RE: [asa] science education (was: YEC the default Christian belief?)

From: <>
Date: Thu Nov 19 2009 - 12:26:20 EST

The 'physics first' advocacy that you referenced with your link is interesting
to me for what it might reflect about our scientific views & methodologies,
though I didn't see the authors of that site delving into that so much as their
more practical opinion that students would be better served by getting physics
early so as to establish their scientific mindsets & habits as preparation for
the more complicated courses like biology.

Our school (& in this I'm sure we are reflective of most other institutions)
didn't make some kind of philosophically motivated decision to teach the
sciences in their current order. Rather, we are following a larger
institutional inertia (for better or worse) that prescribes this order; making
it simpler for transferring students to know what to expect in another school's
course schedule. I.e. most seniors wouldn't want to be taking a freshman level
biology course with 9th graders just because the school they transferred from
used a different order of classes. But that is to side-step the question and,
by itself, makes for poor justification of why we do what we do.

That said, I think there is some legitimacy to the current order and why (I
imagine) it arose. First of all, students DO get some physics early on, via
their physical sciences course taught at 9th-10th grade levels. And that is
enough physics to give them a rudimentary launch into chemistry or other areas.
 Ideally this introduction is HEAVY on scientific methods, etc. But it is brief
and necessarily incomplete physics --not just because it has to share the year
with other necessary sciences like geology or oceanography, but also because
students at that level are not mathematically prepared to really enjoy physics
as they ought to. If they already had a firm basis with algebra (at least as
far as the quadratic formula) and with trigonometry (enough to process vectors),
then physics can be given at least some of its rigor even at the high school
level. And for that rigor, it needs a whole year AND the said mathematical
proficiency. (to say nothing of how calculus can tie into it for those students
who pursue math that far in high school.) None of that happens for 9th or 10th
graders. You can fairly ask, "why not?" Shouldn't they already have all that
math by that age? Perhaps so. Perhaps we are mathematically "in bad shape."
But I just don't see that changing any time soon. The reality (IMO) is that the
math should precede the physics. And all that said ... one can fairly ask, "so
why are U.S. students so woefully underprepared in science?" --a fair question,
and I won't presume to attempt an answer here. But I don't think such a
proposed course re-arrangement would help anything.


Quoting "Alexanian, Moorad" <>:

> The order of science teaching ought to be physics-chemistry-biology. This
> makes sense since it goes in the direction of the simpler to the more
> complex---recall physics deals with dead matter! Therefore, one can develop a
> better understanding of what science is and what it is not from learning
> physics first rather than biology. In biology, the experimental results are
> often yoked to an evolutionary explanation by burdening the teaching of the
> experimental aspect of biology, viz. DNA, genetics, etc., which is nonsense.
> Physics is more quantitative and so the teaching of physics first would
> remove that false notion gained by those who start science studies with
> biology, which is very qualitative, and damages the conception of what
> science is that if often irreversible. That is why students always balk at
> physics and say that it is very hard. Of course, physics is difficult if you
> compare it with biology, which does not put a strain on the brains of our
> K-12 students.
> See the following websites.
> More students need more science! (Physics Nobel laureate Leon Lederman is a
> leader in this effort.)
> Also,
> Physics First in Science Education Reform
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: [] On Behalf Of
> []
> Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2009 11:02 AM
> To: Cameron Wybrow
> Cc:
> Subject: Re: [asa] science education (was: YEC the default Christian
> belief?)
> I'm teaching at a Christian school, but this course sequence should still be
> fairly typical, I believe in larger public schools.
> 9th grade: Biology
> 10th grade: Physical sciences (this would include geology, meteorology,
> chemistry, physics, some astronomy)
> 11th grade: chemistry
> 12th grade: physics
> Other electives are also available, though not every semester or year such
> as
> Human anatomy, zoology, or botany.
> It isn't that students can't take these courses out of sequence ---if the
> scheduling allowed for such a thing (& in our small school --it wouldn't)
> they
> could pile up all four science classes in one year if they wanted, but who
> would
> want to do that? So in a practical sense, moving one science class
> elsewhere
> means encouraging the re-scheduling for another for the obvious reason that
> we
> want sciences spread out over their high school years.
> gotta go --time for geometry class.
> --Merv
> Quoting Cameron Wybrow <>:
> > Merv:
> >
> > I think I'm not understanding you.
> >
> > Are you saying that if the subject of evolution were moved up to a higher
> > grade, physics would have to be moved down to a lower grade to compensate?
> > That doesn't follow, unless I badly misunderstand your system.
> >
> > I wasn't speaking of moving an entire biology *course* to a higher grade,
> > but of moving *material* from a lower-grade biology course to a
> higher-grade
> >
> > biology course. For example, if biology in your school is studied in
> ninth
> > grade and eleventh grade, I was suggesting moving *the evolution unit*
> (the
> > two or three weeks spent studying evolution) from the ninth-grade course
> to
> > the eleventh grade course, and correspondingly moving something else
> (maybe
> > ecology, it doesn't matter, since it's only for illustrative purposes)
> down
> > from the eleventh grade course to the ninth grade course. If physics were
> > offered in, say, tenth grade and twelfth grade, it wouldn't be affected in
> > the slightest by the shuffling of material between biology courses. So
> I'm
> > missing your point.
> >
> > Or are you saying that biology is only offered *once* in all of high
> school,
> >
> > and physics is only offered *once* in all of high school? If that's the
> > case, American science education is in bad shape indeed.
> >
> > Please describe the system for me. Suppose I enter ninth grade in a
> typical
> >
> > American school -- use your school if you wish -- and I know right from
> the
> > start that I want to be a scientist or engineer, and I want to take
> *every*
> > science course available to me at *every* grade level. What would the
> > sequence be? What could I take in ninth grade? In tenth? In eleventh?
> In
> >
> > twelfth? How many could I get in total? (Leave out the math courses; I
> > just want to know about the science courses.)
> >
> > Please indicate also if you are talking about semestered courses (running
> > from Sept to Jan, or from Feb to June) or full-year courses (running from
> > Sept to June).
> >
> > Cameron.
> >
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: <>
> > To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
> > Cc: <>
> > Sent: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 5:28 PM
> > Subject: Re: [asa] YEC the default Christian belief? (was: (aliens)
> November
> >
> > Newsletter from Reasonable Faith)
> >
> >
> > > Quoting Cameron Wybrow <>:
> > >
> > > That's an interesting proposal (to move biology to an 11th or 12th grade
> > > level.
> > > And maybe it would accomplish a "side-stepping" of controversy as you
> > > suggest.
> > > As a physical sciences teacher, though, I do enjoy the luxury of
> teaching
> > > physics as a senior level class when students have some algebra and
> > > trigonometry
> > > (and maybe even some calculus) under their belt. Teaching it earlier
> > > would
> > > seriously weaken the content. It would be interesting to hear if high
> > > school
> > > level life science teachers would or could teach biology more rigorously
> > > to a
> > > senior than they do to a sophomore.
> >
> >
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> >
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Received on Thu Nov 19 12:26:54 2009

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