Why don't more high schools teach physics first? (2023)

New research on an old idea

Co-author: Amanda Valenti

Why don't more high schools teach physics first? (1)
(Video) The Difference Between A Bad Physics Teacher and Good Physics Teacher

Of the 100 or so physics professors that we (Amanda and Elissa) have met over the years,Almost everyone believes that physics should be the first science class every high school student takes.. If you ask our fellow biology, chemistry, and geography teachers, they agree: physics concepts are foundational and prepare ninth-grade students for later success in other science subjects. This article looks at: (a) why physics should come first, (b) why more schools still don't practice it, and (c) what we can do about it.

So let's start with (a) why physics should come first. This is not a new idea:The Committee of Ten proposed a first model of physics130 Years Ago For context, science classes in American high schools (unlike in other countries) are generally taught as one subject per year. In the last hundred yearsThe most common order in high school was biology first, then chemistry, then physics. this episode islargely arbitraryand possibly the opposite of what makes sense. Biology content is based on students' mental models of chemical processes and energy flows (chemistry), which in turn are based on physical and electrical interactions and energy transfer (physics). But the fundamentals of physics can be taught without relying too much on biology and chemistry. In fact, the high school physics we teach today—key topics like motion, forces, energy, and electromagnetism—was universally discovered.before the end of the 19th century, while much of the content in high school chemistry and biology classes dates back to the last 150 years.

By studying physics first, students learn to build models to explain and predict phenomena and then apply their model building skills to the sciences that follow. In contrast, chemistry and biology are too complex for students to build strong mental models without physical assumptions, and therefore students resort to memorization rather than conceptualization. As a result, chemistry and biology students who have not previously studied physics often learn their sciences in a hands-on rather than a systemic way. This prevents them from making predictions and testing them, a practice fundamental to science. (October 2021 Update: Many thanks to Mohammed Ashraf Aziz of Howard University and Barbara Dunn of the NIH for discussions that strengthened this paragraph.)

The most common argument we hearfirst against physicsis that math is too high. We strongly disagree: physical concepts go hand in hand with introductory algebra, making sense of potential meaning.dry and disorienting theme. Also, physics is a great opportunity to introduce math concepts to ninth graders. Our ninth graders learn the physical meaning of the slope of a graph, or the area under its curve, and are able to apply these concepts to countless applications in school and life. However, there is a non-algebraic mathematical concept that comes up in a typical high school physics class: trigonometric functions (used to manipulate vectors). Honestly, trigonometry is not fundamental to the basics of physics - you can remove this part of the syllabus or just teach it.SOH-CAH-TOAto their ninth-grade students. (We did both.)

(Video) Teaching science: we're doing it wrong | Danny Doucette | TEDxRiga

So physics first is good for students: it goes well with algebra and prepares them for modeling and conceptualization in later science courses.But physics first is also good for schools.When surveying school principals, we have anecdotal evidence that offering physics first makes schools more attractive to potential students. Physics degree programs indicate that a school believes in rigorous science education beginning in grade 9 and that the school is innovative (althoughThe movement has been growing for 30 years). In states that have a standardized summative biology assessment (such asworld rulersin upstate New York), students' grades may increase when they take the tenth-grade test, both because they are older and because they took physics the year before. (Note that we have only anecdotal, not systematic, quantitative evidence so far.) Physics also creates a school community when all ninth graders take physics together, rather than relying on the science courses they took in high school to divide it up. them. in different sciences.

Why don't more high schools teach physics first? (2)

The next logical question is (b) why don't more schools offer physics first? About27,000 high schools in the US, only2000 first adopted some version of physics(according to the most recent data we could find).As of 2013, 84,000 US students participatedPhysics first, which accounted for only 6% of high school physics enrollment.The best people to talk to about this are our school principals, because they are the ones who design course offerings and teacher plans for their schools. We conducted a small survey of 17 school principals from the 5 boroughs of New York City. (Our next step is to expand the survey and its reach.) Two-thirds of school leaders surveyed had a background in math or science, but less than 20% of them had ever heard of physics. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of their schools started with biology, with physics, if any, being offered to Grade 12 students. When we asked principals if they thought it was a good idea to teach physics first, only a few said yes and half weren't sure. In general, they answered that they had not thought about this before.

