The following course descriptions detail the likely offerings during any school year, though specifics will vary from term to term and course lineups are always changing. Click on the course titles below for full descriptions.
AP Biology provides an in-depth study of the organism from a molecular and physical perspective while also considering both current and historical relationships among organisms. From such a study students may better understand humankind’s place in nature and our relationship to the living world. This is a rigorous and fast-paced college-level introductory course, which meets four single and one double period a week. Major topics in the fall term are cell biology and genetics; in the winter term, evolution and physiology; and in the spring term, plant and animal physiology. Activities include lectures, discussions, films, field trips, and research (laboratory and library). The course generally follows the College Board AP Biology outline; however, there is a significantly greater emphasis on laboratory work than required by the AP Biology syllabus. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry, and Departmental approval.
This course is a full-year, college-level, comprehensive study of the structure and properties of matter in preparation for the AP Chemistry exam in May. Theoretical concepts are developed by class discussions and observed during extensive, independent work in the laboratory. Topics covered include: formula and reaction stoichiometry, gases, liquids, solids, solutions, atomic theory and atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, chemical bonding and hybridization, kinetics and equilibrium, acids, bases and acid-base reactions, solubility and precipitation, complex ions, thermochemistry, thermodynamics, oxidation-reduction reactions, electrochemistry, transition metals and organic chemistry. Classroom and laboratory practices stress quantitative chemical problem solving, precise measurements, careful observations, logical interpretation of results, and summation of laboratory results in logical, organized lab notebooks. Student achievement is assessed through quizzes, tests, lab notebooks, laboratory technique and class participation. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry, and Departmental approval.
The goal of this course is to provide students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and human-made, to evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and to examine alternative solutions for resolving and/or preventing them. Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry.
This full-year course is equivalent to a one-semester, calculus-based, college-level physics course especially appropriate for students planning to specialize or major in the physical sciences or engineering. The course prepares students to take the AP Physics C Exam and explores topics such as kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion; work, energy and power; systems of particles and linear momentum; circular motion and rotation; oscillations and gravitation, angular momentum and orbital dynamics. Introductory differential and integral calculus is used throughout the course. The class teaches students to:
observe and measure natural phenomena
design and execute experiments
organize, display, and critically analyze data
determine uncertainties in measurements and properly propagate these errors to calculated quantities
draw inferences from observational data and its associated errors
communicate results and suggest ways to improve experiments and propose questions for further study
Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry, Calculus concurrently
Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. AP Psychology introduces students to the study of human behavior from a variety of perspectives: biological, cognitive, humanistic, psychodynamic, behavioral and socio-cultural. Topics, including sensation and perception, learning and intelligence, motivation and emotion, personality, growth and development, and abnormal psychology, are covered through reading, experiments, and study of real-world experiences. This course prepares students for the AP Psychology Exam in the spring. Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry
This is a one trimester introductory course in astronomy. The course takes a temporal approach that begins with the origin and evolution of the Universe (cosmology), and gradually gets closer in space and time to Earth now. The formation, structure, and evolution of galaxies and stars are covered, along with a brief survey of the origin and constituents of our solar system. The course continues with an overview of the sky and its changes due to the motion of the Earth and other celestial objects: the daily movement of the stars according to an observer on Earth due to the Earth’s rotation, the phases of the moon, the seasons, and the movement of the planets against the background of the “fixed stars.” The observational component of the course includes evening and early morning sessions and a required weekend camping trip.
Cellular and molecular biology provides an introduction to topics such as biological molecules, cell structure, DNA, protein synthesis, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration. Collectively, these concepts provide students with a basic understanding of how biological systems work. It is upon this understanding that subsequent biology electives in the second and third trimesters are built. This course includes weekly laboratory meetings in which students complete work with computer-based data collection, microscopy, and internet-based research. Prerequisites: Physics and Chemistry.
