For many years, high school science programs began with either biology or chemistry as the first science course. Physics was placed as an optional, highly rigorous, capstone course reserved for approximately 25% of students. The “physics first” approach implemented by Carroll County since 2005 inverts this traditional science sequence to place physics as the first course for all students in high school. Within this structure, students build their science knowledge and understanding on a concrete, fundamental physics foundation that undergirds the content of later chemistry and biology courses. Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman, a leading voice in the physics first movement, describes scientific knowledge as a layered pyramid with mathematics, a pursuit that can exist in isolation, at the base. Physics and chemistry comprise the next layers, and biology provides the capstone. In his argument, physics relies upon mathematics for explanation of its laws. Chemistry and biology each build upon the preceding layer as an understanding of biological molecules depends upon one’s insight into atoms which depends upon an understanding of electrostatic forces—a fundamental physics concept.
The Physics curriculum includes concepts such as Newton’s laws, work and energy, impulse and momentum, thermodynamics, waves, atomic structure, electricity and magnetism, and gas laws. It is designed to help the students segue into chemistry which provides a smooth transition to biology—the state assessed course for high school graduation. Conceptual Physics is offered as a Level 1, Level 6 and a Level 8 course.
Use of Instructional Technology
Students are immersed in a technologically sophisticated world outside of school. Within school, technological tools should be integrated regularly to enhance the teaching and learning of science. To this end, data acquisition tools such as MultiLogger Pro or Vernier LabQuest are integrated meaningfully whenever pedagogically sound to do so. For example in the study of motion, the use of photo gates and motion sensors have replaced stopwatches and tickertape timers. Other technological applications include the use of animations and simulations to study a variety of physical phenomena.
Conceptual Physics for all ninth grade students in Carroll County provides a unique opportunity for students to experience concrete, fundamental science concepts while applying recently learned mathematical skills. It is a pivotal course as it leads the students through the transition between middle and high schools while providing the undergirding for student preparation in the Biology HSA. Meeting the needs of all students is of the highest priority.