Why don't more high schools teach physics first? (3)
(Video) Problems with High School Physics - Sixty Symbols

The other main reason principals said they didn't offer physics first was that they couldn't find enough physics teachers to be effective in the ninth-grade classroom. Principals may be willing to revise their course schedules and deal with a few years of deadline stress, but only if there are teachers who are eager and willing to have meaningful experiences in a ninth-grade physics class. There are many potential first physics teachers, but our teacher preparation and professional development programs must promote this opportunity and nurture aspiring physics teachers.PhysTEC NYwork with these challenges.

We now turn to (c) what we can do about it. There are two approaches that need to be taken in parallel: getting school leaders to experience physics first and getting more people to become physics teachers first. School principals are aware of this.Access to physics classes is unfair, and counties with a high level of poverty are less likely to offer physics classes.. As teachers (especially those who teach low-income or underserved students), we can show our managers the importance of physical education and how relevant and impactful a 9th grade physics course can be. Therefore, it is up to directors to find teachers.Physics professors are in high demand.. And teaching 9th grade requires different skills and interests than teaching 12th grade. First, we need to attract more people to specific physics classes, perhaps from other courses or other disciplines. Teaching ninth grade physics is not an impossible task. In fact, there are many resources for ninth grade physics teachers, includingactive physicsit's himAMTA. It's fun and it's our favorite class we teach.

If there's a high school in your community that doesn't teach physics to all ninth graders, try asking (politely) why. Worth the try!

(Video) When a physics teacher knows his stuff !!

To learn more about physics first, here are resources onAAPT,APS, it's himMissouri Initiative.

Why don't more high schools teach physics first? (4)

sign somethingeducational discoveriesfor a dose of professional learning and inspiration throughout the week with the latest education news and research.

Why don't more high schools teach physics first? (5)
(Video) Reality of Teaching High School | First Year Teacher Truths


Why isn't physics taught first? ›

The most common argument we hear against physics first is that the math is too high-level. We strongly disagree: physics concepts go hand-in-hand with introductory algebra and imbue meaning in an otherwise potentially dry and disorienting subject.

Is it better to take chemistry or Physics First in high school? ›

Chemistry will be more useful as a pre-AP Bio class. Physics is a good background to have if you plan to do anything engineering in college. Physics is more mathematical than chemistry.

What percentage of high school students take physics? ›

Nationally, almost 700,000 students take physics in high school each year, about 25% of all students. About 360,000 students take introductory physics in college, often as a requirement for engineering, science, or pre-med majors.

Should physics be taught in high school? ›

Studies indicate that high school physics helps significantly to reduce the failure rate in college-level physics. These studies suggest that students taking a high school physics course score, on average, about one letter grade higher in college physics than students with no high school physics background.

Who comes first math or physics? ›

I would also like to add that although mathematics comes before humans start to understand the physics but even today people use term "Physical Arguments" that essentially means that one is trying to explain the phenomena without mathematics or with minimal mathematics and mostly from logical arguments.

Why is physics the most difficult subject? ›

Answer: Physics demands problem-solving skills that can be developed only with practice. It also involves theoretical concepts, mathematical calculations and laboratory experiments that adds to the challenging concepts.

What is the hardest science class in high school? ›

Physics 1. As one of the hardest high school classes, this course includes not only algebra but also scientific inquiry and physics. The Advanced Placement (AP) Physics 1 course, which covers topics such as Newtonian physics and electrical charge and force, is often regarded as one of the most challenging AP courses.

