Upper School
US Curriculum


Hackley’s Upper School Science program begins by introducing ninth grade students to physics as a foundational science.
The Hackley School Science Department strives to instill a love of science in its students and to encourage curiosity about how the world works. Graduates of the Hackley science program will have strong critical thinking skills. They will have the ability to research, understand and critically analyze advances in science and technology, and the ability to devise and carry out a scientific experiment. While all Hackley students take physics, chemistry, and biology, the department also offers a wide array of electives and AP Courses. The Hackley science department also offers an independent research program for students particularly interested in delving deep into scientific research.

Science Courses

List of 5 items.

  • Physics (Ninth Grade)

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits

    A student of physics gains a conceptual introduction to the laws of the physical world. Subjects include graphing, motion analysis, forces, momentum, work, energy, rotational mechanics, gravitation, electrostatics and circuits. Problem-solving methods of teaching physics are also used. Students improve their applied quantitative skills by solving physics problems, thereby illustrating knowledge of fundamental physics concepts. The course also stresses development of laboratory skills through regularly scheduled laboratory sessions.

    Students are encouraged to question, observe, collect data, analyze results and reach conclusions on physical relationships. The course culminates in a rocket project that pulls together many of the skills and content knowledge learned throughout the year. Independent creative thought and study are encouraged throughout the course.
  • Chemistry (Tenth Grade)

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisite: Physics 418

    This course serves as an introduction to the principles of chemistry, further preparing students for future work in science. Topics covered include chemical formulas and equations, states of matter, atomic structure, bonding, stoichiometry and thermochemistry. Laboratory work is an integral part of the course as is class participation that focuses on problem solving.

    Not recommended for students planning on taking AP Chemistry.
  • Accelerated Chemistry (Tenth Grade)

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisite: An “A”, an “A” test average and an “A”or “A-” on the exam in Physics 418
    Co-requisite: Adv Alg 2/Trig 303 or Alg 2/Trig 365, but 303 strongly recommended

    This course covers the same units as Chemistry 408 but at a significantly faster pace, allowing students to address supplementary topics within each area of study. Additional quantitatively challenging topics are covered. Laboratory work is an integral part of the course as are nightly homework assignments that focus on problem solving and data analysis.

    Recommended for students planning on taking AP Chemistry.
  • Biology

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisite: Chemistry 408 or Accelerated Chemistry 410; open to juniors and seniors

    This biology class is focused on human biology. Students will study organ systems and learn to appreciate how their bodies work to solve the problems of being and staying alive.

    Evolution is an overarching theme, which will allow for comparisons to all organisms in the natural world. Students will also focus on sustainability and how human interactions impact the world ecosystem. This class is designed to be a hands-on class with several labs, activities and projects per unit. In addition, there will be current event readings. Students will be expected to keep a detailed lab journal in which they document the lab and write their responses to questions.
  • Cellular Biology

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisites: Chemistry 408 or Accelerated Chemistry 410 (NOTE: While any student is eligible, it is strongly recommended that students with lower than an A- in Chemistry 408 take Biology NOT Cellular Biology); open to juniors and seniors. 

    We designed this challenging course as an introductory course for the student who is seriously interested in biology and is a motivated learner. The themes of evolution, the relationship between structure and function, and science as a process will frame the course.

    Students acquire a working knowledge of photosynthesis, respiration, cell-division, reproduction, heredity, biochemistry, molecular genetics and evolution. Reading, writing, lab and analytical skills will be necessary for success.

    Recommended for juniors planning to take AP Biology senior year.

Science Electives Majors

List of 11 items.

  • Advanced Physics

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisites: Completion of Adv Alg 2/Trig or Alg 2/Trig; open to juniors and seniors. Priority given to seniors.

    This is an Algebra/Trigonometry based continuation of Physics 418. The course offers an in-depth study of fluid mechanics, thermal physics, and the mechanics and design of bridges.

    The topics and expectations of the course are comparable to those of a second-semester first-year college physics course. The course is unique in that significant time is spent exploring the experimental design process, in which students create and present demonstrations and experiments. These reinforce the concepts being studied. In addition, the course features extensive problem solving, both conceptually and mathematically. Significant independence and choice is given to the students in their pursuit of applications, demonstrations and experiments that enhance the course material. Emphasis is placed on public speaking, presenting to peers and teachers alike, in both formal and informal settings.

    In addition, students will be required to participate in designing and presenting a lesson for the Lower School STEM Night. (Participation in this evening event, usually in March, is required.)

    The year will culminate with a long-term, multiphase project around the engineering, design and building of a bridge.
  • Advanced Forest Ecology Research

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisite: Chemistry. Open to juniors and seniors; priority given to seniors

    This field intensive course will develop students’ analytical and investigative abilities. Students will begin with a focus on the natural history of Hackley, including studies of tree, bird, reptile, amphibian and mammal identification, as well as bird calls. Students will create a field notebook with approximately 100 organisms. A trip to Teatown Nature Reservation will facilitate learning about the flora and fauna of the Hudson Valley. Students will also help Teatown scientists with ongoing research projects.

