We hope for every graduate of Riverdale's Science Department to graduate with an appreciation of the beauty and complexity of the natural world. We also want every student to understand basic science and the scientific method well enough to be an informed follower of scientific developments, and a discriminating citizen who can evaluate the validity of scientific claims. To these ends, we combine content-based instruction with extensive inquiry-based laboratory investigations and research projects that promote critical thinking and problem solving.

Biology I

Biology I

A study of biological organization from the molecular and cellular levels to the ecosystems of the biosphere. The major concepts of cell theory, gene theory, and evolution form the framework of the course, within which biochemistry, energy conversion and use, classification, genetics, reproduction and ecology are examined historically, theoretically, and experimentally. Laboratory investigations complement class discussions. Important social and ethical issues such as global warming, alternatives to fossil fuels, loss of biodiversity, genetic engineering, cloning, and stem cell research are discussed as they apply. During each quarter, there are two to three unit tests, several quizzes, one to three formal lab reports and weekly written homework (answering study questions, answering questions on lab activities, etc.) Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Biology II (Honors)

Biology II (Honors)

Prerequisite: Departmental approval

A second-level course for students who wish to expand their background in biology. Topics include cell structure and function, biochemistry, energy transformation, Mendelian and molecular genetics, plant and animal physiology, development, evolution, and ecology. Applications to human biology are emphasized throughout the course. A college text is supplemented by laboratory investigations in the areas of enzyme kinetics, photosynthesis and respiration, molecular biology, population genetics, plant and animal physiology, and ecology. Students read approximately one college textbook chapter per night and complete one multiple choice test, two essay quizzes, and one lab report every two weeks. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Chemistry I

Chemistry I

An introductory course involving lectures, demonstrations, discussion, and laboratory work in chemistry. The course emphasizes both conceptual understanding and quantitative problem solving using algebra as a tool. Students examine and relate the three conceptual pillars of modern chemistry—periodicity, thermodynamics, and the electron structure of atoms and molecules—to arrive at an understanding of the properties of substances and the nature of chemical change. Unit tests are given three to four times per quarter. Lab reports and frequent quizzes are also used to assess student understanding. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Chemistry II (Honors)

Chemistry II (Honors)

Prerequisite: Departmental approval

A second-level course providing an advanced approach to topics in physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry. The course is both theoretical and experimental. Unit tests are given three to four times per quarter. Lab reports and frequent quizzes are also used to assess student understanding. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Applied Chemistry

Applied Chemistry

An introductory course emphasizing the practical role chemistry plays in modern society and daily life. The chemical processes related to consumer material and products (e.g., plastics, synthetic fibers, dyes, drugs, cosmetics) and environmental issues (e.g., material corrosion, radioactive contamination, acid rain, ozone depletion) are explored. Students will be evaluated quarterly on the basis of three chapter tests, weekly quizzes, laboratory skills, three to four lab reports and a research project as well as daily homework assignments and class participation. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.



This course is designed to introduce you to the fundamental concepts of physics, the study of the world around us. We will cover a broad range of topics including kinematics, Newton’s laws of motion, rotation, and electricity. Through nightly readings, in-class discussions, group and individual problem-solving, lectures, and labs you will have opportunities to explore each topic thoroughly and from a variety of perspectives. The goal of the course is to develop a solid grasp of the physical phenomena discussed, a deeper understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge, and an increased ability to solve problems mathematically. In addition, the aims of the course include a greater capability to explore and understand physical concepts within a lab setting, and an increased ability to explore scientific topics both conceptually and mathematically.

Applied Physics

Applied Physics

An introduction to physics with an emphasis on how the principles of physics explain the world around us. Topics covered include basic mechanics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism. The course also touches on ideas from modern physics and quantum mechanics. Applications range from garden hoses and airplanes to modern electronic devices and hybrid automobiles. The goal of the course is for students to understand how physical laws influence much of their experience and to be able to incorporate the principles of physics into their thinking about the world around them. Students will explore real-world examples of the physics concepts through laboratory work and discovery and through discussion of the physics underlying current news events. The course has no prerequisites. Students’ evaluations will be based on two tests each quarter and lab reports, as well as on other in-class activities and written homework. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Physics II (Honors)

Physics II (Honors)

