Counter Appeal to MTSD Science Department Reevaluation
Firstly, criticizing the existing science department does no good to the current situation. The staff here at Montgomery have devoted many years toward the community and have fostered passion for science, as shown in the successes of STEM clubs like Science Olympiad, TEAMS, and Academic League.
There are flaws within the school system that are preventing students from succeeding to their own standards. However, getting rid of Physics First in no way solves these problems. The problem lies solely in the preparation of students by the middle school programs.
That being said, significant issues begin to arise when parents, who have limited experience with the science department, start to make claims that eliminating a single program will provide solutions.
- Biology honors as a freshmen course is problematic in that students will elect to take AP Physics C in their junior or senior year without having prior experience in the subject. Developing intuition in an honors or CP level course is the most ideal for students Physics is a good introduction to how science at MHS works. It's multifaceted, so you have essays, labs, tests, etc. It's meant to be challenging
- Allowing students to take a biology course may seem, on face, to be intuitive because it involves the study of life. On the contrary, when students begin to see microbiology, taxonomy, etc., concepts that are more intricate than they seem, similar effects will be seen. One could argue, in fact, that physics is more intuitive in that you begin to understand gravity in the context of classical mechanics and other concepts that students see and experience in their everyday lives such as acceleration, friction, velocity, speed, energy, and tension.
- Biology expands on some concepts that are taught in AP Chemistry. The current order of sciences would suit this better than providing biology as a freshman year course. Students begin to see biological reactions such as cellular respiration, photosynthesis, and organic compounds such as polysaccharides that would make more sense in context had students had a chemistry course prior to entering biology. Moreover, physics provides the basis for understanding many of the chemistry behind gas laws, and chemical kinetics that all build off particle motion and energy, a concept only learned in physics. Likewise, AP Chemistry utilizes concepts taught in physics. For instance, knowledge of vectors prior to taking AP Chemistry helps students grasp concepts such as dipole-dipole moment more easily. Additionally, much of the physics curriculum is focused on establishing a fundamental understanding of energy, which is vital for understanding chemical reactions. Physics is a building block for advanced chemistry concepts. However, the opposite is rarely true; chemistry is not a foundational science for physics to the extent to which physics is a foundational science for chemistry.
- One of the main reasons that students struggle in Physics Honors is that they do not have a strong basis in mathematics prior to entering high school. Many of the parents in the forums beneath the original petition to eradicate Physics First commented that only advanced students have a chance of succeeding. This is a completely flawed statement. First, trigonometry, one of the main components of vector addition and subtraction, an integral part of physics, is taught to students in geometry. If students are not capable of applying the concepts they learn in a middle school course, then they should elect to be in a lower level physics rather than claiming that the Physics First program is flawed and should be eliminated.
To address these problems adequately, it is important to note the following:
- The Strategic Planning Survey is by no means an accurate assessment of the science department’s capabilities. Not only that, but just because a survey reports that students thought the program was bad, it doesn't mean that the department and the program are not doing their job. There is no way to assure that students took the survey seriously and applied their knowledge of the program accurately. Being that this was the main push for the entire reassessment of the program, there should be considerable discussion on that point. There is no way to verify the reasoning behind the evaluation of the science program. In other words, we do not know why students are saying that the program is substandard. Thus, it cannot be used as justification for changing the Physics First program as we cannot guarantee that this is the problem with their dissatisfaction.
- The qualifications and preparations for students to take the Physics Honors course their freshmen year is simply determined by their performance in 8th grade, which is an inadequate means of assessing a student’s performing potential in Physics. Also, all 8th grade students are given the futile EPSTEIN test to determine their proficiency in mathematics and are told that their performance on this assessment will reflect their grades in physics the following year. However, the test asks questions such as “if each side of a cube is painted a different color, how many total colors will be used”, and other questions which can be answered with basic level thinking. This provides an extremely inaccurate representation of what physics is like and the grades students can expect to receive. We would recommend a test that is geared towards basic trigonometry, vectors, and other math concepts that are helpful for physics to see where students stand and to make a more accurate assessment of that student's abilities.
- A teacher in the physics department specifically informed us that part of the problem of students not succeeding to their standards in the course is the lack of mathematics, specifically trigonometry and vector computations. Since these are concepts that they already should have learned in geometry, there is no reason that we cannot implement this as part of the 8th grade science curriculum as part of the physics unit. This would provide a potential solution by creating a solid foundation for students to approach the class while maintaining the educational benefits and content lineage of the Physics First program.
Eradicating a program that has no proven flaws is simply wrong. We cannot make assumptions on the basis of ambiguous data and misdirected claims. Our suggestion is to implement a summer assignment and a stronger curriculum focus on trigonometry and other important math concepts for physics. Also, remove the EPSTEIN test in place of higher prerequisites for Physics Honors to ensure that students that enter the program are proficient in necessary science skills. There is also room for reform in the classroom learning experience, but removing the Physics First program is not the solution and would, in fact, be detrimental to student education.