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Biology

 

Biology is the science of life and of living organisms. The subject is taught throughout the school using a range of teaching methods including independent, collaborative and practical work. Our aim is to develop knowledge and understanding of various biological concepts, giving individuals the opportunity to develop an understanding of scientific methods and the important role that biology plays in today’s society.

In Years 7 and 8 all girls follow an integrated Key Stage 3 Science course, and Biology is taught as a separate subject from Year 9. At KS4 each science discipline is taught by subject specialists, and at GCSE, the girls are studying either AQA Science and Additional Science or AQA Triple Science.

Demand for Biology in the Sixth Form is very high. Currently we have seven groups following the AQA Biology specification to AS and seven to A2. Results at KS5 have been consistently outstanding and more than 60% of girls elect to follow a Biology/science related course at university. In recent years girls have achieved national recognition in competitions run by the Society of Biology, and they have also received AQA awards for outstanding examination performances.

Within the Biology Department the girls are offered a range of extra-curricular activities to develop and extend their individual interests. These include: a programme of speakers from universities who are specialists in biology related fields. Speakers regularly come into school to discuss current biological developments with the girls, and to promote the vast career opportunities that the subject offers. The girls are also responsible for the maintenance and care of tropical fish, which are housed within the Department. Teachers provide weekly additional help at a drop-in on Monday lunchtimes in Lab 6, and also offer afterschool support to any pupil if required.

 


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Extra Curricular

Each year we enter girls into these two national competitions, run by the Society of Biology. Biology Challenge is a competition for Year 9 and 10. Our girls compete online against students around the country, with bronze, silver and gold awards being awarded to the highest scoring students. We have had fantastic success this year with over 50 girls from Years 9 and 10 entering and 31 receiving an award in the competition. The competition required the girls to answer questions that tested their knowledge beyond the curriculum areas that they study. Special congratulations go to Hannah McLoughlin and Emily Sibley in Year 10 who managed to achieve a silver award in the Competition. Congratulations to the many girls who also achieved a bronze award.

The Biology Olympiad is a competition for Year 13 students who show outstanding knowledge of Biology. It consists of a demanding online test and they compete against students from around the country. If students succeed in being selected as one of 12 finalists, there are also practical tests to determine the overall winner, and a presentation event in London in July. Winners then may be selected to represent Britain in the International Biology Olympiad, which this year will take place in Switzerland.

Biology Week

Biology Week is a national initiative organised by the Society of Biology, and takes place in October every year. Each year the department celebrates by organising a programme of exciting activities which the girls can get involved with. Some of the activities on offer this year included a Biology poetry competition, quizzes, dissecting animals and several lectures on topics including disease, developments in cancer treatment and careers within Biology. Miss Russell also shared her experiences from her trip to Costa Rica, and the unusual animals she encountered, and Mrs Downing also brought her pet tortoise into school to explore animal adaptations.

Biology and Art Competition

This year we challenged girls to produce a piece of artwork, which conveyed a biological concept. Congratulations to our winner Shriya Pilli in 9.2 for producing a stunning canvas painting illustrating Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Club

STEM club is a weekly club which allows girls in Years 7-9 to explore their interest in biology and science further, whilst appreciating how the sciences, technology and mathematics are subjects which are closely linked, and rely upon each other. During STEM club girls have the opportunity to take part in hands on practical activities and projects, ranging from using microscopes and observing dissections, to working as a forensic scientist and building models.

Cake Competitions

During one of our last Year 13 lessons, students decided to bring into school biologically themed cakes that they had been involved in making. These ranged from whole organisms to individual “chromosome cakes”. We also ran a Biology Bake Off competition as part of Biology week. The winning cake was a fantastic creation of the structure of the lungs, whilst one illustrated a healthy lung and the other a diseased lung. It was pleasing to see the girls demonstrating their biological knowledge in such a creative way, and we had a lovely time judging and tasting them!