The main idea of evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor. Beginning with Charles Darwin, students explore how scientists explain the diversity of life on our planet. The search leads them through the many different ways that scientists have studied evolution, from fossil records to recent molecular and genetic information, and in the process they learn about the importance of mutation, migration, genetic drift, and natural selection. As the course focuses on the human evolution story, students discover that scientists, using diverse approaches, all now agree that there probably is a common modern human ancestor, and that ancestor lived in Central Africa. At this point, the course becomes a very personal odyssey for each student, as the class will participate in an international real-time research study, the National Geographic Society Genographic Project. Each student sends in for analysis a "cheek swab" of DNA; by studying the results of each student's family migratory history, the class learns about the unique origins of humans on earth. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry
In this course students explore the variety and distribution of life on Earth with the intention of relating that knowledge to understanding the plant and animal species that surround Thacher’s campus (and in some cases reside within it). The course uses the free textbook Life on Earth, written by E.O. Wilson, and includes weekly field excursions or laboratory exercises. Assessments include four tests, weekly quizzes, and laboratory/field work reports. The course culminates in a final project.
This course involves the study of marine life using a taxonomic approach, beginning with microscopic, unicellular organisms such as microalgae and cyanobacteria, and ending with a survey of the oceans' largest organisms, the whales. As each group is considered, ecological connections are highlighted as the habitats and behaviors of example organisms are discussed. Students use laboratory periods to complete a variety of activities, including dissection, web-based research, and group and individual project work.
This is a course that introduces the student to basic anatomy and organ system function as they relate to major diseases, and health problems of companion animals. This class affords students a base knowledge of veterinary science by moving through topics ranging from the cell to surgery, and to provide a view of the practice of veterinary medicine through the eyes of an experienced practitioner. Study also includes hands-on laboratories where students spend time exploring companion animal vital signs, physical examination techniques, basic first aid, nursing, and wound care. Students also explore vignettes of a day in the life of a veterinarian that relay James Herriot-type stories with relevance to clinical practice and the daily work of a veterinarian. Prerequisites: Physics, Chemistry
Chemistry and Honors Chemistry are introductory courses in chemistry, which cover such topics as atomic structure, nuclear chemistry, formula and reaction stoichiometry, gas laws, equilibrium, kinetics and thermodynamics. Chemical principles are discussed in the context of environmental issues and industrial applications. Laboratories are conducted weekly to support and enhance course content. Both Chemistry and Honors Chemistry have a quantitative component. However, Honors Chemistry, which is open to students selected by the department based upon their achievement in physics and mathematics, is faster-paced and mathematically more rigorous. Students who successfully complete the honors version of this course are prepared to take the College Board’s SAT II in Chemistry.
Geology is a college-level, survey course that covers a range of topics in physical geology including: minerals, rocks, and the rock cycle; earthquakes and Earth’s interior; volcanoes; mountain building and structural geology; principles of geologic dating; and plate tectonics. Field and classroom practices stress careful observation and measurement of the natural environment coupled with quantitative problem solving and computer work. Information and data from the World Wide Web is utilized for classroom activities.
This is a basic human anatomy and physiology course that focuses on the structure and functions of select systems of the human body. A mammalian dissection is one of the laboratory activities associated with both sections of this course. After an introduction to the basics of anatomy, the trimester-long class will explore the details of one of two sets of human systems. Option A focuses on skeletal, muscular, respiratory, and circulatory systems; Option B focuses on digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems.
As the first class in Thacher's science curriculum, this course introduces students to scientific exploration of the physical phenomena that shape their world and their daily experiences while at the same time developing their skills in logic, formal analytical thought, data analysis, and experimental design. The syllabus begins with a conceptual approach to Newton’s Laws and progresses to momentum and energy, gradually introducing more quantitative problem solving. After momentum and energy, topics covered include torque and circular motion, gravitation, Einstein’s Special Relativity, the properties of solids, liquids, and gases, atomic structure, vibrations and waves, and electricity and magnetism. The course includes informal laboratory work and several hands-on projects.
The role of science in contemporary society is complex and at times confusing. Often, the scientific community is expected to study and explain issues that profoundly affect us both now and in our future. Certainly, it is more and more essential in these modern times for educated citizens to strive to understand the science underlying contentious public issues. This is the premise for this half-credit course, organized and taught by the entire science department. Each week, a different science teacher will introduce students to an issue, providing reading and discussion to support the topic. Possible topics include: global warming, stem cell research, intelligent design, water rights, and science in the legal system.