Physics II (Honors) is a secondary level physics course that covers two broad subject areas. During the fall, students will focus on Mechanics, specifically exploring the following topics: Newton’s laws of motion, work, energy, power, impulse and momentum, rotational kinematics, oscillations, and gravitation. In the spring, the course will move into Electricity and Magnetism that explores the following areas: electrostatics, electric circuits, electromagnetism, and electromagnetic induction. Calculus is required for many topics covered and will be used extensively in problem solving. Lab work will also be a integral part of the course, allowing students to explore the material in a self-guided fashion. Homework will be assigned on either a daily or weekly basis. The quarter grade will be based on students work on in class, assessments (tests & quizzes), homework, and lab work. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Physics/Calculus (Honors)

Physics/Calculus (Honors)

Prerequisite: Departmental approval, with the following expectations: a record of consistent effort and application in previous mathematics courses and a grade of B- or better in Pre-calculus (Honors)

Physics/Calculus is a combined math/science course that is team-taught and meets twice a day. Calculus and Physics share a common origin and given that so much of what is covered in each class is mirrored in the other, teaching the courses in an integrated manner is an effective strategy to promote deep student understanding. Coordinating the courses allows students to use the concepts of physics to reinforce and provide context for the calculus that they study concurrently. This course combines Advanced Calculus A and Physics II Honors courses and prepares students for the AP exam in Calculus, although not for Physics. The course offers students a significant lab experience with more involved (and independent) lab work. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Anatomy of Movement (fall semester)

Anatomy of Movement

This course will focus on understanding the design of the human body and how it is intended to move. We will learn how bones, fascia, joints, muscles, and other structures work together to move our bodies. We will look at hands on demonstrations as to how the muscle systems work by utilizing examples from daily life activities, athletics, yoga, pilates, and dance. A main focus will be to understand how a non synergistically working musculature can cause dysfunctional movements patterns and injuries. We will discuss major injuries seen in a variety of sports and daily life and learn how to help and prevent them. In addition to the anatomy, there will also be a focus on the physiology surrounding exercise. We will use heart rate monitors to compare the effects of various forms of exercise as well as mindfulness practices on heart rate. We will look at the effects exercise has on metabolism. Students will be asked to research the relationship of nutrition to exercise. Throughout the course, students will maintain a journal to chronicle their experiences throughout the course.

Astronomy (spring semester)


A one-semester course designed to introduce students to Astronomy through discussion, observation, simple calculations, reading, and analysis. Topics include the celestial sphere, historical and modern astronomy techniques, the solar system, the birth and death of stars, light, gravity, and cosmology. The class is designed to help students better understand how the earth fits, and how it is impacted, by several larger systems: the solar system, the galaxy, and the cosmos. This class includes an overnight stargazing field trip.

Bioethics (spring semester)


What types of medical procedures should be carried out on a critically ill elderly person? Should we try to save children who are born extremely prematurely? Should embryonic stem cell research be legal? Should we be able to end the life of a 6-month fetus that carries a lethal genetic disease? Would the situation be different if we were making the decision about an 8-celled pre-embryo? Should we be able to carry out research on new treatments for HIV/AIDS in a developing nation if the standard of care in the United States would prohibit such research? Who decides? Who pays?

By understanding the science behind these topics and by using ethical decision-making frameworks, we will learn to develop positions about some of the most pressing ethical issues that we personally and socially confront in the 21st century. While an understanding of some aspects of Biology is essential to confronting these questions, this course will also address the skills and habits of mind that one must employ to make ethical decisions. Formal assessments may include the writing of position papers, oral presentations and debates. Students should expect to contribute in class by preparing well for class, by listening, by asking questions, and by proposing ideas in class discussions.

Design Engineering (year-long)

Design Engineering

Design Engineering is an interdisciplinary project-based course that tackles fascinating design challenges and allows students to apply to them to the real world. Along the way, students will pick up a number of useful skills including but not limited to design thinking, sewing, 3D modeling, woodworking, electronics, programming, and interactive design. During their project process, students will also get a feel for a wide array of engineering fields. Students will be asked to document and present their projects to the public as well as complete homework and assessments to assess their understanding.

