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

From: Louise Freeman <>
Date: Thu Nov 19 2009 - 16:44:17 EST

Another factor: biology is typically the class where sex ed and, sometimes,
drug abuse and addiction are covered. (Or at least covered in a more
scientifically accurate matter than in many "just say no" health classes).
Many would prefer students learn about those topics before 11th grade.

On Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 3:49 PM, gordon brown <>wrote:

> 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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Louise M. Freeman, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychology
Mary Baldwin College
Staunton, VA 24401
FAX 540-887-7121
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Received on Thu Nov 19 16:44:57 2009

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