for implementation of a plan to increase physics enrollment
Earl Barrett, retired from Dobson High School in Mesa (AZ) Public Schools. 2015
In 2009 my opinion
piece, Increasing Physics Enrollment at your
School , was published in The
Physics Teacher. This checklist gives more
specific detail concerning steps you might follow to implement the plan.
A - Get the high
school counselors on your side.
Invite counselors to observe one of your classes, especially when you do a
project. This could easily be your best way to change attitudes and win allies.
Set up a meeting with
school counselors you feel are most supportive to physics education and:
them a copy of "7 Myths About High School Physics" (free download --
see References below) a few days before you meet with them. Ask if they
disagree with any of the statements and why. Follow up by asking them what kind
of students they encourage to take physics. (Do they say that students hate math and they think physics
is just one more math class? Do they feel students are not smart enough to pass
physics because their math is too weak?
Give me a break -- these same students have passed at least three years
2 Ask what
they hear from students about your physics program. This is important feedback
that may be painful but useful if you want to grow the program.
them a copy of your curriculum and explain your philosophy and what you do to
help struggling students succeed.
4 Ask them
what they believe you can do to increase student enrollment.
5 Find out
if there are any counselors who have a negative impression of physics and why.
These are people you need to be on your side. Plan on finding a way to change their minds about the way
physics is taught at your school.
6 Ask them
if they would be willing to bring up the importance of physics in a counseling
staff meeting, and tell them you would be more than willing to attend.
7 Tell them the
research findings: (see below for references and weblinks).
student who takes “reform” (i.e., active learning) high school physics is three
times more likely to earn a STEM degree than a student whose last high school
science course was chemistry.
(Tyson et al; and TIMSS Study of 12th grade physics students.
who take “one or two years of physics in high school exhibit a significantly
higher STEM career interest, as a group…
Those who take a course in another science [other than two years of
chemistry] or an additional year of biology show no significant increase, on
average …. We find no evidence that students’ taking an Advanced Placement
science or calculus course increases their likelihood of having a STEM career interest.”
(Sadler et al, 2014)
B - Make parents aware of the merits of enrolling in high
physics information embedded in the school's web site in a way that makes it
stand out. “Want to find out
how to give your student a way to get a step ahead of everyone else? Come to…”
a YouTube demo that includes information concerning your physics program. Get
the URL distributed by every means possible.
3 Offer a physics
for parents and create a hook that will get their attention:
why physics gives their son or daughter an advantage when applying to college.
advanced/honors physics program is the right one for their child.
information about the AP program. Parents have no understanding that the AP
exams are normed, which means that the percentage of students who will earn a
score of 3, 4 or 5 has remained constant over the years. They also need to know
the kind of credit that the state universities award vs. different out of state
colleges. If your school also offers Dual Enrollment community college physics,
parents should know how that credit transfers to other colleges.
C - Make chemistry students aware of benefits of
enrolling in high school physics.
with each chemistry class for 10 minutes (exchange time with the chemistry
teacher) and provide them with a handout outlining the benefits of taking physics
(see F -2 below). Answer their questions and include a favorite demo that gets
their attention. Emphasize that
physics is a doing class and not a passive listening class. Offer to answer
their questions before or after school.
2 Try to
establish a good working relationship with the chemistry teachers, and
encourage them to tell students that many of their questions will be answered
next year when they take physics (not if they take physics). Implanting that idea that they will
take physics, from day one of their chemistry course, is vital to creating a
culture of continuity between the two sciences.
D - Use your physics
students to sell the program. (Nothing is better then word of mouth praise.)
talk to their friends about what they did in class, not what you did. So encourage them
to tell their friends what they do in physics class.
talk about their class projects -- not your great lectures. If you don’t have
student projects, you are missing out on the best part of physics teaching.
Include parent volunteers in your student projects. ["The key is to have
several modeling cycles under one's belt before doing a project so that all the
power of modeling (models, whiteboards, whole group discussions, multiple
representations, etc.) can be employed in the solving of the problem."]
students should be seen “doing physics” by other potential students. Collecting
data in the halls, or any place visible to others, sets your class apart from
4 One big
event a year, such as a Physics Olympics or cardboard boat race, will usually
draw the press if you tell them about it. This targets both students and
projects or innovative explorations that have outreach are powerful tools.
example, I had a project in which physics students would spend a half-day in
either an elementary or junior high class and teach a lesson. They conducted a
test of preconceptions, directed a hands-on experiment, analyzed the data,
developed a conclusion with the students, and did a post-assessment. Years later, those same student learners
would tell me they remembered the lesson the high school physics students
physics to finding a way to create a device to assist a special-needs student
gives great joy to students, and is something they can tell their friends
about. This was easily the best project I have ever been part of, and the joy
of seeing my AP kids hug their new special-needs friends in the hall between
classes made teaching so satisfying.