    One of the major problems facing conservation is lack of biological information. Long-term data collection projects benefit the community by determining how the forest structure is changing and thus how to better manage our land. Students will participate in long-term research projects in Hackley’s field station. Most studies were started in 2009 and continuing the research adds important new data. One such project is salamander abundance based on a National Parks study. Another project is a water quality analysis of two vernal pools at our field station. A third is a study of macro invertebrate abundance in the two vernal pools using leaf packs. A fourth major project is a bird abundance study done in conjunction with Cornell’s Project Feeder Watch. In the spring students will have the opportunity to work with scientists at other research facilities, such as Lasdon Park and Arboretum.

    One of the major solutions to conservation problems is education. Students will have the opportunity to work with and teach Hackley kindergarten classes about forest ecology. The AFER class will also partner with the 7th graders on their Big Experience study of the Hackley Forest. This will include a joint field trip to Sterling State Park in April.
  • Advanced Biology: Living in Extremes

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisites: Biology or Cellular Biology

    This second-year course is designed for students interested in continuing their exploration of biology. The class will explore biology in an interdisciplinary fashion by focusing on the question: “What does it mean for the human body to live under extreme conditions?” High-altitude climbing, deep-sea diving, running ultra marathons, battling such diseases as cancer, or living through the stress of poverty or refugee status all fall within this category. Through this lens, such topics as human physiology, toxicology, anthropology, sociology, foraging, medicine and sports medicine can be explored.

    As a second-year biology class, there will be an emphasis on lab skills, and the course will culminate in an independent research project guided by student choice. Graded assignments will vary, ranging from longer-term lab assignments to projects, independent research and presentations, as well as more traditional tests. Reading of science literature will be an integral part of the course. Critical thinking and thoughtful classroom discussion will be a daily expectation.
  • AP Biology

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisites: "A" or "A-" in Cellular Biology OR "A" or "A-" in AP Chem and the exam AND a consistently strong performance in Biology, including an "A" average on tests, the exam and in the course

    Students must pick up a summer self-study assignment before the end of the present school year and will be tested on this material during the first week of class. Students must also turn in their outline notes of the self-study topics covered during their summer review.

    This is a laboratory-based course that prepares the student for the Advanced Placement examination in biology. This course will develop students’ deep conceptual understanding of a range of biological topics. It will engage them through an inquiry-based lab experience.

    There will be an emphasis on integrating application, reasoning and quantitative skills. The four framing ideas for the course as delineated by the College Board are:
    • The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.
    • Biological systems utilize energy and molecular building blocks to grow, reproduce and maintain homeostasis.
    • Living systems retrieve, transmit and respond to information essential to life processes.
    • Biological systems interact, and these interactions possess complex properties.
  • AP Chemistry

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisites: “A-“ or “A” in Accelerated Chemistry 410. (Note: Students with an “A” and a consistently strong performance in regular chemistry are also eligible but are not fully prepared for AP Chemistry and must engage in the study of a few key topics under the direction of the Science Department chair in the spring of their sophomore year. See the department chair for more details.)

    Students must pick up a summer self-study assignment before the end of the present school year. Students will be tested on this material during the first week of class.

    This course undertakes a rigorous quantitative study of chemical principles and prepares students for the Advanced Placement examination in chemistry. Topics covered include atomic structure, chemical bonding, states of matter, thermodynamics, equilibria, kinetics, electrochemistry and solutions. Laboratory work is heavily emphasized through weekly exercises. Students must sit for the AP Chemistry examination in May.
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics (calculus-based)

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisite: An "A" or "A-" in advanced level science courses and an "A" or "A-" in Advanced Precalculus or AP Calc AB 328; or a“B+ or better” in Acc. Precalculus or Calc AB/BC.
    Co-requisite: AP Calc AB or AP Calc AB/BC for students who have not yet taken one of these calculus courses. NOTE: Juniors co-currently taking AP Calc are strongly recommended to wait until senior year.

    Open to juniors and seniors that meet the eligibility requirements; preference given to seniors.

    Students must pick up a summer self-study assignment before the end of the present school year. Students will be tested on this material during the first week of class.

    This is a calculus-based, college-level physics course, with a focus on mechanics. Topics focus on the analysis of motion, which include Newton’s Laws of Motion, work and energy, momentum, rotational mechanics, gravitation, simple harmonic motion and air resistance. It is especially appropriate for students planning to specialize or major in one of the physical sciences or engineering.

    Students cultivate their understanding of physics through classroom study and activities, as well as hands-on laboratory work, as they explore such concepts as change, force interactions, fields and conservation. Students are required to sit for the May AP Physics C Mechanics exam.
  • Food and Power: The Science and Politics Behind What We Eat

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Open to juniors and seniors; priority given to seniors.

