Biology helps us understand who we are, how our bodies work and where we fit into the ecosystems to which we belong. By doing so we can begin to try and treat diseases caused by normal biological processes going wrong, or other organisms invading or attacking us and we can try and correct or prevent any further damage to our environment.
Biology is a science that is always changing: new results from research are constantly making us re-examine and re-think what we know about some of the processes that happen in our cells or bodies. Textbooks have to be updated and rewritten and what is taught to students can be different from year to year. But it is exciting. The last thirty years have seen such discoveries as gene therapy; human stem cells; AIDS and HIV; an unravelling of the human genome DNA sequence; the birth of Dolly the sheep and other cloned animals; development of new treatments for disease; development of genetic engineering and genetic modification of animals, plants and foods. There has also been a rise in the outbreak and prevalence of diseases such as SARS, avian and swine flu, AIDS, caused by HIV, cancers, diabetes, and drug-resistant tuberculosis. All of these diseases require further understanding of the biology of the organisms involved.
Students learn about the correct way to design experiments and how to analyse the resulting data through carrying out a series of investigations using the single-celled microorganism, Saccharomyces cerevisaie (Baker’s yeast). There is also a choice of research project from such topics as conservation; air pollution and global warming; or acid rain. Towards the end of the year we begin to study units from the Cambridge IGCSE syllabus, looking at the characteristics of living organisms, classification of organisms and the features of animal and plant cells.
Year 10: Continues the study of the IGCSE course, with suitable additional learning opportunities for any students who are new to BSK. Students will learn about enzymes, the digestive system, plant nutrition, transport systems in plants and animals, respiration and breathing, and plant reproduction.
Year 11: Reproduction in animals and ecology are both studied before the mock IGCSE examinations. The remaining units from the syllabus (Inheritance; Excretion and Homeostasis; and Coordination and Response) are covered before the IGCSE examinations begin in May.
Practical IGCSE work: Biology is a practical subject and we aim to include as many relevant experiments as possible to help develop students' experimental and analytical skills. A practical examination is also an option in the final IGCSE examinations. The Biology labs are well equipped and throughout the IGCSE course students will become familiar with enzyme experiments, preparing and examining microscope specimens, dissection of various organs, experiments examining plant biology, for example photosynthesis and transpiration, and investigations of their body and how it responds to changes in its environment.
Biology is chosen for further study at AS and A Level by students who are considering careers in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, environmental science, sports science, biotechnology or medical research. Throughout the Pearson Edexcel AS and A2 courses, biological processes are examined in much greater detail, with an emphasis on explaining and interpreting observations and data.
Unit 1: Lifestyle, Transport, Genes and Health
This unit focuses on two major diseases: cardiovascular disease and cystic fibrosis. Students will learn about the molecular background to both diseases; the physiology of the organ systems that are affected; and the current treatments and research, including clot-busting drugs, genetic screening and gene therapy.
Unit 2: Development, Plants and the Environment
This unit explores the various organelles found in eukaryotic cells, examining their structure and functions. The use of adult and embryonic stem cells is investigated as a way of providing new therapies for disease and injuries. Plants are studied as providers of drugs such as aspirin and chemotherapy agents for treating cancer, and as possible eco-friendly replacements for plastics, as bio-plastics.
Unit 3: Practical Biology and Research Skills
Students are assessed on their understanding of the experimental design of several core practicals carried out throughout Units 1 and 2. The ability to analyse and interpret experimental data and its implications is also examined.
Upon progression to A2 Biology, Year 13 students will study a further three units that build on the principles studied during the AS course:
Unit 4: The Natural Environment and Species Survival
Ecosystems are studied and the techniques learned are applied during a field trip to examine the effects of biotic and abiotic factors on ecosystems. The evidence for global warming is examined and the implications of climate change are investigated in relation to species distribution, diversity and evolution. The reactions of photosynthesis, which are essential for all life, are also studied at a detailed molecular level, as part of this unit. The second topic in this unit involves studying techniques used by forensic scientists for identification of bodies and estimation of the time of death, including DNA fingerprinting analysis and forensic entomology, where fly maggots and pupae are used to measure the time of death. Infection of the body by micro-organisms is studied and students explore how their immune systems adapt to fight off endless possibilities of invasion by bacteria and viruses.
Unit 5: Exercise, Energy and Coordination
Students add to their knowledge of respiration as a reaction that is essential for life in all organisms by studying the biochemical reactions that lead to the release of energy, which is then used for muscle contraction. The response of various body systems to exercise is examined in detail and the dangers of over- or under-exercising and the use of performance-enhancing drugs are considered. Control of these processes by the nervous system is studied and the findings on human brain structure and function gained by new brain-scanning technologies are compared to our earlier understanding from animal experiments. The responses of both animals and plants to stimuli are compared and the structure of the animal’s eye and its response to light are examined in detail. The final examination for Unit 5 also includes a pre-released scientific article that covers a range of topics from both the AS and A2 courses in addition to novel, related material. Students are examined on their understanding of these wider applications of their knowledge.
Unit 6: Practical Biology and Research Skills
Students are assessed on their understanding of the experimental design of several core practicals carried out throughout Units 4 and 5. The ability to analyse and interpret experimental data and its implications is also examined.
Throughout their study of Biology, students will be encouraged to take control over their own learning. This is developed through the regular setting of homework to reinforce and extend the material covered during lessons and extensive use is made of the school’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to allow students to learn at their own convenience and pace. The VLE also allows extensive use of online resources such as simulations, animations and video tutorials.
Students are encouraged to do their own research on topics which they find interesting, and to find creative ways of using their ICT skills to present their work in novel formats, such as videos or mock television programmes. Both A Level course textbooks are available as ActiveBooks that can be installed on computers. Biology teachers are also regularly available to answer any questions from students or to discuss further any aspects of the topic on which they need clarification or in which they are particularly interested.
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