Briarwood Christian School

Math/Science Initiative: October 2008


Barry Walker, Physics Teacher and Science Department Chair,

Briarwood Christian School, Birmingham, Alabama


You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. -C.S. Lewis



Introduction and Plan:

Schools in America have not changed much since the 1960’s. In the last ten years it has become obvious that this 1960’s model in math and science will not prepare our students for success in the 21st century. To compete and survive in their “global world” they are going to have to find solutions above and beyond the content levels provided in the current math and science curricula.

The changes necessary to meet the challenges involve teacher retraining and curriculum revision. These changes need to include skills in analogical and proportional reasoning that have been almost completely removed from current educational practices. Proportional reasoning now appears to be the basic substrate of all mental processing and we must intentionally include it in our teaching as early as possible in a child’s education. At Briarwood Christian School we are in the process of explicitly teaching analogical and proportional reasoning in all of our secondary math and science instruction.


Presently B.C.S. is beginning the fourth year of our five-year Science Initiative. Below is a chart of our curriculum. All math and science courses will be integrated whenever possible.


Core Curriculum                     Science            Mathematics                        

7th Grade         Life Science with modeling (new)       Pre-Algebra

8th Grade         Physical Science with modeling (new) Algebra One

9th Grade         Physics with modeling                        Geometry

10thGrade       Chemistry with modeling                   Algebra Two

11th Grade       Biology with modeling (new)             Pre-Calculus


Electives:         AP Physics B                                     AP Calculus AB

                        AP Physics C/AP Calculus BC (new)            AP Statistics

                        AP Biology                                         Calculus

                        Anatomy                                             Functions, Statistics & Trigonometry 

                        Environmental Science (new)



Our pedagogy is moving from traditional methods to “modeling” methodologies. Teacher training and pedagogy re-tooling is a priority. Whenever possible, each new concept is developed with hands-on/minds on labs that require students to represent what they see graphically, diagrammatically, and mathematically. In addition, they must verbally explain what these representations mean.

            Children today are generally not outside and in touch with their environment as much as children of previous generations. Therefore we must bring the outside world into their classroom to build the mental models they will use as they process the information they observe.




After three years of implementing this initiative at B.C.S., several improvements are evident:

1) Students in modeling classes enjoy science and have a useful and deeper understanding of formerly difficult concepts. 60% of 8th graders say science is their favorite subject.

2) Over 40% of the students in honors level math and science in grades 9 and 10 are girls.

3) Our extracurricular science teams did much better than ever in the last two years, in Alabama competitive science contests: University of Alabama Physics Contest (1st), B.E.S.T. Robotics (4th and 1st), State Science Olympiad (4th) and JETS (1st).

4) Teachers are finding new levels of personal fulfillment as student understanding and joy increases. Our chemistry teacher stated, “I’ll never teach the old way again.” In a sense we science teachers have been “born again” in science teaching.

5) Higher grades are following deeper understanding.



Research: The B.C.S. Science Initiative involves a major paradigm shift in our philosophy of what and how we teach math and science. The two primary components of this change are:


1) The Modeling Instruction Program at Arizona State University.

For 17 years, the Modeling Instruction Program has been helping teachers attain knowledge and skills needed to benefit their students. Modeling Instruction is the only high school science program recognized as Exemplary by the U.S. Department of Education.

           Modeling is not a curriculum; it is a philosophy of teaching science. Extensive research and information is on the Modeling website: On this website go to Research & Evaluation and then to Dr. David Hestenes, “Commentaries on Physics Education.”


2) Physics First.

In 2002 the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) released a statement endorsing Physics First: On this web page is a link to the January 2007 “Physics First Informational Guide.” Expectations in high school biology today are much higher than ten to fifteen years ago. Biology now involves much physics, chemistry, the concept of energy, and analogical reasoning.

There is also a Physics First website:

Physics First without Modeling is usually inadequate preparation for higher science studies.


In addition to Modeling and Physics First the math/science staff of B.C.S. worked with Dr. Robert MacDuff, formerly a Postdoctoral Associate in the Modeling Instruction Program at Arizona State University, and his colleague Dr. Richard Hewko of College of the Rockies in Canada, to develop a mathematics pre-algebra course called “Making Sense of Number and Quantity” that is based on recent research in cognitive science, mathematics and science education.

            This math program, Cognitive Instruction in Mathematical Modeling (CIMM), is one that all students can master, as it focuses on developing students’ understanding of quantity. It provides the necessary bridge between the concrete, the mimetic stage of mathematical development, and the abstract symbolism of algebra. Emphasis is placed on identifying systems, relationships between parts within a system, graphically representing relationships, and using analogical and proportional reasoning to develop conclusions. It is easy to see that the thinking developed in “Making Sense of Number and Quantity” has powerful possibilities, as it is designed to be integrated with science. Information is on the Modeling website; go to:

Science education research in the last twenty years has pointed in one direction: go deeper with less content and give students the mental models and processing skills necessary to effectively deal with any situation inside or outside science. This is what Modeling Instruction and in particular Dr. MacDuff’s work is accomplishing.