What is the easiest science class in high school? ›

What is the easiest science class to opt for in a high school?
  • Oceanography.
  • Earth/Physical Science.
  • Biology.
  • Optional Electives ( Forensic Science, Environmental Science, Zoology, Astronomy, etc.)
  • Chemistry.
  • Physics.
Feb 17, 2021

Is physics the hardest science? ›

Generally, physics is often deemed to be the hardest of all the sciences, especially as an A level qualification. Physics involves a lot of complex maths content – an aspect that most students struggle with.

Do colleges care if you take physics in high school? ›

It will look better on your transcript if you take physics, but most colleges don't require it unless you plan on majoring in math or science.

What grade do most people take physics? ›

The physics course is designed to prepare students for college level science. In high school, physics is usually taught in 11th grade, although some students may take the course in 12th grade or as early as 10th grade depending on their academic level.

Do colleges care if you take physics? ›

For any college or university, you will be in the best position if you have taken biology, chemistry, and physics. Even when a college requires just one or two years of science, your application will be stronger if you've taken courses in all three of those subject areas.

Does it look bad to not take physics in high school? ›

If you are studying a major that requires a knowledge of physics, then you should take it in high school, but it's not *absolutely* necessary.

Does physics count as a science GPA? ›

Science GPA: all undergraduate, graduate and cumulative courses identified on the transcript as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math and Other Science.

Was Einstein math or physics? ›

Einstein was a better intuitive physicist than he was a mathematician. In fact, it was only when he struggled for years in developing general relativity, that he became more enamored with mathematical formalisms as a way of doing physics.

What math is used most in physics? ›

Calculus. Calculus will help you solve many physics equations. You'll start with single variable calculus, then progress to multivariable calculus. The latter is extremely relevant to physics because you'll work with directional derivatives and similar concepts in three-dimensional space.

Why am I good at physics but not math? ›

You have an intuition for physics. You have an intuition for math, but you don't see it because of the way math is taught and how it "should be done". Math is usually taught as a set of rules that do not make sense.

What is the toughest subject in the world? ›

What are the hardest degree subjects? The hardest degree subjects are Aerospace Engineering, Law, Chartered Accountancy, Architecture, Chemistry, Medicine, Pharmacy, Psychology, Statistics, Nursing, Physics, Astrophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Astronomy, and Dentistry.

Why do people struggle with physics? ›

Physics can be rather abstract. Very often, students are introduced to laws and definitions through readings. Physics concern the abstract and immaterial side of science. Concepts like speed, acceleration, current are not tangible and hence most students are not convinced.

What is the hardest topic in physics? ›

Quantum Gravity

The biggest unsolved problem in fundamental physics is how gravity and the quantum will be made to coexist within the same theory. Quantum Gravity [1] is required to make the whole of physics logically consistent.

Which hs year is the hardest? ›

While junior year is often the hardest year of high school, the transition from middle school to 9th grade can also be tough. To make it easier, don't feel afraid to reach out to your teachers and counselors, and take advantage of the support resources that are available.

What science do most 11th graders take? ›

In 11th grade science, most students typically study chemistry or physics (depending on courses they took in previous years).

What is the hardest math class in HS? ›

What is the Hardest Math Class in High School? In most cases, you'll find that AP Calculus BC or IB Math HL is the most difficult math course your school offers. Note that AP Calculus BC covers the material in AP Calculus AB but also continues the curriculum, addressing more challenging and advanced concepts.

What is the hardest science class to take? ›

It shouldn't surprise you that organic chemistry takes the No. 1 spot as the hardest college course. This course is often referred to as the “pre-med killer” because it actually has caused many pre-med majors to switch their major.

What is the easiest class to pass? ›

College classes can be tough, but they don't always have to be!
That being said, here's a look at some college classes that tend to be easier than some core classes.
  1. Film History. ...
  2. Creative Writing. ...
  3. Physical Education. ...
  4. Psychology. ...
  5. Public Speaking. ...
  6. Anthropology. ...
  7. Art History. ...
  8. Acting.

