Our Upper School was one of the first among suburban Philadelphia independent schools to switch to a “Physics First” curriculum. Three years of science (physics, chemistry, and biology) are required for graduation. Because we teach science the way girls learn it best, with plenty of practical, yet sophisticated lab experiments that foster collaboration and communication, we are proud that 90 – 95% of each year’s senior class opts to take a fourth or fifth science during senior year. Four AP sciences (biology, chemistry, physics-C and environmental science) are offered in the junior and senior year. In addition, we offer a very popular bioethics elective that focuses on how the needs and norms of society conflicts with current medical and genetic research. Since 2002, over 25 Agnes Irwin girls with a passion for science have conducted research projects at nearby college and university labs through our Independent Science Research elective.  Through their research, a number of girls are co-authors on research papers coming from their labs. In addition, many of their projects have won awards at local and state science fairs.


The freshman physics course concentrates on developing an appreciation for and an understanding of matter and energy. Basic algebraic equations, appropriate to a first year algebra student, are presented and applied, though the emphasis of this introductory course is conceptual. Topics covered include motion, energy, fundamental forces (gravity, electrostatic, nuclear), current electricity and waves, light, sound.  Instruction is augmented with relevant applications, interesting demonstrations, traditional experiments, and creative lab experiences where students are presented with physical situational problems that they must analyze and solve. Emphasis is on relating the concepts covered in class with what is observed in the everyday world. Text: Hewitt, Conceptual Physics.


General Chemistry focuses on developing the core concepts of chemistry by expanding an understanding of the fundamental structures and properties of matter using the periodic table as a tool. Students explore the atomic structure, chemical reactions, kinetic theory, and the nature of matter. While there is a quantitative component involved, the primary goal of the course is to enhance an understanding of chemical concepts through the use of demonstrations, laboratory work and analogies. Examples of chemistry in everyday life and in industry are emphasized; students are encouraged to recognize and research the chemistry applications that are all around them. Text: Phillips, Strozak and Wistrom, Chemistry Concepts and Applications.

Chemistry Honors

In Honors Chemistry, sophomores examine the structure, composition, and function of matter and the changes it undergoes. Students begin with a review of measurement and calculations before moving on to the following major units: nuclear and electronic organization of matter, the language of chemistry, phases of matter, solutions and their behavior (including acids and bases), and chemical reactions (including thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, and oxidation/reduction). The laboratory period puts theory into practice and makes chemistry come alive. Problem solving and analytical skills are a major emphasis throughout the course. The students will have the opportunity to take the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry following a diagnostic exercise given in the Spring, including a recommendation by the teacher. Text: Davis, Frey, Sarquis, Sarquis, Modern Chemistry.

Prerequisite is a minimum average of B+ in physics and the recommendation of the department; must take Algebra II concurrently.


This course, a survey of the foundations of biology, uses a molecular approach that reflects recent developments in the field of the biological sciences. Topics to be covered include life processes and biochemistry, cell structure and function, microbiology, cell growth and division, genetics, DNA evolutional history, animals, plants, human body systems and ecology. An extensive component of theoretical and practical microbiology is included, incorporating a study of the structure and function of the microscope. The lab period allows students to organize and interpret results obtained by observation and experimentation. Text: Miller and Levine, Biology, Prentice Hall.

Biology Honors

The Honors Biology course is designed to give its students a strong grasp of biological concepts, and the major themes that run through life sciences. Students examine the composition, structure, and function of organs, tissues, cells, sub-cellular components, as well as the molecular basis for life. Additional concepts studied include metabolism, genetics, ecology, and physiology. Honors Biology is a challenging course. Students must be prepared to not only learn the concepts presented in class, but to apply them to new and less familiar situations as well.  Students may take the Biology SAT Subject Test in May or June following one or more review sessions and the recommendation by the teacher. Text: Modern Biology (Holt, Rinehart, Winston)

Prerequisite: Recommendation of the department and A- in regular level chemistry or B in honors level chemistry.

AP Biology

AP Biology is designed to meet the requirements set forth by the College Board and is the equivalent of the first year of introductory biology at the college level.  The course focuses on enduring, conceptual understandings and the content that supports them in order to understand topics in depth.  Learning will involve inquiry-based instruction and science practices within the four overarching Big Ideas: evolution, energy, genetics, and interactions between cells and organisms.  Extensive readings from the textbook, homework, challenging labs and tests are all part of this fast-paced course.  Students enrolled in this course are expected to take the AP Biology exam in May.  Several early-morning review sessions for the AP exam begin after Spring Break. Text: Campbell, Reese and Mitchell, Biology (7th Edition).