Chair of the Science Department; Chemistry and Geology Teacher
Colgate University - BA University of Tennessee - MS Dartmouth College - PhD
Known on campus as “Doc V,” Chris did his undergraduate work in geology at Colgate University and then earned an MS in geology at the University of Tennessee and a PhD in geochemistry at Dartmouth College. At Thacher, he teaches Honors and AP Chemistry, chairs the Science Department, advises sophomore girls, works on the college profile committee, and coaches girls’ volleyball. Before arriving at Thacher, he worked as an environmental consultant in Boston and taught science at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts and at the Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. In addition to his primary teaching responsibilities in chemistry, Chris continues to be involved with the school’s astronomy program and observatory, and he maintains an interest in our local weather and global climate. He lives on campus with his wife, Theresa, their four children, and their labradoodle, Eddie.
Originally from the pea-sized town of Bishop, California, Edgar is a 2015 graduate of Kenyon College. While at Kenyon, Edgar studied psychology and philosophy and played for the Kenyon Lords, captaining the team during his senior year. Since graduating, Edgar has worked primarily in education as a tutor, coach, summer trip leader, substitute teacher, lead teacher, and college teaching assistant—both abroad and in the States. Currently, he is pursuing a master’s degree at Middlebury College during his summers.
At Thacher, Edgar lives in Upper School and advises freshman boys in Lower School dormitory. When Edgar is not on a horse or coaching soccer and track, he can be found teaching AP Psychology and Spanish III, hosting philosophy club or cheese table, assisting the Winters with the Christian Fellowship Club, and organizing campus weekend events with the Indoor Heads.
Thrilled beyond measure to serve as the School’s first Fisher Fellow, what Edgar loves most about Thacher is “being part of such a vibrant and unique community, dedicated to the cultivation of intentionally resilient, mindful, and genuinely kind individuals.”
As a scientist-turned-teacher, Owen has made it his mission to get students excited about technology and science through hands-on project-based education. After earning his M.S. in Oceanography from the University of Washington in 2016, Owen joined the staff at the Evergreen School, a private K-8 in the Seattle area, to teach students how to use 3D printers, laser cutters, and shop tools in the school’s makerspace. He has also worked in traditional classrooms, teaching everything from math and science to video game design, and has coached soccer, basketball, and ultimate frisbee. Owen received his B.A. in Geosciences with a certificate in Computer Science in 2012 from Princeton University, where he met his wife, Ellie Wilkinson CdeP 2008. Owen will be teaches Physics, Computer Science, and soccer. In spite of his hardy Rochester, NY roots, he has to admit that he's also eager to spend a lot of time outdoors in the California weather.
Veterinary Medicine Teacher
University of California, Davis - BS Atlantic Veterinary College - DVM
Kristen is a veterinarian and East End neighbor who initially came on board at Thacher in 2007 to teach Veterinary Medicine, an upper-division science elective. Today she also team teaches Science and Society and serves as faculty advisor for the Vet Med Club. In addition to teaching, Kristen oversees the veterinary care of the Thacher horses and works with freshmen in the Horse Department, saddling up each afternoon and helping teach the new riders the ropes (and leather) at the barns, on the trails, in the arenas, and in the backcountry.She enjoys skiing, fly-fishing, and showing cutting horses. Kristen’s husband, Jim, farms citrus, avocados, and blueberries throughout the Ventura County region. Together they have two children, Michael CdeP 2016 and Sarah CdeP 2018.
Biology and Chemistry Teacher
Mount Holyoke College - BA Montana State University - MS
Heather teaches chemistry and biology and advises senior girls. She has also coached girls’ lacrosse and soccer, making use of her intercollegiate experience at Mount Holyoke College as a letter winner in both sports. In addition to coaching, Heather is active in the School’s community service program, the Sustainability Council, and the Environmental Action Committee. Before coming to Thacher, Heather worked at Groton School and also at the Louisville Collegiate School in Kentucky. She lives on campus with her husband, Bill, and their two small children and two enormous rescue dogs.