What's the easiest science to take in grade 11? ›

Geology and psychology are considered the easiest by students aged 15–19. Those doing the triple science of physics, chemistry and biology don't consider them real science.

Is physics tougher than engineering? ›

JEE Physics requires thorough knowledge of every concept of physics. Therefore JEE is more tough than the other.

Which is harder physics or biology? ›

Physics is the most difficult science. Physics is the most difficult major, surpassing chemistry, biology, psychology, computer science, astronomy, biochemistry, and geology in difficulty. In physics, the degree of mathematics and the number of abstractions is unrivaled.

What's the easiest science? ›

Psychology is commonly thought of as the easiest of the science majors thanks to its relative lack of complex math, although psych majors can still expect to do a fair amount of statistical analysis on their way to a degree.

What GPA do I need for a PHD in physics? ›

Most Ph. D. programs in physics, astronomy, or other related fields have a minimum acceptance GPA of around 3.0. It is difficult to get into most programs with a GPA that is lower than this.

What is the average GPA for Harvard? ›

Average GPA: 4.18

The average GPA at Harvard is 4.18. (Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 4.18, Harvard requires you to be at the top of your class. You'll need nearly straight A's in all your classes to compete with other applicants.

What GPA is a 93 grade average? ›

To convert your GPA to a 4.0 scale:
Letter GradePercent Grade4.0 Scale
8 more rows
Feb 23, 2023

Does Harvard require physics in high school? ›

Harvard recommends that students should complete the following secondary coursework: Four years of English with a strong writing component. Four years of mathematics. Four years of science, including biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course.

Is AP physics worth it in high school? ›

AP classes are worth it because they provide students experience with college-level coursework and allow them to earn college credit while still in high school. Additionally, AP Physics 1 students gain hands-on lab experience and familiarize themselves with foundational scientific knowledge.

Do colleges like AP physics? ›

Like Mechanics, most colleges will accept a satisfactory score on the AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism exam in place of an introductory college-level physics course. Check your target colleges' websites for the exact score you need to aim for.

How many people get an A * in physics A level? ›

Compiled by Education Datalab, the tables show entries have risen, increasing from 34,831 last year to 36,021 this year. The proportion reaching the top grades has decreased, with 8.5 per cent getting an A*, down from 9.3 per cent last year, and 27.5 per cent getting an A or A*, down from 29.2 per cent in 2018.

What percentage of girls take a level physics? ›

It was found that not enough girls nationally study A-level physics: only 22.2% of students taking A-level physics in 2018 were girls (IOP data) and therefore very small numbers continue to study physics at undergraduate level at university. This consequently contributes to the gender disparity in science professions.

Should I take AP physics without physics? ›

Prerequisites. Physics 1: Unlike AP Physics B, which recommended a prior high school physics course, no prior course work in physics is necessary for students to enroll in AP Physics 1.

Is a GPA of 5.0 good? ›

Typically, high schools that use weighted GPAs opt for the 0-5 scale that makes 5.0 the highest possible grade. A GPA higher than 5.0 is rare, but school point systems are occasionally structured so that students taking advanced classes can rack up bonus points.

What majors need physics? ›

Many medical, scientific, and engineering careers require people to take physics coursework. Courses can be found in a standard physics degree, but physics coursework is often included in the curriculum of related fields such as computer science.

Is physics harder than chemistry? ›

Physics is considered comparatively harder than chemistry and various other disciplines such as psychology, geology, biology, astronomy, computer science, and biochemistry. It is deemed difficult compared to other fields because the variety of abstract concepts and the level of maths in physics is incomparable.

Will one B ruin a 4.0 GPA high school? ›

You don't “ruin” it by getting a B. One B grade might raise your GPA, or might lower it, depending on what were your grades in other courses, in all other semesters or terms. A grade is not a blemish. It is an evaluation of your overall learning and performance in class, on homework, and on examinations.

Is it harder to get into MIT or Harvard? ›

MIT acceptance rate vs.