Collaboration

The Department has close links with Manchester University and has undertaken a variety of projects with various academics in recent years. Last year we welcomed a PhD student into the department for a three-month placement. He joined Year 12 and 13 lessons to share his research in DNA technology, which extended our student’s knowledge and understanding beyond the curriculum. He also created a Biology Careers display and booklet of information. We welcome STEM ambassadors into school to challenge students to apply their learning to the world around them, and to consider and discuss social and ethical issues related to Biology. For example, this year we have hosted discussion workshops such as Café Scientifique. This was hosted by a STEM ambassador and allowed students to debate issues related to the production of vaccines and more recently how to tackle the Ebola epidemic. We are always keen to cultivate relationships with parents working in biological areas either in industry or academia and welcome parents to offer talks into their research. For example, we are extremely grateful to Dr Ian Roberts (father of Lydia in Year 12) for his fascinating talks on ‘Old Drugs, New Bugs’ and ‘You are what you eat’.

Year 8 Zoo Trip

Each year the Biology department organises and runs a trip to Chester Zoo for Year 8. Pupils are accompanied by teachers and associate staff to the zoo, but once inside are allowed the freedom to choose where they wish to visit.

Chester Zoo is home to 422 different species, and over 9000 animals. The zoo is divided into dozens of enticingly-name areas: Elephants of the Asian Forest, Spirit of the Jaguar, Sea Lion Beach, Tropical Realm, Secret World of the Okapi. Pupils plan their day with their friends, deciding whether they are brave enough to enter the Twilight World, where bats swoop low over their heads, and if they are lucky the lions are active and prowling, their roar being heard across the zoo. 

The visit has curriculum links to the topics studied in Science in Year 8 – including Ecological Relationships and Human Impact on the Environment. Pupils have a worksheet to complete, with prizes for girls who find the most information or draw the best animal! 

 


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Frequently Asked Questions

How is Biology Taught?

In Years 7 and 8 Biology is taught as part of a Science course within forms. From Year 9, biology is taught as a separate subject by a subject specialist. In Year 9, pupils are taught in forms, but in Years 10 and above they are taught in mixed groups according to whether they take Core and Additional Science or Triple Sciences.

What resources will I have available to me?

Your teacher will usually provide you with a set of printed notes for each topic. You will also have access to a specification specific textbook for extra reading. We also provide online access to a textbook via Kerboodle. The Department has a range of resources available for you on the school network and other online areas such as Edmodo, and you are actively encouraged to use the revision material that is provided on this area. At all levels you are encouraged to read around the subject and you can subscribe to publications such as “Catalyst” at GCSE, and “Biological Review” or ‘’New Scientist’’ at Advanced Level.

How much practical work is involved?

The Department aims to carry out as much practical work as possible for each topic of the syllabus. These include both individual and group practical work to demonstrate the concepts studied, as well as fieldwork which is conducted in the school grounds.

Do you need to study triple science to access the Advanced Level Course?

Taking Biology within the Triple Science programme is the best preparation for Advanced Level. If you have not taken this option, you are required to complete the Biology ‘Bridging the Gap’ course prior to commencing the Advanced Level course. This course covers areas of the GCSE course not taught on the additional science specification, and takes place in school after the GCSE examinations. You are expected to attend school to complete the course, to ensure that you have studied all the necessary concepts essential for Advanced Level study. The resources are available on the school network, but you will also have the opportunity to carry out some additional practical activities. A teacher will be available to give you individual attention and to guide you through the material.

What do I do if I am struggling with the subject?

If you are struggling with any topic, we recommend that you seek help in the first instance from your subject teacher at a mutually convenient time. You can also use our “drop-in” clinics on Monday lunchtime in Lab 6 to gain further help with any areas of concern.

Where can Biology take you?

The subject of Biology covers a wide range of subjects including anatomy, genetics, physiology, biochemistry, enzymology, microbiology and Ecology. The basics of these are covered at A Level and form the basis for further study. Many university courses combine elements from several subject areas so it is possible to study a biological subject with mathematics, a foreign language, engineering or computing. Further information on studying Biology at University can be found in the sixth form area of the school network.

