The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the high schools in Hamilton County (which includes Chattanooga) are adopting a Physics First high school science curriculum. As University of Tennessee-Chattanooga (UTC) Physics Professor Robert Marlowe says, “The physics is really the underlying science for biology and chemistry…The benefit for students is they will see how strongly physics is tied into biology and chemistry. They will get a sense for how it is not the case that physics lies down one path and chemistry is behind a different door and biology is behind a different door. That’s nuts! It’s never been that way.”
The National Academy of Education agrees. In a 2009 white paper, the NAE said that the standard high school science sequence of biology, chemistry and physics is scientifically “out of order.” It continued,
In biology class, 9th graders are introduced to the complex molecules within cells and the structure of DNA even though they know little about atoms and next to nothing about the chemistry and physics that can help them make sense of these structures and their functions. Furthermore, because of the limited course requirements in most states, standard science course sequence often means in practice that many high school students never study physics at all.
In Florida, we are not arguing for Physics First. Instead, we are still trying to hold off “Physics Not At All.” The 2010 Florida Legislature instituted a “chemistry or physics” high school graduation requirement over the howling protests of some in the K-12 education community.
Plenty of statistics support the importance of high school physics, but perhaps the UTC’s Professor Marlowe puts it best when he says, “if you don’t have good high school preparation in physics, then you are hurting.”