviewing the basic scientific skills of observation and deduction, students learn how to properly process a crime scene. In lab exercises, students draw upon techniques employed by forensic scientists to analyze fingerprints, hair, fibers, impressions, and documents left at the scene of a crime. Students also explore blood typing and spatter patterns, toxicology, and DNA analysis. Through the study of notorious cases, such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, students become familiar with the history and advances of forensic science.

Finally, in mock investigations students use the scientific method and their newly acquired analytical techniques to uncover clues, examine evidence, and draw conclusions to help them crack the cases.

Note: In this course, students learn about forensic techniques used to solve crimes. Instructors gear their treatment of the material to the age of the students, but some violent crimes are considered.

Sample text: Forensic Science, Bertino.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Bristol, Chestertown, Los Angeles, San Rafael, Brooklandville, La Jolla, San Mateo, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica
Session 2: 
Bristol, Chestertown, Los Angeles, San Rafael, Alexandria, New York, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica

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Crystals and Polymers

Why do some plastic containers melt in a microwave oven while others don’t? What makes Silly Putty® stretchy? How are packing peanuts made? Chemical structure provides the key for answering these questions. In this introductory chemistry course, students examine how the many different possible arrangements of a small number of basic building blocks determine the properties and behaviors of gems and polymers.

Students begin by investigating the building blocks: atoms. As they learn about ions and the three-dimensional structure of compounds, students construct models and grow crystals such as salt or rock candy in the lab. They discover how small changes in the structures of different gems lead to dramatic changes in their shapes and colors. Moving on to polymers, students synthesize slime or silly putty to investigate concepts such as molecular chain length and cross-linking. They then explore commercial applications, experimenting with superabsorbent molecules like those used in diapers. Students also research how different plastics are synthesized and how that affects their properties, including recyclability and malleability. Finally, students engage in activities such as isolating strawberry DNA and denaturing proteins to study biopolymers.

Throughout the course, students apply their new-found knowledge of chemical bonding and structure to develop a more thorough understanding of the materials in their everyday lives.

Sample texts: Eyewitness: Crystals & Gems, Symes and Harding; Polymers All Around You, Sarquis, ed.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Easton, Los Angeles
Session 2: Easton, San Rafael, Alexandria

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The Physics of Engineering

How can a concrete boat float? How do you build the strongest bridge with the lightest building materials? Physics, the science of matter and its motion, helps answer these questions and more. In this course, students learn principles of mechanics; electricity and magnetism; and aerodynamics, and apply them to engineering design projects.

Concepts are introduced and reinforced through hands-on activities, lectures, class discussions, and practice exercises. Students will participate in design challenges and experiments, which may include building trebuchets to learn about projectile motion, designing and launching rockets to learn about aeronautics, or constructing roller coasters to learn about energy conservation. They may also explore rocket science, orbital motion, and the challenges of space travel. Students carefully analyze data they collect and write reports about the projects.

Students learn how to ask scientific questions, hypothesize, and experiment in order to interpret physical phenomena. They are introduced to the iterative design process—engineering solutions to problems presented in class, and refining their designs to fit the presented criteria. By the end of the course, students acquire an understanding of major concepts in physics and an enhanced ability to work in groups and individually to solve problems in the physical sciences.

Note: Students in this class should have a strong background in pre-algebra or have completed CTY’s Inductive and Deductive Reasoning or Data and Chance. Students should be comfortable with basic algebraic concepts: equation manipulation, interpreting graphs, and expressing large numbers in scientific notation.

Note: Note: CTY is committed to eliminating the gender gap in technology and engineering fields. To that end, all-girls sections of this class will be held at the Bristol and Los Angeles residential sites during the first session. Girls may request this or a co-ed section of the class.

Sample texts: The Cartoon Guide to Physics, Gonick; The Art of Construction, Salvadori.

Lab Fee: $70

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: All residential sites, Brooklandville, Hong Kong, La Jolla, New York, San Mateo, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica
Session 2: 
All residential sites, Alexandria, New York, Sandy Spring, Santa Monica

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