 


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Curriculum

Key Stage 3 – Year 7-9

In Years 7 and 8, Biology is taught within a Science course. Pupils are taught in form groups and cover a range of topics including: Cells, Tissues and Organs, Digestion and Reproduction in Year 7. In Year 8 pupils study Plants and Ecology, the Muscular, Skeletal and Breathing System and Respiration. They have the opportunity to carry out a range of practical work with the aim being to develop confidence in practical techniques that are needed to succeed as a Scientist. Pupils learn how Science and Scientific understanding is relevant to today’s society both in lessons and within extra-curricular activities, such as a visit to Chester Zoo.

Pupils begin the GCSE course at the start of Year 9. Starting the course earlier provides pupils with a greater range of practical experiences and time to study aspects of the course in more depth, thus providing them with a better grounding for future study.

 

Key Stage 4 – GCSE

At GCSE, the Science Department offers either Science and Additional Science or Triple Science. All Science areas are taught by subject specialists in mixed ability groupings and the GCSE teaching starts in Year 9.

Science and Additional Science

The course aims to develop pupils’ interest and enthusiasm for science, develop a critical approach to scientific evidence and methods and to acquire a knowledge and understanding of Biology and how science works, also focusing on its essential role in society. There are a variety of teaching methods used to enable pupils to acquire scientific skills and knowledge and the understanding necessary to progress to advanced level, if desired. Pupils are expected to utilise all resources, including those available on the school network, to supplement their studies.

A copy of the Science and Additional Science syllabi can be downloaded from the AQA website. Pupils study the Science A component of the course and are examined at the end of Year 10 by three 1 hour papers (one in each science) and through an Investigative Skills Assessment (ISA). In Year 11 they take three more 1 hour papers and another ISA for the Additional Science GCSE.

Pupils may complete more than one ISA and the best mark will be submitted. This consists of: a planning and research lesson; a 45 minute written paper where they write a method for investigation; a practical lesson in which pupils collect data and draw a graph to represent this data; and a second 50 minute paper where their knowledge and How Science Works Skills are assessed. These are run under exam conditions and pupils are encouraged to take these seriously since they contribute 25% of each GCSE.

Triple Science

Pupils complete the Science and Additional Science Units, but they also complete a third unit which includes areas of study such as: The Heart and Circulatory System, the Respiratory System, Exchange Surfaces and more detailed work on the environment. Within these topics, pupils also carry out more in-depth practical work.

A copy of the Biology syllabus is available from the AQA website. Pupils are assessed in all three Units at the end of Year 11, through three 1 hour examinations.

Pupils also complete a Centre Assessed Unit which comprises of an Investigative Skills Assessment which is worth 25% of their Biology GCSE. Pupils may complete more than one ISA in Biology and the best mark will be submitted. This consists of: a planning and research lesson; a 45 minute written paper where they write a method for investigation; a practical lesson in which pupils collect data and draw a graph to represent this data; and a second 50 minute paper where their knowledge and How Science Works Skills are assessed.

 

Key Stage 5 – AS Level

We aim to give interesting and varied lessons using a range of resources and teaching methods, and we value the contributions made by students during lessons. Each student is provided with course notes, past paper questions, textbooks, practical booklets and a student handbook, which contain all the relevant information for the course.

We follow the AQA Biology course, which is designed to encourage candidates to develop:

  • An enthusiasm for Biology
  • Practical skills alongside understanding of concepts and principles
  • An appropriate and relevant foundation of knowledge and skills for the study of      Biology in Higher Education.

At AS, this specification stimulates the enthusiasm of teachers and students from the start. It emphasises the way in which biologists work and the contributions of Biology to society in a way that underpins the specification but is not intrusive.

 

The current AS specification (final examinations in summer 2015) has 3 units:

Unit 1: Biology and Disease

The digestive and gas exchange systems are examples of systems in which humans and other mammals exchange substances with their environment. Substances are transported from one part of the body to another by the blood system.

