MU program trains teachers in ninth grade physics education

Friday, June 3, 2011 | 7:52 p.m. CDT; updated 11:20 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

COLUMBIA — Science teachers from across Missouri will be in Columbia to participate in a leadership program for ninth grade science education in their districts. 

A TIME for Physics First, an MU teaching academy for ninth grade science teachers, will be held June 6 through July 1. Four days a week, teachers will learn physics content. On the fifth day, teachers will discuss and develop their leadership skills.

At the end of the program, teachers will create an action plan outlining how they will be a leader in ninth grade physics education in their school districts by teaching content or methodology.

By participating in the program, these teachers and their school districts have made a commitment to begin and continue teaching physics at the ninth grade level.

The program is a partnership between MU and 39 Missouri school districts, according to the program website. The program is being offered amid calls from educators across the country for physics to be taught in ninth grade, before biology and chemistry.

Training is funded by a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation Mathematics and Science Partnership Teacher Institutes program.

Teachers will receive four units of graduate course credit for the class. During the academic year, teachers will receive one credit for a required online course.

Some educators say teaching physics before other sciences provides a better foundation for the understanding of biology and chemistry.

Science Teachers of Missouri probably will not take a stance on the issue, said Vice President Eric Hadley.

One criticism of teaching physics early is that ninth grade physics is conceptual; therefore, students don’t learn as much math, making them less prepared for physics classes in college.

Any exposure to physics at all is better preparation than none, said Meera Chandrasekhar, MU physics professor and co-principal investigator for the program,

In most high schools, students take biology then chemistry then physics. Chandrasekhar said with the current system, many high schools students do not take physics at all, and “when they come to college and want to major in science or engineering, their physics course is demanding.”

“Learning physics, even at a conceptual level in ninth grade, would give students some exposure to physics,” Chandrasekhar said.

Marilyn Gardner, director of communications and membership at the American Association of Physics Teachers said the push to teach physics before other sciences is not yet an organized movement.

“There are a lot of people in physics education that think it’s a good idea,” Gardner said. “They support the discussion, but the AAPT does not endorse it.”

Two teachers from Jefferson Junior High School and three teachers from West Junior High School in Columbia will participate in the teaching academy.

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