    Food is necessary for life, yet it is far more than a necessity. What we eat is tied to our culture, history, political systems, beliefs and available technologies. What we eat influences our own health and the health of the planet. This interdisciplinary course looks at food and its relationships with power, culture and the environment. We will also cook, garden and learn about the science and nutrition behind what we eat. Course work will include readings from varied sources, class discussions, hands-on activities, projects, presentations and papers.
  • Independent Science Research Program: Overview

    The Independent Science Research Program (ISRP) at Hackley is an opportunity for students to complete independent, collegiate-level scientific research in a genuine research setting. This is a three-year program, where each student in the program will design and execute their own experiments in science, math or computer science. The program focuses on teaching students the skills of performing proper literature reviews, designing experiments, analyzing data and presenting results to an audience. The program will culminate in students submitting their work for regional and national science and engineering fairs.

    The majority of the experiments will take place at research facilities off-campus during the summers after the sophomore and junior years; students must be willing to commit at least 6-8 weeks (most likely consecutive) of each summer to their research.

    While the program will help students reach out to mentors at these off-campus sites, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the student to find and secure internships for both summers. If a student cannot find placement for the summer after junior year, the student will not be able to return to the program for senior year.

    Students must apply and be accepted into this three-year program. We expect to accept approximately two to five rising sophomores each year. The application process will begin early spring of 9th grade. Students should see Dr. Ying with questions.
  • Independent Science Research 10

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits

    Approval via an application process.

    This course is the first-year course for the Independent Research Program. The goals of this course are for students to decide on their independent research project and to contact potential mentors to host them for the following summer. The course focuses on basic skills associated with research, such as literature reviews, designing and conducting experiments, data analysis and presenting their results to an audience. Students are expected to be motivated to work efficiently and independently throughout the course.
  • Independent Science Research 11

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisite: Independent Science Research 10 and permission of the instructor

    This course is the second-year course for the Independent Science Research Program. The goals of this course are for students to finalize their research project for the program and to secure a mentor to guide their research for the following summer. Students continue to hone their skills in analyzing and presenting data in the form of written reports and presentations. They will also serve as mentors for students in ISRP 10. At the end of the year, students will be expected to present their results in local science competitions. Students are expected to be motivated to work efficiently and independently throughout the year.
  • Independent Science Research 12

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Prerequisite: Independent Science Research 11 and permission of the instructor

    This course is the final course of the Independent Science Research Program. The goal of this course is for students to submit their work to regional and national competitions. The deadlines of these competitions are during the first trimester of school, which coincide with early decision college application deadlines. As such, students need to be highly motivated and be able to work independently. During the latter half of the year, students will be expected to serve as mentors for students in ISRP 10 and 11.

Science Electives Minors

List of 2 items.

  • Astronomy and Meteorology

    3 meetings per eight-day cycle/2 credits
    Open to all juniors and seniors; preference is given to seniors

    This course will combine astronomy and meteorology, allowing the student to study the major aspects of both. In doing so, the more interesting and fascinating aspects of each will be discussed without the need to focus on the minute physical and chemical details. The topics in astronomy will include the history of astronomy, the Earth, the Moon, the solar system, comets and asteroids, stars and stellar evolution, galaxies and cosmology. The majority of the astronomy part of the course will occur from November to February, as the weather at night tends to be clearer and allows for better viewing of stars. As a result, a few night labs will be required.

    The purpose of the meteorology section is to study the weather both locally and globally. Topics in this course include temperatures, humidity, barometric pressures and their effects on daily weather. In addition, there will be a focus on specific weather phenomena, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning storms, floods and droughts.

    The class will begin with a study of the basics of what constitutes weather. On a daily basis, students will measure the temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and wind speed, along with the visible weather. By keeping a log of these daily readings, students will begin to see if they can predict upcoming weather events. Finally, a look will be taken at the effects that humans may be having on local and global weather patterns, particularly the possible effects of global climate change on weather.

    Students will be required to purchase a Weather Forecasting Card (approximately $15) and a Sky Safari App (approximately $3).
  • Submersible ROV Engineering

    1 credit minor meets once per cycle

    This course is open to all with priority given to students with prior involvement in the Hackley Aquabots/ROV program, and then 9th graders/new students to the Upper School

    This course focuses on building submersible Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROVs. Students will work in cooperative groups to research designs and functions with the purpose of creating ROVs that mimic how ROVs are currently used in ocean research, search and rescue, underwater pipeline and dam safety and maintenance, and waterway sustainability.

    As students build their ROVs, they will learn engineering skills and principles, including how to electrically wire a remote control to a tool and motor system, program a remote driving system using microcontrollers, design and build a vehicle frame, and achieve neutral buoyancy. Student groups will need to research and create a budget for their supplies and create system integrated design (SID) diagrams for their electrical systems, as well as safety reports.

    Participation in regional (and possibly national) ROV competitions is required. Many competitions also involve extra tasks associated with their competitions beyond the building of the ROV, such as creating sales presentations and displays regarding their ROV product.