Curriculum

Our kid-friendly organic and biochemistry lessons reveal science that is mostly ignored in standard curricula.

Our Curriculum Is Adaptable And Expandable

Biochemistry is at the heart of STEM, and connects the physical sciences and life sciences. Our curriculum resonates well with the NGSS, and it provides links between the physical and life sciences that are not typically emphasized in school, but are incredibly helpful for students. Although the curriculum emphasizes biological applications, students learn about many other STEM areas including environmental science, astronomy, and atomic physics.

Whether it’s a 2-hour introductory lesson, or a full-scale, 40-hour biochemistry course, your students will benefit from an unforgettable and invaluable experience learning about the molecular world around them and inside themselves.

Elementary and junior high students are naturally inquisitive and are primed to engage in our advanced curriculum, but our content can help students of every age understand science, all the way to AP biology and AP chemistry. In fact, we use very similar learning materials in our college classrooms!

Below is a sample curriculum outlining the first six lessons of our learning sequence. For a current listing of learning units, click here.

 

  • Hour 1: Introduction to bonding and gas molecules.

On the first day of the program, students use molecular modeling software to discover for themselves how hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen bond to make both extremely complex protein molecules as well as simple gas molecules. They learn the bonding rules that govern how these atoms connect with one another and begin to realize that the world is made of atoms and molecules. Students get their first glimpse at biochemistry by studying how hemoglobin carries oxygen in the body. Model building activities include the construction of atmospheric gasses and pollution molecules.

  • Hour 2: Hydrogen-Containing Molecules

Students build their molecular vocabulary by learning about and building important hydrogen rich molecules like methane, ammonia and water. They begin to use the periodic table to predict patterns in bonding, and start exploring the fantastic diversity of chemical structures.

  • Hour 3: Electron Orbitals

Students use specialized animations and other learning tools to decode the periodic table and predict an element’s atomic structure, including its electron configuration.

  • Hour 4: Covalent Bonding

The first big secret of chemistry is revealed in this lesson: that the periodic table is a coded message to predict not only atomic structure, but also bonding behavior. Students begin to understand why atoms bond the way they do, and why some molecules are possible and others are not. Students start to build more and more complex molecules and learn their connections to everyday life.

  • Hour 5: Plastic and Flavors

This lesson gives students another preview into the worlds of materials science and biochemistry. First, students perform a “hand held polymerization reaction” in which ethylene is polymerized into polyethylene plastic. They realize how the molecular structure of this molecule corresponds with the macroscopic properties of plastic, and see with their own eyes why plastic is so hard to biodegrade. Next, students then learn that every scent or flavor they have ever experienced, comes from the interaction of small organic molecules with their olfactory receptors. They draw and build flavor molecules of their choosing, to literally get a feel for the spectacular diversity of the chemical world. If students weren’t convinced that biochemistry was awesome before, this lesson makes them believe it!

  • Hour 6: Acids, Bases, and Charge

Students dispel myths about what acids are, and learn their true nature, and that many common molecules, even water, can be considered an acid. They learn how the protonation state of a molecule determines its charge, and get their first glimpse into one of the most important category of acids—amino acids—which make up many of the important molecules inside their own bodies.

Advanced Curriculum

With the foundation provided by the first six lessons, students can explore almost any area of chemistry and biology with confidence. Here are some advanced topics that the curriculum covers.
 
  • Amino Acids and Chirality

Did you know molecules can be left handed or right handed? Students learn how to tell them apart, and see how this molecular feature is essential to understanding amino acids, the building blocks of proteins and enzymes.

  • Peptides

Students learn how to construct giant molecular polymers from amino acid monomers, opening the door to interrogating proteins, the molecular machines that make life go.

  • Hydrogen Bonding
How do biomolecules get their shape? How do molecules recognize and communicate with one another? Why is DNA’s double helix double? A new kind of bond—the hydrogen bond—is introduced here, and students see how ubiquitous and important it is to understanding biology.
 
  • Molecular Weight
We look again at the atom and introduce the neutron. Students can now calculate atomic and molecular weights, learn the mole concept, and make solutions of different molarities.
 
  • Functional Groups
Students look back at all the molecules they have so far learned and begin classifying them and naming their bonding patterns. They also learn how to predict a material’s properties simply by looking at its molecular structure.
 
  • Protein Folding
Everything students have learned so far comes together and we begin interrogating protein form and function on the grand scale.
 
  • Metals, Ionic Bonding, and Biomaterials
Students apply concepts of electron configuration and charge to begin investigating the behavior of elements throughout the periodic table, including metals.  Students learn about balancing charge to predict a compound’s element stoichiometry, and explore the molecular structures of shells and bones.
 
  • Lipids and Membranes

Students learn the structures of lipids and their uses, and how they form cell membranes, store energy, and act as intercellular messengers.

  • Carbohydrates and Polysaccharides

Students are introduced to sugars and their polymers. In these later lessons, biochemistry’s importance to understanding nutrition becomes clear. 

  • Nucleotides and Nucleic Acids

Students learn to draw and work with DNA and RNA models. They see on the atomic scale how information is coded and copied in these molecules. We can now easily explore topics like mutations, cancer, and evolution.

  • Radioactivity and the Chemistry of Stars
The isotope concept is developed and students learn about the instability (radioactivity) of some atoms. We then turn to the stars, and explore the origin of the elements. How stars generate light, and how all the elements in the universe are formed is a question of stellar chemistry. 

Future Curriculum

Since our approach to teaching seems to work universally in many subjects, we are currently designing and piloting classes for kids in advanced math-physics. As we develop and integrate these learning units into our previously-designed programming, our curriculum will begin to coalesce into a new and comprehensive Science Technology Engineering Art Math (STEAM) curriculum.

 

Our Project Began With Art Learning

Influenced by the ideas of the master art educator Betty Edwards, we wanted to begin investigating whether young students could rapidly learn realistic drawing. After running several art classes at Yale’s Peabody Museum, using similar methods to those of Edwards, it became clear that students indeed had a hidden potential in visual arts that could be unlocked using some simple teaching methods. The before-and-after drawing seen below is from my first time teaching art. Although it may be hard to believe, results like this became routine for my classes, and are seen regularly in adults who use Betty Edwards’s methods.

As Ph.D. chemists, our instinct was to create a similar highly-effective and rapid science learning method. After almost a decade of development and piloting, Biochemistry Literacy for Kids produces the same kinds of shocking transformations in student thinking as those seen below.

With eight hours of science instruction, students can now make the same quantum leap—from a juvenile outlook of the physical and biological worlds, to a sophisticated, thoughtful, and almost professional level of understanding.