Physics first debate to data
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“Physics First” Debate to Data. Rachel Zabierek The Bishop’s School La Jolla, CA. Physics First: Debate to Data. Late 1990s – Leon Lederman and Project ARISE Invert traditional Bio- Chem -Phys science course sequence as part of an effort to “revolutionize”

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“Physics First” Debate to Data

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“Physics First” Debate to Data

Rachel Zabierek

The Bishop’s School La Jolla, CA

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • Late 1990s – Leon Lederman

  • and Project ARISE

  • Invert traditional

  • Bio-Chem-Phys science

  • course sequence as part of

  • an effort to “revolutionize”

  • American science education

Image Source:

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • Anticipated outcomes of Phys-Chem-Bio sequence

    • Students experience greater coherency and integration of science concepts

    • Provide concurrent context for algebra usage (in Physics course)

    • Allow for more authentic inquiry-based approach in all science courses

    • Should encourage schools/districts to create a seamless K-12 science education process

    • Provide enhanced support for girls, minorities, economically disadvantaged students (?)

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • Other “pro” arguments

    • More logical progression, follows “grain-size” hierarchy of science

    • Increased enrollment in physics courses

  • “Con” arguments

    • Lack of necessary mathematical skills

    • Freshmen?!?

    • Dearth of qualified physics teachers

    • Difficulty of conversion process

    • Textbooks

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • Data?

    • Mostly qualitative

    • Some causal-comparative or correlational, but limited in scope

    • Hot topics:

      • Mathematical rigor

      • Can freshmen really “learn Physics”?

      • Teacher preparedness

      • Curriculum content/textbooks

      • Pedagogy

      • Science course enrollment

      • College performance

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • Goodman, R. & Etkina, E. (2008). Squaring the circle: A mathematically rigorous Physics First. Physics Teacher, 46(4), 222-227.

    • Algebra-based Physics course successfully prepare students for future science courses?

      • 85-90% of “physics topics” teachable with algebra

      • 9th grade course – AP Physics B mechanics and E&M

      • 10th grade course – remaining AP Physics B topics

      • By 2006, students taking AP science courses and passing tests at 4.5x the NJ state average

      • Students graduating with average of 4.2 science courses

      • Average math SAT scores within 0.1σ of state average

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • Burgess, T. & Goff, K. (2011). Physics First Impact on Advanced Placement Biology and Science Enrollment. Unpublished.

    • Juniors (P/C/B), Seniors (IS/Bio/Chem) in AP Biology course

    • Administered multiple choice portion of 2002 AP Biology exam

    • No difference in performance of cohorts (juniors

      scored slightly higher, but not statistically significant)

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • Sadler, P. & Tai, R. (2007). The Two High-School Pillars Supporting College Science. Science, 317, 457-458.

    • Effects of high school science and math on performance in intro-level college science courses

    • n=8500

    • “Out-of-discipline” course performance had no effect (ex. high school physics performance had no effect on college intro bio performance)

    • Study in same subject increased performance

    • Number/level of math courses increased performance

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • WARNING!! Shameless plug…

    • Master’s thesis

    • Science perceptions and attitudes of PCB vs. BCP students

    • Survey of junior/senior students who have just completed sequence

    • TOSRA and other questions

    • Vertical integration? Scientifically literate? Coordination with math?

    • Teacher/administrator survey

Physics First: Debate to Data

  • In Conclusion…

    • Lack of quantitative data to measure “effectiveness” in pedagogical approach, success in future science courses

    • Difficulty in defining “Physics First” poses problems, lack of standardization

    • What exactly are we hoping to see? Greater scientific literacy? How to measure?

Physics First: Debate to Data

Thanks for Listening!


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