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A Proposed “Physics First” Pilot Program in Three High Schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools Towson, Maryland. presented by George Newberry Coordinator of Secondary Science and Hays B. (HB) Lantz, Jr., Ed.D. Director of Science PreK-12 February 2004.

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A Proposed “Physics First” Pilot Program in Three High Schools

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A Proposed Physics First

Pilot Program in Three High Schools

in the Baltimore County Public Schools

Towson, Maryland

presented by

George Newberry

Coordinator of Secondary Science


Hays B. (HB) Lantz, Jr., Ed.D.

Director of Science PreK-12

February 2004

Biology, Chemistry, and Physics

Typical Sequence of Science Courses

in High Schools Today

(Recommended by the esteemed Committee of Ten in 1894!)

Now Heres an Egg of an Idea . . .

Could it Possibly Be Time For A Change ?

Change the Course Sequence to

Physics, Chemistry, and Biology

What Factors Provide the Rationale for this Change?

Maryland High School Assessments

Existing Biology Assessment and NCLB Legislation

Proposed Physics, Chemistry, and/or Earth Science Assessments

Revisions to Core Learning Goals in Science -- Chemistry, Physics,

and Earth Science

Initiatives from State and National Science Education Organizations

Maryland State Department of Education

National Science Foundation

American Association for the Advancement of Science

National Science Teachers Association

National Research Council

American Renaissance in Science Education (ARISE)

Changes in the Nature of the Discipline of Biology

Integration with other areas of science, mathematics, and technology

Emphasis on abstract principles and concepts

A Major Curriculum Recommendation Contained

Within All of These Factors . . .

Teach Physics FIRST

in the high school

course sequence

AAPT Statement

on Physics First

The following statement was adopted by the Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers at its meeting in College Park, MD on April 13, 2002.


The Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) recognizes that teaching physics to students early in their high school education is an important and useful way to bring physics to a significantly larger number of students than has been customary. This approach -- which we call Physics First -- has the potential to advance more substantially the AAPTs goal of physics for all, as well as to lay the foundation for more advanced high school courses in chemistry, biology, or physics.


We are supportive of the proposal for Physics First as a part of a grade

nine aligned curricular program with math and technology education, and are looking forward to the participation of our members in the final design of the total curricular experiences.

Mr. Michael Dick

President, Engineering Society of Baltimore

Baltimore County Public Schools

Blueprint for Progress

Performance Goal 1

By 2007, all students will reach high standards, as established by

the Baltimore County Public Schools and State proficiency levels

in reading/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies...

Performance Indicator for Goal 1

1.13 All students successfully completing Algebra I, biology,

English 9, geometry, and government will pass the

Maryland High School Assessment on their first attempt.


How would we do if passing the

Biology High School Assessment were required for graduation today ?

Approximately 65% of ninth grade students today are receiving Ds and Es on the end of year exam in biology.

Data Source

BCPS Biology End of Year Exam

(Patterned on Biology HSA)

Research/Observations on Physics First

Physics is the foundation for chemistry, and

chemistry is the foundation for contemporary


More students enroll in upper level physics.

More females enroll in upper level physics.

The mathematics required is consistent with math

offered in grade 9 (Algebra I).

Student achievement in upper level physics is


Physics topics are of high interest for 9th

grade students.

At least one major textbook publisher has acknowledged that students need a background in physics and chemistry in order to understand biology.

Holt Biology 2004

by Raven and Johnson

  • Physics Topics include:

  • Speed and Momentum

  • Acceleration

  • Work and Power

  • Machines

  • Newtons Laws

  • Types of Waves

  • Wave Interactions

  • Energy Transformations

  • Law of Conservation of Energy

  • Electrical Energy and Circuits

  • Chemistry Topics include:

  • Water as Universal Solvent

  • Physical & Chemical Changes\

  • Law of Conservation of Mass

  • Fluids

  • Classes of Matter

  • The Periodic Table of Elements

  • Chemical Behavior

  • Balancing Equations

  • Concentrations of Solutions

  • Solubility

  • Behavior of Electrolytes

Physical Sciences Refresher

Biology used to be about cutting up critters and looking at their innards. Now its all molecular. Its about DNA and double helixes . . . .

