Our kid-friendly biochemistry lessons reveal science that is mostly ignored in standard curricula.
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.
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.
Students use specialized animations and other learning tools to decode the periodic table and predict an element’s atomic structure, including its electron configuration.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everything students have learned so far comes together and we begin interrogating protein form and function on the grand scale.
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.
Students learn the structures of lipids and their uses, and how they form cell membranes, store energy, and act as intercellular messengers.
Students are introduced to sugars and their polymers. In these later lessons, biochemistry’s importance to understanding nutrition becomes clear.
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.
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.
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.