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

From: gordon brown <Gordon.Brown@Colorado.EDU>
Date: Thu Nov 19 2009 - 15:49:37 EST

A discussion of the order in which science courses should be taught in
high school probably should not ignore their relation to the mathematics
courses in the curriculum.

I know that at the college level physics departments are very anxious that
their majors should have rather specific mathematical prerequisites or
corequisites for their courses. On the other hand, the biologists are not
enthused that the standard calculus courses contain so many applications
to physics.

Gordon Brown (ASA member)

On Thu, 19 Nov 2009, Alexanian, Moorad wrote:

> I think a conceptual and experimental course in physics can be taught quite early on with very little emphasis on mathematics. I recall that I was told by an administrator that the order biology-chemistry-physics was based on alphabetic ordering. Witness at all the experiments in electricity and magnetism that were done prior to Maxwell writing his famous four equations.
> Moorad
> ________________________________________
> From: []
> Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2009 12:26 PM
> To: Alexanian, Moorad
> Cc:
> Subject: RE: [asa] science education (was: YEC the default Christian belief?)
> 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.
> --Merv
> 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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Received on Thu Nov 19 15:50:26 2009

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