Tommy Hattori teaches math and science and serves as the dorm head for Lower School. He also coaches football and boys’ lacrosse at Thacher. Born and raised in Monterey, California, Tommy attended UC Berkeley, where he also played lacrosse. Tommy has previously taught at The Stevenson School in Pebble Beach and Pace Academy in Atlanta. He lives in the Lower School dorm with his wife, Danielle, and two children, March and Rower.
Before joining the Thacher faculty full-time, Alice ran two private preschool/elementary schools—the Emma Willard Children’s School in Troy, New York, and then the Monica Ros School here in Ojai. She brings her love of teaching to the high school level with her class in AP Psychology and her involvement in the team-taught science course, Science and Society, an elective for upperclassmen. Alice and her husband, Kurt, have lived at Thacher for 35 years and raised two boys on the campus, both Thacher graduates. Throughout her time at Thacher, Alice has undertaken a variety of roles: dorm head for both sophomore and freshman boys; college counselor; head of the Senior Exhibition Committee; and coordinator of the school's accreditation. Currently, Alice serves as director of studies, managing Thacher's academic program.
Director of the Outdoor Program and Science Teacher
A Thacher graduate, Brian returned to work at his alma mater in 1997 after graduating from Whitman College. He serves as the Director of the Outdoor and Camping Programs, teaches AP Environmental Science, and instructs (and inspires) students in the rock climbing program, where he uses his long experience as an elite Exum Mountain Guide in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. He also enjoys frequent weekend climbing trips to places such as Yosemite Valley and Joshua Tree National Park. An advisor to sophomore boys, Brian enjoys the complementary roles of working with students in the outdoors and in the classroom. His passion for the outdoors also fills his free time, as he enjoys climbing, skiing, and running. Brian lives on campus with his wife (and Thacher classmate!) Blossom and their two children.
Biology and Physics Teacher
University of California, Berkeley - BS University of California, Davis - MS
Peter teaches biology and physics. An avid and experienced outdoorsman, he is part of the Outdoor and Horse Programs. Never having ridden before teaching at Thacher, he became hooked as part of a new faculty riding group during his “freshman” teaching year and has been part of the program ever since. He advises freshman boys in Lower School. Peter has known about Thacher his entire life, as his father graduated from Thacher in 1942, and while he did not attend Thacher himself, three nieces, a nephew, and both his daughters graduated from Thacher. Peter and his wife, Donna, live on campus and have two daughters. Katherine CdeP 2008 is a graduate of Tufts University and after working as an environmental activist for four years has changed careers and is now a coder/web developer for a startup in Boston. Kristin CdeP 2010 is a graduate of Colorado College and is currently in her second year at the UC Davis Veterinary School.
Born and raised in the First State, Dietrich made the easy choice to move from Delaware to California after graduating from the University of Delaware with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Geology. He initially landed in Claremont, California where he was baptized into the boarding school world at The Webb Schools of California. At Webb, Dietrich taught a variety of science classes, coached, and helped to lead summer paleontology trips around the western US. He left Webb to work at Harvard-Westlake in Studio City, CA where,over the last 16 years, he took on a variety of roles including teacher, coach, and recently Dean of Faculty and Staff. He also earned an M.S. in Geoscience Education while teaching at H-W. Dietrich enjoys sharing his love of the outdoors with his students. He teaches in the science department, here at Thacher, but don’t be surprised if you see him hanging around the wood shop, the climbing wall, or coming back from a dawn patrol surf session before classes. If you really want to see him geek out, ask him about paragliding or skiing.
Director of the Thacher Observatory and Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy Teacher
University of California, Berkeley - PhD University of California, Los Angeles - BS
Jon was born in New York but grew up surfing and playing sports in North County, San Diego. His first loves are poetry and music. However, Jon’s fascination with the natural world led him to the intellectual frontiers of astronomy and astrophysics, where he has published his research in several areas of specialization, including cosmology, star formation, exoplanets, and astronomical instrumentation. At Thacher, Jon directs the campus observatory, which was renovated with full automation capabilities and a new, research-grade telescope in 2016. In addition to managing the astronomy research and extracurricular programs, Jon teaches astronomy, physics, mathematics, and data science, while also helping to coach the soccer and tennis teams. Jon lives on campus with his wife Gloria, daughter Annika, and son Ansel.