Thursday, July 30, 2015

Introducing Physics First

     In the spring of 2008 a website and a pamphlet with the prose below was used to introduce parents, staff and community to the coming changes in the science sequence.  This pamphlet was first shared with staff and started the conversations about the new science sequence.
     Father Bry Shields, President of the School, was the author of the introduction below.  The prose was modified and shortened in the web version as the years passed during the transition.  Each year a new graphic replaced the previous graphic.  The intent was to share the positive impact the "Physics First" sequence was having as well as continuing to share about the original reasons for moving to the new "Physics First" sequence of sciences.
      McGill -Toolen implemented a new venture in science education, popularly known as "Physics First" in 2008.   In a typical high school science program students take the science course sequence of  biology, followed by chemistry and then physics.  Did you know that this pattern of courses was originally designed in 1893?  Much more is known about the relationship among physics, biology, and chemistry in our present day.  We now know that an understanding of the atomic structure and molecules (chemistry) depends on a knowledge of energy storage and transfer (physics).  In turn, knowledge of living systems, the subject of biology, depends on understanding chemical bonding and reaction energies.  In light of contemporary scientific developments it makes logical sense to reverse the typical pattern of high school science courses by introducing students to physics first, followed by chemistry and then culminate with biology which relies on the previous two disciplines.
      Beginning with the the class of 2012, the sciences are sequenced to provide for greater coherence .  There is increased emphasis now on learning science through experimental methodology.  Freshmen take physics, which better prepares them to study chemistry during their sophomore year.  Students in the new sequence with Chemistry as sophomores are then found to learn more Biology during the junior year.  Seniors then choose from numerous science electives (which now include every advanced placement science course).  This new approach to science allows more time for inquiry, investigative skill and understanding and requires less redundancy and rote memory.  This website is provided to answer common questions frequently asked about "Physics First".  
       McGill-Toolen Catholic High School implemented the new sequence with the support of the science staff (unanimous support in 2007), with extensive teacher development (using the National Science Foundation supported "Modeling Physics" program) and using projected enrollment in Physics First to guide the design of the new science building.  Students in the new sequence have shown incredible standardized test score increases (on the ACT).  More students are taking Advanced Placement Science courses, more students are passing Advance Placement Science exams, more students are winning at interscholastic competitions and every student is taking Physics.  This means every student is better prepared for the highly technical world that our students will face.

What is the new sequence of science courses?  
     Physics is taken the freshman year.  Chemistry is engaged the sophomore year.  Biology is required of all students the junior year.  Senior choose an elective science the senior year.
What is meant by a coherent sequence of the sciences? 
     A coherent sequence is an order of science topics that build on earlier understandings.  A coherent science sequence first establishes a fundamental understanding of energy and then gradually arrive at the advanced processes found in biology.   Physics provides an understanding of energy.  Energy is involved in all chemical reactions. Chemical reactions are the basis of all biological functions.  
Does this new sequence limit the number of science courses a student may take?   
     No. The new curriculum allows students to take an elective science at the the senior level.  All Advanced Placement Sciences are provided (including Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science and Physics), Forensics, Marine Science, Anatomy & Physiology, Zoology, Genetics, Earth and Space Science  and other courses are available the senior year based on student interest.  Some students may elect to take senior level electives in the junior year in addition to the junior level biology course.
Why did the transition occur from 2008-12?   
     The Science Department recognized an opportunity to change the sequence in light of the success of the capital fund drive to provide state of the art science facilities.  The new science building (provided in 2009) was designed to facilitate the new science sequence and the projected changes in student course selections.
How will students be placed at different levels each course in the sequence?   
     The guidance and science departments work to place students where they will be both challenged and successful.  The school offers honors, college preparatory and Advanced Placement classes for all levels of science students in the school.
Are the students prepared for the math in a freshman Physics course?   
     The math requirements are carefully matched to the skills of the student in the classroom.  One advantage of this sequence is an increased opportunity for mathematical reasoning skills that help enhance student math skills and abilities (based on numerous research done over a number of years at a variety of high schools) .
What textbook is used for freshman Physics?     
     “Physics: A First Course” textbook published by CPO Science (2005).  Note:  "CPO Science" is the new name for the company formally known as "Cambridge Physics Outlet".
Who teaches the new freshman physics course?   
     Science teachers (presently on staff) who have volunteered and have received special training (in the use of "Modeling Physics" developed with the help of the National Science Foundation) for the freshman level physics course.  The training included the development of teacher skills in both the appropriate content and the most effective instructional strategies useful in freshman physics classes.
How did this affect students at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in the previous sequence?   
     Students in the previous sequence continued with that sequence.  Biology for the sophomores, Chemistry for the juniors and then Physics, Anatomy and Physiology, Marine Science or the AP courses were available to seniors.  The entering freshman class of 2008 was placed in the new sequence.
If you have more questions please feel free to contact the Science Department Chair:
       Dr. Tim Burgess at: 

In all the material above it is important to remember that the views expressed by me here, on any website or in any publication do not  represent the views of  
McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, 
Archdiocese of Mobile or any  part of the Universal Catholic Church.

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