E - Get the school
principals on your side.
Set up a meeting with
the school principals and:
them why you believe an increase in physics enrollment would benefit students
and the school. Bring evidence of
your belief as well as data showing that students who take physics improve
their scores on standardized tests and are more likely to enter STEM careers.
them what they think you could do to increase student enrollment in physics.
3 Ask them
are willing to do to increase student enrollment in physics.
F - Develop a
supportive plan in the science department.
time during one of your science staff meetings to talk about not only your
physics program but how the whole department benefits from an increase in the
number of students enrolled in physics. If community college dual enrollment
courses provide money for equipment and supplies, make sure the staff knows you
would share the wealth whenever possible.
a simple information sheet for all students who might be interested in taking
physics, and in it describe advantages of taking each kind of physics course. Today
I would make sure the AP-1 and 2, AP-C, and Dual Enrollment physics classes
were accurately contrasted. The College Board has done a very good job selling
the AP program. It has a caché that tends to cause people to overlook its
shortcomings and the practical advantages offered by the Dual Enrollment
parents understand that the AP exam is norm referenced and only 35% of the students
each year earn a score of 4 or 5.
In Arizona universities, students who pass the AP-C mechanics exam, even
with the top score of 5, get credit only for algebra-based PHY 111, not the
calculus-based course PHY 121.
students will receive community college credit for passing a Dual Enrollment
course, and all such courses transfer to state universities.
RESOURCES (provided by Jane Jackson)
Will Tyson, Reginald
Lee, Kathryn M. Borman and Mary Ann Hanson (2007). Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
Pathways: High School Science and Math Coursework and Postsecondary Degree
Attainment, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp.
Quoted at http://modeling.asu.edu/modeling/STEMpathways-Physics.doc
Achievement Comparison Study, by Eugenio Gonzalez (April 2000). Conducted for
the National Science Foundation by TIMSS International Study Center, Boston
College, Chestnut Hill, MA. At http://modeling.asu.edu/Evaluations/TIMSS_NSFphysicsStudy99.pdf.
Philip M. Sadler,
Gerhard Sunnert, Zahra Hazari, and Robert Tai (2014). The Role of Advanced High
School Coursework in Increasing STEM Career Interest. Science Educator 23(1), pp. 1-13.
Philip Sadler is a
longtime physics educator at Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. A thorough,
well-done study of 4700 college students shows that "taking a second
year of a STEM course can matter far more than taking an AP course in a subject." Their question was, "What
correlates with students deciding to major in STEM in college?” For example, a
project-oriented 2nd year course can serve just as well or better than an AP
course. What DOES matter is the content area of the 2nd year course: physics
and chemistry are by far the most important. This is true for anyone
who wants to major in a STEM subject in college: even prospective life science or
geology majors. E.g., taking a 2nd
year physics or chemistry course in high school is far more important than
taking A&P or an AP biology course.
For your principals:
this 2-page presentation summary by Philip Sadler, prepared for STEM Smart:
Lessons Learned From Successful Schools, an NSF event held on March 22, 2013, at
University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Separating Facts from
Fads: How K–12 Educators’ Choices Impact Students’ College Performance
and Persistence in STEM.
from Fads Program Description.pdf>
Their longtime huge research studies
conclude that high school administrators should prioritize their science
resources and target two areas:
*instructional practices: inquiry,
hands-on, mathematical reasoning, concepts in-depth;
*teacher knowledge, especially student
misconceptions and subject matter.
These are what Modeling
Workshops emphasize. http://modelinginstruction.org
Download the “7 myths
about high school physics” brochure and a 1-page “users manual” at
http://www.aps.org/programs/education/highschool/teachers/7myths.cfm and read related resources.
Users manual: http://www.aps.org/programs/education/highschool/teachers/upload/7-Myths-User-Manual.pdf
You can order 10 copies
of the "7 myths" brochure for $2.49 (free shipping) at the APS store:
It is available in
For your school
administrators, school board, superintendent: High school physics is the
chief pathway to college STEM majors.
or http://modeling.asu.edu/modeling/STEMpathways-PhysicsAZ.doc (in Arizona)