Physics for 9th Graders: A key step in BHS’s alignment to the Next Generation Science Standards
The BHS science department is planning a new course sequence beginning this fall (August 2017) that will, in the following year, be extended to all incoming 9th graders. This shift involves changing the science course that incoming freshman take from Biology to Physics 1.
If approved by the School Board this spring, all incoming 9th grade students in Berkeley International High School (BIHS) and the Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA) learning communities would begin with Physics 1 in fall of 2017, and the change would be fully implemented for all 9th grade students in 2018-19.
The proposed change to the science course sequence will not impact any current BHS student.
This webpage is designed to give you information about the shift to Physics 1 and the implementation of California’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) at Berkeley High School.
Information Session: April 18, 7-8pm
All are welcome to join BHS science faculty and educators for an information session on April 18th from 7pm to 8pm in the BHS library to learn more about the evolution of science instruction at BHS.
Questions or comments regarding BHS’s implementation of Physics for All and the NGSS?
Please contact BHS science co-leaders Glenn Wolkenfeld and Colleen Simon O-Neill with any questions before or after the meeting. The proposed new science sequence will be voted on by the School Board at the April 26th board meeting.
What is Physics 1?
Physics 1 is a physics course that’s designed to be taught with math that’s accessible to all 9th graders (as opposed to the physics courses currently available to BHS juniors and seniors, which require a more advanced level of math).
Physics 1 students will:
- Learn key physics content:
- Motion and forces;
- Electricity and electromagnetism;
- Vibration, waves, and sound;
- Light and optics.
- Perform over sixty labs, using probes for measuring and computers for modeling.
Goal: To whet students appetite for further science learning and for entering STEM (science, technology and math) related careers, and to prepare them for the chemistry, biology, more advanced physics, and science elective courses they’ll take during their sophomore, junior, and senior years.
Why Physics 1 for 9th Graders?
Physics 1 for 9th graders is part of how BHS science is adapting to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS is a multi-state effort to create a K-12, modern science curriculum that weaves together:
- cross cutting science concepts (such as cause and effect, structure and function),
- core ideas in each science discipline, such as:
- the physics idea that “forces at a distance are explained by fields,”
- the chemistry idea of “conservation of matter,” and
- the biological idea that “ecosystems have carrying capacities”);
- the practices employed by scientists and engineers (such as analyzing data, developing models, and carrying out investigations).
Teaching Strategies Evolving
Adapting to the NGSS involves significant shifts in science pedagogy at the high school level. These shifts involve more inquiry and investigation, more analysis, and more problem solving. This transition is underway in all of our science courses, and is a key part of the science department’s ongoing professional development efforts.
New Science Content
At the same time, adapting to the NGSS involves changes in the science content we teach at BHS. While well over 80% of BHS students take three or more years of science, only 20% of our seniors graduate having studied any physics. That is out of synch with the NGSS’s expectation for science learning: a vision in which all students demonstrate mastery of physics, chemistry, biology, earth science (geology), space science (astronomy), and engineering.
But Why Physics First?
Physics for 9th graders is part of a national movement in science instruction that promotes a logical sequence for science instruction. A major champion of this movement is Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman. The rationale for teaching physics first is that physics explores the most foundational topics in science, and it has the simplest systems for teaching the scientific method. Chemistry (taught to our 10th graders) follows physics because chemistry builds on knowledge taught in physics (such as atomic structure and forces). To an even greater degree, understanding biology requires an understanding of chemistry concepts (such as chemical bonding, acids, bases, intermolecular forces) and physics concepts (such as ionizing and non-ionizing radiation). As DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick has said, “the ultimate aim of the modern movement in biology is in fact to explain all biology in terms of physics and chemistry.”
At a more immediate level, teaching physics first allows us to address the biggest deficit we have in science learning at BHS: the fact that only 20% of our students study any physics during their time at BHS. Having 9th graders take physics will shift that to 100%.
What will the new science course progression look like?
Our proposed new science progression is as follows:
PROPOSED NEW BHS SCIENCE SEQUENCE
|9th grade||Physics 1*|
|10th grade||Chemistry* OR AP Chemistry*|
|11th grade||Biology* OR AP/IB Biology*||AND/OR Biotechnology 1-2|
|12th grade||Science Electives** and/or Biotech 3-4|
*Includes topics from Earth/Space Sciences and Science/Engineering Practices
** Includes AP/IB Biology, AP Environmental Science, IB Environmental Systems and Sustainability, Honors Anatomy & Physiology, AP Chemistry, Physics, AP Physics, Fire Science, Emergency Medical Careers, Sports Medicine
Will 9th Graders be able to succeed in Physics?
Absolutely. Physics 1 is being designed to be accessible to all 9th graders.
Will Students be able to take as many AP and IB science courses as they can now?
Yes. Many BHS students take three or even four AP science courses during their time at BHS. This is still possible within our proposed sequence. Courses such as AP Environmental Science, IB Environmental Systems, and Honors Anatomy & Physiology will probably see decline in enrollment as they move to being senior electives (because all students will take biology in their junior year).
What about Earth Science, Space Science, and Engineering?
Our plan is to integrate earth science, space science, and engineering topics into our 9th grade physics, 10th grade chemistry, and 11th grade biology courses.
What are some other benefits of physics for 9th graders?
Physics 1 will explicitly seek to harmonize its content and methods with that of Math 1, providing examples of how Math 1 concepts can be deployed in the sciences. Our hope is that this will increase student success in Math 1. We’re also hoping that by providing a science course with significant amounts of math in the 9th grade, we’ll be increasing student success in 10th grade chemistry. Finally, because the 9th grade physics and 10th grade chemistry provide needed background for Biology, we’re hoping to increase success in Biology as well.
Where else is Physics being taught to 9th Graders?
Just in the Bay Area, physics comes first at high schools such as Encinal High School (Alameda), Capuchino High School (San Bruno), Pioneer High School (San Jose), the Head Royce School (Oakland), and the College Preparatory School (Oakland).
What’s the best argument against 9th grade physics?
This is the right move to make to improve science education at BHS. At the same time, because of our adherence to the 1998 standards, we are currently a life-science oriented department. The staffing/credentialing issues involved with this transition are challenging (but we’re confident that we can make these changes successfully). The best argument against making this change is that it’s not going to be easy for the adults involved: it will involve significant amounts of adult learning and changing content expertise and teaching practices. But, again, we’re convinced that this a student-centered decision and is more than worth the effort.
Where can I learn more about this plan?
Come to the Information Session on April 18 noted above.
To view the March 22nd Board presentation about 9th grade physics, click here and begin watching at the 1:27.33 mark.
To read the full document submitted by the science department to the BUSD school board, click here.
To contact BHS science department leaders, please use the BHS science department co-leaders’ email links above.