Chemistry is the foundation for modern day Biology.

Richard Taylor, Dallas High School science teacher, in

support of the high schools new approach to teaching

physics first.

Newsweek, April 22, 2002

About 1/3 of the Items in the MSDE

Biology High School Assessment are

in the area of Biochemistry.

Gary Hedges

MSDE Science Specialist for Biology

Sample Items from 2001 Biology HSA

Another Sample Item from 2001 Biology HSA

Whats Required is a Paradigm Shift







Many high schools

have taught physics as the first

course in the sequence, followed

by chemistry, and then biology.

The Principles of Physics course is conceptually-based

as compared to physics taught using a

theoretical/mathematical approach.

T =

2 d


Physics Taught at the

Theoretical/Mathematical Level

Response Time

T =

2 d


Physics Taught at the Conceptual Level

Response Time

Principles of Physics

Algebra I

New Technology

Education Course

(designed to support the application of physics concepts and Algebra)

Active Physics is the Text Proposed for

the Principles of Physics/Algebra I/Tech Ed

Curriculum Partnership in Three Pilot Schools

for 2004-2005


  • Woodlawn High School

  • Milford Mill Academy

  • Dundalk High School

The content of Active Physics is very appropriate

for ninth grade students. In fact, I sometimes use

Active Physics with my upper level physics classes

to help them understand the physics concepts

before they use and apply the formulas.

And, yes, this is real physics.

Bob Lane

National Board Certified Physics Teacher

Active Physics Pilot Teacher at Suitland High School, PG Co

If you have taught middle school science or are science trained, then teaching the content of physics first poses no real problems. I have had no problems understanding and teaching the content.

Eleanor Smith

Earth Science Teacher, PG Co

Active Physics Pilot Teacher

What Does This Look Like Beyond

Grade 9 ?

Chemistry in Grade 10

Acids and Bases


Bond Geometry, Bond Tension

Chemical Reactivity and Relationship to Structure


Fundamental Reactions


Organic Chemistry

Oxidation - Reduction


Radioactivity, Atomic Stability

Simple Chemical Bonding


Supported by Geometry and ChemTech

Biology in Grade 11

Atoms (Phosphorus, Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, etc.)

Behavior of Organisms

Biological Diversity; Genetics, Species, and Ecosystem

Cell Structure and Function

Energy, Flow of Matter and Energy



Interdependence Among Biota/Abiota

Levels of Organization: Cells, Tissues, Organs, etc.

Macromolecules DNA/RNA, Carbs, Lipids, Proteins



Trends and Cycles

Water Chemistry

Supported by Algebra II and BioTech

Earth and Space Science in Grade 12

Tools and Techniques of Investigating Earth and

the Universe

Gravity and Microgravity Environments

Formation of the Universe and Solar System

Sun - Earth Connections

Interactions of Sun - Earth - Moon System

Atmospheric and Oceanic Circulation


Structure of Rocks and Minerals

Rock Cycle

Plate Tectonics

Geologic Time

Supported by other mathematics, science, and technology electives.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world!

Albert Einstein, 1879-1955


In the Baltimore County Public Schools,

we have more teachers certified to teach

physics than to teach earth science.

Hays B. Lantz, Jr., Ed.D.

Director of Science PreK-12

Two physics teachers are currently using

Active Physics materials at my high

school with ninth grade students.They like

the materials, particularly the activity based

approach, which is very consistent with

the 5E model.

Hameed Sharif

Science Teacher Coordinator


All ninth grade students (24 classes) at Bladensburg High School this school year are taking Conceptual Physics using the Active Physics materials. The students are very positive about being involved in an activity- based program. We have seen a decrease in student behavior problems because of this. The students are doing much better than they would have in Earth Science. Teachers are adapting well.

Earline Richardson

Science Teacher Coordinator

Bladensburg High School, PG Co

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