An appreciation of the physiology of these systems requires candidates to understand basic principles including the role of enzymes as biological catalysts, and passive and active transport of substances across biological membranes.

The systems described in this unit, as well as others in the body, may be affected by disease. Some of these diseases, such as cholera and tuberculosis, may be caused by microorganisms. Other noncommunicable diseases such as many of those affecting heart and lung function also have a significant impact on human health. Knowledge of basic physiology allows us not only to explain symptoms but also to interpret data relating to risk factors.

The blood has a number of defensive functions which, together with drugs such as antibiotics, help to limit the spread and effects of disease.

Assessment

Written paper 1 hour 15 minutes
Weighting 33% of total AS marks / 17% of total A Level marks

Examination paper 5 – 7 short answer questions plus 2 longer questions (a short comprehension and a structured question requiring continuous prose)

Unit 2 builds on concepts developed in Unit 1.

Although a species may be defined in terms of similarity, there is frequently considerable intraspecific variation and this is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. DNA is an information carrying molecule, and similarities and differences in the sequence of bases in DNA result in genetic diversity.

The variety of life is extensive and is reflected in similarities and differences in its biochemical basis and cellular organisation. Factors such as size and metabolic rate affect the requirements of organisms and this gives rise to adaptations such as specialised exchange surfaces and mass transport systems.

Classification is a means of organising the variety of life based on relationships between organisms and is built round the concept of a species. Originally, classification systems were based on observable features but more recent approaches draw on a wider range of evidence to clarify relationships between organisms. Variation that exists at the interspecific level contributes to the biodiversity of communities and ecosystems.

Assessment

Written paper 1 hour 45 minutes
Weighting 47% of total AS marks /23% of total A Level marks

Examination paper 5 – 7 short answer questions plus 2 longer questions involving the handling of data and How Science Works

Unit 3: Internal Assessment Investigative and practical skills in AS Biology

This unit is assessed in the form of an Externally Moderated Practical Assessment (EMPA). The EMPA is a unit which requires student’s to make, record and communicate reliable and valid observations and measurements, with appropriate precision and accuracy.

One week before the assessment students will be informed of the areas of the AS syllabus the assessment will relate to. Students are expected to thoroughly review these areas and any practice material provided in preparation for the EMPA.

Students will complete 2 practical tasks independently in school, and these will be followed by answering a series of questions relating to the tasks carried out under examination conditions.

The final part of the EMPA is a written examination. This will consist of questions relating to the practical tasks carried out, and will require students to analyse, interpret, explain and evaluate the methodology, results and impact of their own and others’ experimental and investigatory activities. The EMPA examination is marked by external examiners and students will have only one attempt at the unit 3 EMPA in Y12.

Assessment

Written paper: 1 hour 15 minutes
Weighting: 20% of total AS marks /10% of total A Level marks

 

Key Stage 5 – A2 Level

The current A2 specification (last examinations in summer 2016) has 3 units:

Unit 4: Populations and Environment

Living organisms form structured communities within dynamic but essentially stable ecosystems through which energy is transferred and chemical elements are cycled. Humans are part of the ecological balance and their activities affect it both directly and indirectly.

Consideration of these effects underpins the content of this unit and should lead to an understanding that sustainability of resources depends on effective management of the conflict between human needs and conservation.

Assessment

Written Paper: 1 hour 30 minutes
Weighting: 17% of total A Level marks

Six – nine short answer questions plus two longer questions (a short comprehension and a short structured essay)

Unit 5: Control in Cells and in Organisms

Multicellular organisms are able to control the activities of different tissues and organs within their bodies. They do this by detecting stimuli and stimulating appropriate effectors: plants use specific growth factors; animals use hormones, nerve impulses or a combination of both. By responding to internal and external stimuli, animals increase their chances of survival by avoiding harmful environments and by maintaining optimal conditions for their metabolism.

Cells are also able to control their metabolic activities by regulating the transcription and translation of their genome. Although the cells within an organism carry the same genetic code, they translate only part of it. In multicellular organisms, this control of translation enables cells to have specialised functions, forming tissues and organs. The sequencing and manipulation of DNA has many medical and technological applications.