Marine Biology (Biological Oceanography) (fall semester)

Marine Biology (Biological Oceanography)

A one-semester introduction to marine biology with an emphasis on the relationships between marine organisms and their environments. Specific marine environments, adaptations of organisms, interrelationships between organisms and the behavior of animals will be explored. Laboratory investigations and field trips will supplement class discussions. There are 2-3 tests per quarter and at least one quiz per week. Each week a reading will be assigned and the student will be graded on his/her participation in a discussion on this reading. A brief quiz will also be given on the reading. There will be lab reports assigned after each lab. Some of these will be data analysis, while others will be full lab write-ups following a standard format. There will be at least 7 labs in the semester, at least one of which will be involved with data collected during a field trip to a marine environment. A research project and presentation requiring approximately 20 hours of work will be assigned at the end of the semester. Other assessments include tests, quizzes, lab reports, homework and participation. There is no final examination.

Physiology (spring semester)


This is a one-semester elective course, which introduces the inner workings of the human body, by examining the structure and function of its major organ systems, and how these work together to keep us in a state of “homeostasis,” or well-being. We will study several major systems, such as the digestive, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, nervous and endocrine systems, first establishing optimal functioning of these systems, and then addressing how that function changes in response to challenges such as stress, exercise, health behaviors, and disease states (pathophysiology). The impact of genetics and gender on physiology will be stressed throughout the course. Teaching resources include slide presentations, textbook and primary literature readings, videos, lab activities, a few (voluntary) dissections, and much discussion. The later portion of the course will be devoted to individual student projects of their choice.

Psychology (year-long)


A college level introduction to the study of human behavior. Topics explored include: the different theories and perspectives of psychology, critical thinking skills and research methods, including statistical analysis, personality theories, the biological basis of behavior, development, theories of learning, memory, cognition and intelligence, sensation and perception, states of consciousness, motivation and emotion, psychological disorders and treatment, and social psychology. A college text is used, supplemented by articles from Scientific American and other sources. Class discussions are supplemented with computer simulations, experiments and activities. Student understanding is assessed through unit tests at the end of each chapter, formal lab reports, written homework, quizzes and class participation. An independent research project is required in the spring. Midyear and final examinations are given in January and June, respectively.

Science Research (fall semester)

Science Research

Intended for students in grades 10-12 who have completed a research internship either at Riverdale in the Summer Research Program or as an intern/volunteer in a research laboratory and/ or field setting outside the school.

Students who are preparing to carry out summer research will be guided in locating a lab and/or a research mentor. Students will prepare for their research assignment by reading primary research articles and reviews produced by the scientists with whom they intend to work. Students will be required to write and present ideas from the lab and integrate their own understandings into these ideas. This process will help students develop their own interests and questions within the context of the laboratory research. Students given this support and time for background research will enter research labs with the capacity to dive deeper into the research experience. This will benefit their basic understandings, and will increase the caliber of their presentations at regional national competitions.

Students who have completed a summer of research will be guided as they prepare for presentations and competitions. The process of scientific presentation will be modeled for students as they utilize the school data bases, and listen to presentations from scientists and each other. Students will prepare for Riverdale Science Symposium. In addition, the course will provide ample time and support for students entering regional and national competitions, as well as time for preparation of manuscripts for publication.

Water (spring semester)


This course would provide the student with an in-depth look at what is surely becoming one of the most important substances on earth, if not the most important. The course would look at the chemical, biological, historical, political and economic aspects of water, and the current status of global water use and degradation. We will talk about the increase in water use for irrigation to feed the increasing populations of the world, the increase in water use to provide electricity for both developed and developing countries, and the current politics and economics of water use in this country and in developing countries. We will examine where the water for New York comes from, how it is treated, and the history of water use and treatment in New York City. The student will learn a great deal of environmental science in the process, and this course is designed to take the place of Environmental Science as an elective. The course will be supplemented with lab activities with lab reports (for example, labs on the thermal expansion of water, dissolved oxygen in water, water treatment, chelators and water treatment), and brief research activities with short presentations to the class. The class will also take a field trip to a water treatment facility..


Riverdale Country School

Mind • Character • Community



Lower School
1 Spaulding Lane
Bronx, NY 10471
LS: (718) 549-7780

Middle/Upper School
5250 Fieldston Road
Bronx, NY 10471
MS/US: (718) 549-8810

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