Teaching Physics First
Columbia Public Schools and the University of Missouri received a $3 million government grant for a program called Physics First.
"It makes sense to teach the basic science in a sense, the building block first, which is physics, than to teach chemistry, than to teach biology," explained Meera Chandrasekhar, MU physics professor.
Physics First uses modeling, which lets students come up with their own experiments. Jim Roble has used the technique for the past year.
"At first they were very frightened," he recalled. "At first they would just ask, 'Why can't you just tell us the equation?'"
Now, Roble said his students embrace the change.
"They said, 'Why can't we do what we've been doing all year, and do modeling of physics?'" he said.
Program organizers say teaching physics during the first year of high school helps students.
"At the ninth grade, because of where the students are developmentally, it is also important to lay the foundation of looking at physics phenomena, trying to look at experiencing the physics phenomena through experiments," said Chandrasekhar.
Then, teachers hope ninth graders will study science later at places like MU. Teachers also hope students will raise their Missouri Assessment Program test scores. Roble already has received positive student feedback.
"Next year, I have the largest classes that I've ever had in my teaching career after just one year of teaching physics from a modeling standpoint," he noted.
Physics instructors will meet several times in the next three years to discuss teaching methods.
Reported by Jamie Grey
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