High School Science Curriculum Plan of Study

Teacher demonstrating equipment in lab
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High school science typically consists of two or three years of required credits along with additionally offered electives. Two of these credits usually require a laboratory component. Following is an overview of suggested required courses along with electives a student might find at a typical high school.

Year One: Physical Science

The physical science curriculum covers the natural sciences and nonliving systems. Students focus on learning overall concepts and theories to help them understand and explain aspects of nature. Across the country, different states have different opinions on what should be included in physical science. Some include astronomy and earth science while others focus on physics and chemistry. This sample physical science course is integrated and includes basic principles in:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Earth science
  • Astronomy

Year Two: Biology

The biology curriculum involves the study of living organisms and their interactions with each other and the environment. The course provides students with laboratories designed to help them understand the nature of living organisms along with their similarities and differences. Topics covered include:

  • Cellular biology
  • The lifecycle
  • Genetics
  • Evolution
  • Classification
  • Organisms
  • Animals
  • Plants
  • Ecosystems
  • AP biology

The College Board suggests that students take AP biology one year after they complete biology and a year of chemistry because AP biology is the equivalent of a first-year college introductory course. Some students choose to double up on science and take this their third year or as an elective in their senior year.

Year Three: Chemistry

The chemistry curriculum covers matter, atomic theory, chemical reactions and interactions, and the laws that govern the study of chemistry. The course includes laboratories that are designed to reinforce these major concepts. Topics covered include:

Year Four: Electives

Typically, students take their science elective in their senior year. Following are a sampling of typical science electives offered in high schools.

Physics or AP physics: Physics is the study of the interactions between matter and energy. Students who have doubled up in previous years and taken basic physics might choose to take AP physics their senior year.

Chemistry II or AP chemistry: Students who have taken their first year of chemistry might continue with chemistry II or AP chemistry. This course continues and expands on the topics taught in chemistry I.

Marine science: Marine science is the study of the marine environment including the ecology of the seas and the diversity of marine organisms and ecosystems.

Astronomy: Many schools do not offer courses in astronomy. However, the study of astronomy is a welcome addition as a science elective. Astronomy includes the study of the planets, stars and sun as well as other astronomical structures.

Anatomy and physiology: This subject involves the study of the structures and functions of the human body. Students learn about the skeletal, muscular, endocrine, nervous and other systems in the body.

Environmental science: Environmental science is the study of the interaction between humans and the living and nonliving environment around them. Students learn about the effects of human interaction including deforestation, pollution, habitat destruction and issues surrounding the management of the Earth's water resources.