Prerequisite: Recommendation of the department and an A- in honors level Chemistry, an A- from regular Biology or a B+ from Honors Biology.

AP Chemistry

AP Chemistry is the equivalent of the first year of introductory chemistry at the college level and follows the curriculum established by the College Board. It incorporates a thorough treatment of subjects from the Honors Chemistry course as well as thermodynamics, kinetics, simultaneous equilibrium, and oxidation/reduction. During the laboratory period, students perform required AP Chemistry laboratory experiments that are designed to put theory into practice. Problem solving and analytical skills are strongly emphasized in the classroom and laboratory. Students enrolled in this course are expected to take the AP Chemistry exam in May. Text: Zumdahl, Chemistry.

Prerequisites: Teacher recommendation with a minimum average of B+ in Honors Chemistry.

AP Environmental Science

The AP Environmental Science course includes the content of a one-semester, introductory college course, explored in greater depth over an academic year.  The interdisciplinary nature of environmental science illuminates for students the organization and function of natural system, as well as the complicated relationship of humans to our environment.  The course stresses concept development, scientific methods and issue analysis, through lecture and discussion, readings from a variety of source material, case studies, projects, and labs.  Students should expect data analysis involving basic algebra.  Periodic tests model the format of the AP exam.  Students will develop an awareness of the regional and global environmental issues they will engage with as adults, and they will consider differing perspectives on the causes and the possible solutions for environmental problems.  Students are required to take the AP Environmental Science exam in May. Text: Raven and Berg, Environment, 7th ed.

AP Physics C Mechanics

The AP Physics C Mechanics course ordinarily forms the first semester of the college sequence that serves as the foundation in physics for students considering a major in the physical sciences or engineering. Concepts in physics dealing with motion and energy will be reviewed and expanded. Investigative experiments will augment concepts covered in class. The strongest emphasis will be placed on mathematical applications, with students learning to analyze and solve increasingly complex and challenging problems. Because Physics C is a calculus-based course, students must have a background in calculus or be concurrently enrolled in a calculus class while taking the course.  Algebra, geometry, and trigonometry are also used extensively. Texts: Serway & Beichner, Physics for Scientists and Engineers; Young + Freedman, University Physics.

Prerequisite: Recommendation of both math teacher and the science department with a minimum average of B+ in both math and science. Students need to have demonstrated strong analytical and problem solving skills, and be concurrently enrolled in Calculus.

Bioethics (elective)

This science elective is concerned with dilemmas caused when the facts of medical/genetic research conflict with the norms and needs of society. The class focus is on understanding and appreciating relevant biological facts as they confront the principles and practice of ethical decision-making at the level of the individual, the community, and nations. Current resources such as the Internet, newspapers, periodicals, and movies are used. Students will read about, discuss, debate, role-play, and research topics they find most relevant. The course will be run in seminar format with an emphasis on journal writing and class participation.

Independent Research

In this science elective, students will conduct an independent science project (perhaps outside of school) to experience how science is done in the “real world.” Students will be matched with mentors from the academic and industrial communities who will guide their research project. Students should be committed to spending hours after school or during the summer months completing their projects. Their research may be presented at local and state science fairs in the spring. Students are expected to write a journal-style paper at the end of their research. This course (graded on a pass/fail basis) will count as an extra science credit and is meant for students who are passionate about science.

Global Health & the Girl Child (elective)

Girls present a special set of issues and opportunities in the global health landscape. Maternal health, for example, leads to greater family health, and as a result, greater community and society health. What are the biggest health challenges facing the girl child in our world?

This course, anchored by lectures that will be delivered by faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who will come to Agnes Irwin, will explore the most pressing topics in global health issues for girls today.  Students will learn from a distinguished and internationally recognized group of experts and will explore topics through discussion, research papers and solution-seeking group challenges. Topics will include, but are not limited to the study of chronic illness, the spread and prevention of HIV/AIDS, violence against women and human trafficking.

This course is a cooperative effort of the Center for the Advancement of Girls (CAG) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. The course is open to seniors.  Juniors may apply to enroll, but will need to seek instructor approval first. Fall semester only.


For computer science courses, go to Technology & Media Literacy section.

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AN ALL-GIRLS' INDEPENDENT COLLEGE PREPARATORY SCHOOL FOR PREK-GRADE 12  •  Ithan Avenue & Conestoga Road, Rosemont, PA 19010  •  Tel 610.525.8400
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