Friday, March 24, 2017

Jersey Physics


The Physics First program could become "Physics Last" at Montgomery High School, if a group of parents have their way.

All Montgomery High School freshmen must take physics, but a petition being circulated by parents is calling on school officials to re-evaluate the high school science program - including abolishing the Physics First program.

The petition, which has been signed by more than 300 parents, states that the Physics First program "creates an undue amount of stress, negativity and decreased confidence for our children."


However, Montgomery Township school district officials said the rationale for requiring physics for freshmen is that it is a "foundational" science. It builds into chemistry, which leads into biology, said Jason Sullivan, the science supervisor at Montgomery High School.

The freshman physics course is offered on three levels - general, college prep and honors, Sullivan said. The freshman course is a conceptual, algebra-based course, but the honors course addresses a few items where basic trigonometry is involved, he said.


Freshman Alexandra Lister told the school board that she knew physics would be challenging, but there was no choice. The result is she feels stressed and confused.

"I am a high achiever and I am self-driven. I don't deserve the burden of physics," Alexandra said. She cannot focus on other courses because she is worried about the physics course, she said.

It's certainly true that physics is foundational - necessary to deeply understand almost all the other sciences, but it's also true that it's the most mathematically demanding science. Most of physics is not really accessible without calculus. I think that I might find it painful to teach a whole year of physics without invoking calculus.

When I went to high school we took a freshman level course in physical science. I don't recall much about it but one can use such a course to introduce concepts like gravity, basic electromagnetic phenomena, energy and heat as well as apply it to astronomy, geology, and engineering.

We were on the layer cake plan: sophomores got biology, juniors chemistry, and seniors physics. My preferred approach would be four years of plain science, integrated with the math curriculum, and carefully building the tools needed for all the sciences. The students would get physics, chemistry, biology and some other sciences each year.