According to Niche, MIT is the #5 hardest school to get into, and Harvard is the #2 hardest school to get into. Harvard has a college acceptance rate of 3.19% compared to the MIT acceptance rate of 3.9%.

Are B's in AP classes good? ›

If you take AP classes and get B's, don't worry too much. Colleges take the difficulty of your classes into consideration, and a lot of admissions officers are impressed by students who challenge themselves with the tougher courses.

Is 3.8 A good GPA for med school? ›

Admissions experts advise aspiring medical school students to aim for a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Dec. 3, 2021, at 9:00 a.m.

What is the average med school GPA? ›

The most recent data shows that the average GPA for medical school matriculants in the United States in 2021-2022 were as follows: Overall GPA: 3.74. BCPM (biology, chemistry, physics, and math) GPA: 3.67. Non Science GPA: 3.83.

What GPA do I need for med school? ›

What is a Good GPA for Med School? It is extremely difficult to get into medical school with a cumulative GPA of less than 3.0.

What grade do they start teaching physics? ›

The physics course is designed to prepare students for college level science. In high school, physics is usually taught in 11th grade, although some students may take the course in 12th grade or as early as 10th grade depending on their academic level.

Is physics the oldest subject? ›

Physics is one of the oldest academic disciplines, perhaps the oldest through its inclusion of astronomy.

Which grade do you start physics? ›

It is best for parents to begin tutoring Physics in Grade 9, as the concepts are being laid out in a very structured and digestible way. In Grade 11, Physics is a separate subject and requires specialized tutoring, so that the student can build a strong foundation.

What is the first thing taught in physics? ›

1. Introduction to Mechanics. An introduction to mechanics course is the first course physics course that most people will take, and it's the best place to begin independent study of physics as well.

What do 12th graders learn in physics? ›

Students will continue their exploration of energy transformations and the forces that affect motion, and will investigate electrical, gravitational, and magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation. Students will also explore the wave nature of light, quantum mechanics, and special relativity.

Is physics normal for 9th graders? ›

Almost all ninth grade students are expected to enroll in Physics - 9.

What is the hardest physics to learn? ›

Quantum mechanics is deemed the hardest part of physics. Systems with quantum behavior don't follow the rules that we are used to, they are hard to see and hard to “feel”, can have controversial features, exist in several different states at the same time - and even change depending on whether they are observed or not.

How hard is AP Physics? ›

AP Physics 1 is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.2/10 for overall difficulty (the 5th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). What is this? The pass rate is the lowest of all AP classes, with 42% graduating with a 3 or higher.

How did an 11 year old get a physics degree? ›

An 11-year-old boy has obtained a bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Antwerp, after successfully completing a three-year course in one year, whilst also taking master's courses on the side.

Is chemistry or physics harder? ›

Physics is considered comparatively harder than chemistry and various other disciplines such as psychology, geology, biology, astronomy, computer science, and biochemistry. It is deemed difficult compared to other fields because the variety of abstract concepts and the level of maths in physics is incomparable.

How do you pass high school physics? ›

Below, then, we've come up with a step-by-step guide to passing high school physics.
  1. Step 1: Start with the Math. ...
  2. Step 2: Pre-Read Class Materials. ...
  3. Step 3: Ask Questions and Keep Notes. ...
  4. Step 4: Work Toward Understanding,
  5. Step 5: Regularly Complete Practice.

Is physics an easy class? ›

Physics is a challenging subject ─ it's a combination of math and science that can be difficult even for the best of us. But despite its challenging nature, with a few basic tips and a little practice there's no reason you can't succeed.

How do you get an a in physics? ›

How to Get an A in Physics: A 7 Step Guide to Success
  1. Make good notes. ...
  2. Understand your formulae. ...
  3. Practice using your formulae. ...
  4. Look for “reasonable” numbers. ...
  5. Start EEI's early. ...
  6. Do your research before you test. ...
  7. Make a formula sheet, then ignore it. ...
  8. 7.5.
Mar 24, 2020


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