WE MUST EXPAND HIGH SCHOOL PHYSICS IN MARICOPA COUNTY
Earl Barrett, Larry Dukerich, and Jane Jackson (fall 2015)
Data from the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that U.S. employment in STEM occupations
— science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—will grow to
more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1
million jobs in 10 years.
High school physics
incorporates all elements of STEM better than any other course. Physics is
STEM! Research shows that a student who takes high school physics is 2
to 3 times more likely to earn a STEM degree than a student whose last high
school science course was chemistry.*
Thus, to prepare our
students for Arizona’s share of these 9 million jobs, we should do all we can
to interest high school students in physics, while preparing a world-class
group of physics teachers. We should expand physics enrollment with our current
staff and retrain interested teachers of other sciences.
Arizona is doing poorly
compared to the rest of the nation: In Maricopa County, only 20% of high
school students take physics, while the nationwide average has grown to almost
40%, to meet 21st century needs. Arizona legislation requiring three
years of lab science for graduation has not increased the number of
students who enroll in physics.
Instead, students are taking advanced life sciences as their third
science course. Research shows
that taking advanced life science courses instead of physics hinders students
from pursuing STEM majors in college, including health & medical majors.*
After all, physics is the foundation of all other sciences, engineering, and
technology, and is prerequisite for almost all STEM careers.
The push in Arizona in
the last decade, to promote AP courses and increase the graduation rate with
limited resources, had an unintended, troubling effect: high schools replaced
regular/core physics with honors or AP physics, instead of adding them
to regular/core physics-- thus giving physics the appearance of being a course for
only the mathematically adept.
This hinders all but top students from pursuing STEM majors and STEM
careers. Disadvantaged minorities and girls are left out, because they tend to
have a weaker background in math. Physics is the ideal course to make algebra
make sense; and the disappearance of regular/core physics closes doors in careers
and higher education for the middle half of students.
Maricopa County has 120
physics teachers employed in the 90 school district high schools that offer
physics. Only 30% of these teachers are fully utilized; i.e, teach physics
The pedagogy that has
shown the most success in actively engaging students of all abilities in
high school physics is Modeling Instruction. Modeling Instruction began at
University in 1985, in a partnership between a physics professor and a physics
teacher at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe. It is designated as an Exemplary
K-12 science program
and a Promising Educational Technology Program by the U.S. Department
of Education. The American Physical Society recognized it with the 2014
Excellence in Physics Education Award, and Change the Equation rates it an Accomplished
Most physics teachers in Maricopa County have attended one or more 3-week
intensive summer Modeling Workshops. The Boeing Company and Salt River Project
fund the program, and 70 teachers participate each summer in 4 Modeling
Workshops and advanced courses that can lead to an MNS degree. ASU has prepared
many physics teachers from other sciences, and 2nd career teachers.
To learn more about our
plans to grow physics enrollment in Maricopa County, and/or to contribute:
contact Jane Jackson, Co-Director, ASU Modeling Instruction Program.
480-314-1522. Jane.Jackson@asu.edu http://modeling.asu.edu.
* References are at http://modeling.asu.edu/modeling/STEMpathways-PhysicsAZ.htm
* Further reading: http://modeling.asu.edu/Projects-Resources.html
(Scroll to bottom of page.)
** Six of these 90
schools have 9th grade physics. Private & parochial schools have
20 physics teachers. Charter schools have 60: chiefly BASIS & Great Hearts,
where every high school student takes 2 or more years of physics. About 60
charter high schools for at-risk students do not offer physics. (Charter
schools reach a small fraction of students.) Maricopa Cty has 2/3 of Arizona
high school students. Maricopa Cty has 200 physics teachers, and Arizona’s
total is ~300.
Outline of our Plan
to Grow Physics Enrollment, and Budget
by Earl Barrett, with
lab equipment estimates by Larry Dukerich (updated October 2015)
In order to increase and sustain the
physics program at a school, first
district and school administrators must commit to support that change.
With that commitment in place, at a site that has a teacher with adequate
physics training, some experience in Modeling Instruction, and a classroom in
which to grow the physics enrollment, we propose the following intervention
1. Interview science teachers,
counselors, and administrators, to determine their level of support for
increasing enrollment in physics. Explore these possibilities: a double-period
12th grade core class that integrates physics and math; 9th grade physics; physics
& technology with CTE credit.
2. Analyze classroom/lab equipment
limitations, and prepare a budget that meets minimum requirements for Modeling
3. Provide students, counselors and
parents with information needed to understand benefits of taking physics in
high school. (This involves creating & supporting materials &
4. Train the physics teacher to make
effective use of the new technology in their classroom. (This includes ASU
3-week summer Modeling Workshops.)
5. During student selection of their
high school courses, provide support to the physics teacher and counselors, for
effective guidance of students.
6. Bring all target teachers
together for two days in the summer and twice during the school year. The
purpose is training, problem solving and designing a strategy specific to each
school. Teachers will be paid $30/hr for their participation.
Implementation cost is based on lab
equipment analysis and time needed to complete steps 1 to 6. We estimate 60
hours of on-site presence and 20 hours of administrative and off-site support.
Budget for each
Lab equipment for data
collection and analysis: up to $10,000 (depends on existing equipment). Equipment
ASU Modeling Instruction
home page: http://modeling.asu.edu