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National Alliance of Black School Educators Endorses Physics First March 16, 2012

Posted by admin in : History, Policy and Education (HPE) , trackback Bookmark and Share

Position Statement of the National Alliance of Black School Educators
Approved by the Board of Directors, March 1, 2012

Physics is a gateway course for post-secondary study in science, medicine, and engineering, as well as an essential component in the formation of students’ scientific literacy. Physics classes hone thinking skills. An understanding of physics leads to a better understanding of other science disciplines. Physics classes help polish the skills needed to score well on the SAT and ACT. College recruiters recognize the value of taking high school physics. College success for virtually all science, computing, engineering, and premedical majors depends in part on passing physics. The job market for people with skills in physics is strong. Knowledge of physics is helpful for understanding the arts, politics, history, and culture.

Currently only 25% of Black and Hispanic high school students take any course in physics1. Thus many do not even get to the gateway. The availability of physics as a course for high school students is not equitably distributed throughout the United States. While some schools provide physics for all who wish to take it, a more common scenario, particularly for urban schools, is limited availability2. The existence of policies that restrict science opportunities for secondary students results in diminished outcomes in terms of scientific proficiency, and lack of diversity in the STEM professions.

In July 2011 the National Academy of Sciences released a framework for next generation of science standards. The framework consists of number of elements in three dimensions: (1) scientific and engineering practices, (2) crosscutting concepts, and (3) disciplinary core ideas in science. It describes how they should be developed across grades K-12, and it is designed so that students continually expand upon and improve their knowledge and abilities throughout their school years. To support learning, all three dimensions need to be integrated into standards, curricula, instruction, and assessment. The framework includes core ideas for the physical sciences, life sciences, and earth and space sciences since these are the disciplines typically included in science education in K-12 schools.

The idea of building up an integrated picture of science phenomena resonates very well with the principles of Physics First, the curricular strategy that sequences high school sciences courses beginning with physics in the 9th or 10th grade, chemistry in 10th or 11th grade, culminating with biology and earth science in the 12th; while developing proficiency in mathematics and computing in lock-step over the entire 4 years3. Physics First means more students will have the formal opportunity to learn physics and thus pass through the gateway to higher achievement and prosperity.

A first course in physics need not be overly saddled with advanced mathematics. The emphasis should be focused on conceptual understanding rather than mathematical manipulation. In fact conceptual understanding of physics need not wait until high school. Even middle school students can profit from a conceptual physics course. Conceptual understanding of physics taps into students’ natural curiosities of how and why the world works around them. That conceptual understanding is what will improve performance in later courses in other disciplines. As mathematical maturity is further developed, students can revisit the advanced mathematical expression of physics.

Given all the positive benefits, it is imperative that all students have the opportunity to formally learn physics in their secondary school settings. The National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) therefore resolves:

• That all students should be afforded the opportunity to formally learn physics in their secondary school, starting no later than in the middle grades
• That Physics First, as a curricular strategy, should be implemented in all high schools
• That all NABSE members, especially those charged with STEM teaching, apprise themselves of all the issues surrounding Physics First and work collaboratively to build policy, curricula and lesson plans that will well-position our students for the 21st century.
• That NABSE will work with all our partners and fellow stakeholders to offer workshops, in-service training and in-service support that will help teachers at all stages of their careers develop, implement and teach in Physics First sequences effectively.

1. Compared to 41% of White students and 52% of Asian students. Source: Susan White & Casey Langer Tesfaye, Under-Represented Minorities in High School Physics: Results from the 2008-09 Nationwide Survey of High School Physics Teachers, American Institute of Physics, March 2011
2. Angela M. Kelly, Keith Sheppard, Secondary school physics availability in an urban setting: Issues related to academic achievement and course offerings, American Journal of Physics, October 2009, Volume 77, Issue 10, pp. 902
3. American Association of Physics Teachers [AAPT]. Statement on Physics First. Retrieved from http://www.aapt.org/Resources/policy/physicsfirst.cfm, 2002

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1. Ronald S. Kahn - March 17, 2012

As a former classroom high school physics teacher of over 30 years in an urban city high school, and a former District Science Coordinator of Rhode Island’s capital city, I applaud the National Alliance of Black School Educators for taking a much needed stand on this critical issue. The importance and support of the Physics First initiative as the source of science curriculum improvement to engage all students, particularly those under-represented in STEM career pathways, should be identified as a critical priority for the nation’s educational policy. It can be the opportunity pathway for those students and can only mean a positive impact on our country’s economic future.
Ronald S. Kahn
Co-Director of Physics First Rhode Island,
Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science Teaching,
and Director of Client Services, East Bay Educational Collaborative
Warren, RI

2. Hattie McGill - September 30, 2012

My son is 16-years old. He has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, but he is very intelligent. He loves Science and Math, and aspires to become a Astrophysics, and study mechanatronics. He believes that God has never given man any shortages, we just have not tapped into the resource yet. He would like to create a renewable resource that does not use fossil fuels. He builds Robots, Legos, Bionicles, plays Chess, and has been Flying Airplanes with the Black Pilots Of America (BPA) since last year at age 15. Yet he has been bullied so severely in the schools here in Waco, Texas that he is now being home schooled through Penn Foster. My question is do your program “Physics First Initiative” offer any resources for students like him? If so how can I access them for him?

3. Google - September 9, 2014

I couldn’t resist commenting. Very well written!

4. Michael Batie PhD - February 23, 2016

The challenge to be addressed is the paucity of schools that are able to provide a laboratory experience to augment the classroom work. Note that the article does not mention the importance of the physics lab experience. Having said that, given that in Los Angeles Black parents are flocking to charter schools, it must be said that charter schools have an abysmal record in providing ANY hands on lab experiences.

How do I know that? I have for the last seven years owned a company Mobile Math and Science Labs (www.mmsl-la.com) to do just that, provide lab experience at the Elementary, Middle and High school levels. I can state that it just is not happening.

Given the oncoming Next Generation Science Standards and the lack of materials and teacher readiness, the worst is yet to come