Physics for Middle Schoolers Promoted by New Colorado Group

By Erik W. Robelen — February 26, 2013 2 min read
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Students at Carmel Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colo., are getting an intensive dose of physics before most young people ever study the subject in depth. In fact, they’re going to get three years of it, reports the Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs.

The public school is a test bed for an effort launched by a new nonprofit, See the Change USA, to make physics a mainstay of middle school science. The goal is to have 25,000 middle schoolers in Colorado Springs take physics within the next four years, and 180,000 statewide over a decade, the story says.

The foundation and the initiative were launched through a collaboration between Anatoliy Glushchenko, a physics professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Dave Csintyan, the former CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.

At Carmel Middle School, students are now required to take physics for three years (grades 6-8), the story says. In fact, it’s reportedly taking the place of other required science classes, but integrates other science knowledge into it. (I’m guessing that some observers might be nervous about what this will really mean for those other science disciplines.)

“We look at other sciences through the physics lens,” said Rob Bush, who heads the physics department at Carmel Middle School. The school now has four full-time physics teachers.

In explaining the idea of teaching physics in middle school, Glushchenko writes on the See the Change website that “physics is the science that leads to all other sciences.” He said that understanding “key areas of physics,” such as mechanics, material structure, electricity, and magnetism, “allows the deepest understanding of how the world around us works, and develops a foundation for strong analytical and research skills.”

You can check out a basic description of the program here.

The effort comes at a time when many students never even take physics in high school. Data from 2009 indicate that only about 35 percent of graduating high schoolers took such a class.

Jacob Clark Blickenstaff, the manager of teacher education programs at the American Physical Society, a professional organization for physicists in industry, academia, and at national labs, said he was not familiar with the Colorado program, but noted that the idea of teaching physics in 9th grade (as opposed to in 11th grade, when it’s usually offered) is “getting some traction” across the country. The “Physics First” movement basically advocates that students take physics before chemistry and biology.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.