Consideration of control mechanisms underpins the content of this unit. Students who have studied it should develop an understanding of the ways in which organisms and cells control their activities. This should lead to an appreciation of common ailments resulting from a breakdown of these control mechanisms and the use of DNA technology in the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases.

Assessment

Written Paper: 2 hours 15 minutes
Weighting: 23% of total A Level marks

The written paper consists of eight – ten short answer questions plus two longer questions, a data-handling question and a synoptic essay. Students are expected to write an essay from a choice of two titles, during which they must answer referring to all the relevant areas of the A Level syllabus, reflecting a detailed understanding expected for this stage of study.

Unit 6: Internal Assessment Investigative and practical skills in A2 Biology

This unit is assessed in for form of an Externally Moderated Practical Assessment (EMPA). The EMPA is a unit that requires student’s to make, record and communicate reliable and valid observations and measurements, with appropriate precision and accuracy.

One week before the assessment students will be informed of the areas of the AS syllabus the assessment will relate to. Students are expected to thoroughly review these areas and any practice material provided in preparation for the EMPA.

Students will complete 2 practical tasks independently in school, and these will be followed by answering a series of questions relating to the tasks carried out under examination conditions.

The final part of the EMPA is a written examination, which will consist of questions relating to the practical tasks carried out, and will require students to analyse, interpret, explain and evaluate the methodology, results and impact of their own and others’ experimental and investigatory activities. External examiners mark this examination and students will have only one attempt at the unit 6 EMPA in Y13.

Assessment

2 practical tasks completed in school

Written Paper: 1 hour 15 minutes

Weighting: 10% of total A Level marks

We hope that you have found the information provided informative and useful. If you require any further information please feel free to contact the Biology department via the school.

 


 

AS and A Level from 2015

From 2015 the new A levels will be linear. This means that students wishing to take the full A level will not take any external examinations that count towards this qualification until the summer of Year 13. Those only taking AS Biology will study the same first four topics as A level Biology and will be examined in the summer of Year 12.

The AS course is divided into four topics, which are:

  • Biological molecules
  • Cells
  • Organisms exchange substances with their environment
  • Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms

and is examined in two papers at the end of Year 12.

AS Examination

Paper 1

Paper 2

What’s assessed

Any content from topics 1– 4, including relevant practical skills

What’s assessed

Any content from topics 1– 4, including

relevant practical skills

Assessed

  • written exam: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • 75 marks
  • 50% of AS

Assessed

  • written exam: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • 75 marks
  • 50% of AS

Questions

65 marks: short answer questions

10 marks: comprehension question

Questions

65 marks: short answer questions

10 marks: extended response questions

 

The full A level course consists of eight topics:

  • Biological molecules
  • Cells
  • Organisms exchange substances with their environment
  • Genetic information, variation and relationships between organisms
  • Energy transfers in and between organisms
  • Organisms respond to changes in their internal and external environments
  • Genetics, populations, evolution and ecosystems
  • The control of gene expression

and is examined in three papers at the end of Year 13.

Paper 1

Paper 2

Paper 3

What’s assessed

Any content from topics 1 – 4, including relevant practical skills

What’s assessed

Any content from topics 5 – 8, including relevant practical skills

What’s assessed

Any content from topics 1– 8, including relevant practical skills

Assessed

  • written exam: 2 hours
  • 91 marks
  • 35% of A-level

Assessed

  • written exam: 2 hours
  • 91 marks
  • 35% of A-level

Assessed

  • written exam: 2 hours
  • 78 marks
  • 30% of A-level

Questions

76 marks: a mixture of short and long answer questions

15 marks: extended response questions

Questions

76 marks: a mixture of short and long answer questions

15 marks: comprehension

question

Questions

38 marks: structured questions, including practical techniques

15 marks: critical analysis of given experimental data

25 marks: one essay from a choice of two titles