Visitations and Professional Development:

Briarwood Christian School administrators and teachers visited three top science schools in Alabama during the 2005-06 school year: Randolph, St. James and UMS-Wright Prep.

We also visited these schools in 2005-06 that use Modeling Instruction extensively: Clayton High School in Clayton, Missouri, and Fox Chapel High School and Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Two B.C.S. teachers participated in summer modeling workshop training at Arizona State University in 2005 and 2006; and four more attended three-week modeling workshops at A.S.U. in summer 2007. In summer 2008, several B.C.S. teachers attended modeling workshops at Shady Side Academy, A.S.U., here at Briarwood, and in Mobile, Alabama.

In summer 2006 we hosted a one-week modeling workshop for all math and science teachers (7th – 12th). In June 2007 we hosted a one-week workshop on “Making Sense of Number and Quantity” for selected teachers from grades 4 to 12. In June 2008 our Chancellor, Dr. Byrle Kynerd, organized two three-week modeling workshops, in mechanics and in physical science; 32 teachers nationwide participated.

In July 2008, Barry Walker taught PHS 542: Integrated Mathematics and Physics, a three-week graduate course at Arizona State University for teachers of grades eight and nine.



Integrated curriculum:

A primary goal of the B.C.S. Science Initiative is to develop a seamless, systematic, integrated curriculum and pedagogy in science and math (K-12) that will give our students a solid base in science and powerful mental processing skills that will last their lifetimes. To this end, in summer 2007 we began a curriculum mapping in the whole school (K-12). This is a big help in developing and organizing a curriculum that will follow our modeling philosophy of teaching science and math.


8th Grade: In 2007-08 we began to focus on developing an 8th grade Modeling Physical Science course that will be seamless with our 9th grade Physics First and 10th grade Modeling Chemistry courses. This course will work closely with Algebra 1 to give students the basic foundations in content and thinking they need for success in high school science and math. Physical science topics include:


Experimental Design                           Atomic Structure

Graphing Methods                             Periodic Table

Matter-Phases/Properties                   Compounds

Forces/Motion                                    Chemical Reactions

Electricity                                           Energy




Four years ago I thought the things we needed to improve science at B.C.S. were better facilities, better equipment, better books, more time and some teacher training (in that order). The order has been reversed! Presently, teacher training, curriculum revision and related laboratory equipment are the top priorities. You can’t see it like a building, but you can feel it in the classrooms and hearts of students and teachers. We can teach science in the broom closet with great success if our teaching guides students toward “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.”


Barry Walker, Physics Teacher and Science Department Chair,

Briarwood Christian School, Birmingham, Alabama

October, 2008












[Note added on February 7, 2009 by Jane Jackson, Co-Director, Modeling Instruction Program, Arizona State University, Tempe:

Yesterday afternoon, Feb. 6, 2009, Barry Walker passed away suddenly of a majar heart attack. He was 66 years old. The nation has lost one of its finest science and mathematics teachers.]


7th Grade: Meredith Humber, our Life Science teacher, responded to a request in spring 2007 to list the topics she is now covering in the 7th grade. A relevant excerpt from Meredith’s response:

     … the experimental design unit we did, which lasted for about 1 to 1.5 months (students designed their own experiment, collected data, made graphs, analyzed them, and drew conclusions) … the experimental design unit went very well and students took a lot away from it. When we were doing our photosynthesis unit, students, again, had to design their own photosynthesis experiment, doing research on their topic, how they would test it, collect data, etc. and then present it to the class (unfortunately we ran out of time to actually perform some experiments, which was my original plan). During those presentations, students who were not presenting were asking questions and telling those presenting how to make their experiment better—addressing flaws, potential flaws, etc—it almost brought tears to my eyes (not really, but man, it was good!)).




Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2007

Sender: Modeling - Modeling Workshop Teachers <>

From: Barry Walker - BCS South

Subject: Modeling Science really works (robot application)



Don't ask me if I'm using proper research techniques, numbers or any of

that stuff we think we need to prove that Modeling Instruction is far

and away the most effective way to teach kids real science and math in

the world today. The Briarwood Christian High School B.E.S.T. Robotics

Team (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology through Robotics) won

first place in the SOUTH'S B.E.S.T. ROBOTICS TOURNAMENT at Auburn

University on Saturday, Dec.8. This was a 48 team tournament from

states East of the Mississippi River. They won a 24 team ALABAMA

B.E.S.T. Robotics Tournament to get to the SOUTH'S B.E.S.T.


The only difference I can see in our kids and kids from other schools

(including engineering and magnet schools) is that our kids are being

taught science with the Modeling Instruction Method. They have the

"tools" to solve real problems. At the tournament they spent two days

without any adult advice and solved all of the problems on the robot

they designed and built throughout 16 rounds. My job was bus driving,

getting food and enjoying their success.


Our robot team philosophy/motto is KISS (Keep It Simple and

Significant). The BCHS robot had only one moving part other than wheels

and switches. For more info on B.E.S.T Robotics contests East and West

of the Mississippi go to: