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A "21st Century Science Course"

A “21st Century Science Course” for Grades 9-10


First Year
I.                   Ingredients for a Universe
A.    Size Scales – Powers of Ten; From Big to Small, Science Studies it All!
B.     Observation and Scientific Process
C.     Big Bang – What is it, and what evidence supports it?
D.    Energy – Basics and Examples
E.     Matter – Basics and Examples (include E = mc2)
F.      Forces – Basics (Newton’s laws) and Examples
G.    What is Physics?

II.                Atoms
A.    What are they?
B.     Electric Force
C.     Nuclear Forces
D.    Molecules (and introduction to bonding, valence electron concepts)
E.     State of Matter - Gas
F.      Gravity
G.    Phase transition – Gas to Plasma (new state of matter)
H.    Stars – Heavy Atom Factories (nuclear reactions)
I.       Evolution of Universe – Simplicity to Complexity (quarks/electrons to atoms to gas clouds to stars to supernovae to heavy elements to planets to solar systems to galaxies to superclusters)
J.       What is Astronomy?

III.             Periodic Table
A.    Patterns in Nature
B.     Organization of elements based on patterns of chemical properties
C.     Why does it look like it does?  What those electrons are doing…
D.    Significance of the Table…more on bonding, intro to reactions (both chemical and nuclear)
E.     What is Chemistry?

IV.             The Solar System
A.    Formation of Planets
B.     States of Matter – Liquid & Solid
C.     Behavior of Planets – Kepler’s laws of Planetary Motion
D.    The Structure of Earth
i.                    Land (include core, plate tectonics)
ii.                  Water
iii.                Atmosphere
E.     Chemical Reactions
F.      What is Geoscience?

       V.       Life
A.    What is Life?
i.                    Characteristics of Life
ii.                  Chemistry of Life
B.     First Life on Earth
C.     The Cell
D.    Genetics
E.     Evolution of Life – Simplicity to Complexity (build off the previous series: simple molecules to polyatomic molecules to organic systems to molecular networks to simple structures to cells to tissues to organs to organisms…)
F.      What is Biology?

Summer Supplements
I.                   The Math – algebra practice; basic trig of right triangles
II.                Summer readings and/or project

Second Year
I.                   Motion in Everyday Life
A.    Basics of Vectors
B.     Applying Newton’s laws of Motion – Equilibrium vs Nonequilibrium
C.     Applying Conservation of Energy
D.    What is Engineering?

II.                Thermodynamics
A.    Energy in Chemistry
B.     Entropy
C.     Types of Chemical Reactions & why reactions happen in the first place
D.    What is Physical Chemistry?

III.             Electricity and Magnetism
A.    Electrostatics
i.                    Field and Force
ii.                  Potential and Electrical Energy
B.     Electric Current and Origin of Magnetism
C.     Power Generation – Faraday’s law
D.    Bioelectromagnetism
E.     What is Biophysics?

IV.             Communication
A.    Intermolecular
B.     Cellular (not the phones…at least not yet)
i.                    Cell-Environment
ii.                  Intercellular
C.     Nervous system
D.    Waves
i.                    Properties & Phenomena
ii.                  Sound
a.       The ear
b.      Sonar for animals
iii.                Electromagnetic Radiation
a.       Visual communication, the eye (basic optics)
b.      Radar, satellites
c.       Astronomical communication
E.     What is Biochemistry?

V.                Science for the Citizen (for political, economic, environmental issues): Applications of What We Have Studied That Affects Your Life on a Daily Basis (Relevancy of the science; prior knowledge, personal experience, self-discovery, project-based, choice of what to study, debate, possible careers in science and technology, etc) – note that one or more of these areas may be presented at the start of the course, and the science relevant to the broader issue made apparent throughout the course (teach in context):
A.    Global Climate Change – the science
B.     Genetic Engineering (including stem cell research)
C.     Energy Sources and Distribution (such as a ‘smart power grid’)
D.    Nuclear Power and Weapons Proliferation
E.     Computer Security
F.      National and Global Food and Water Supplies
G.    Medicine – Fighting Disease, Bioterrorism
H.    Intelligent Design and Creationism vs. Big Bang and Evolution
I.       The Next Generation of Space Exploration
i.                    Back to the Moon, to Mars?
ii.                  Protecting the Earth
iii.                Astrobiology and SETI
J.       Ethics in Science and in Public Policy related to Science
K.    When Does Life Begin?  The Abortion issue
L.     Where will the jobs be for your generation?  Why you should care about everything you have studied in this course…
M. Community project: Is there an issue that is local and science related that you want to work on?
N. Science research in an area of interest 
O.   Others?????

Completion of your course textbook!!

KEY IDEA: Since there is no textbook for a class like this, students will effectively write their own ‘book.’  This will be the ultimate as far as science literacy goes!  They will have numerous books and resources, and collect their work and write their book/portfolio as they go.

             We are going to try something different with this course.  It is not called Physics.  It is not called Biology.  It is not called Chemistry, or for that matter Astronomy, Earth Science, or anything else. Just Science.  This is because Science, while traditionally broken into and taught as specific disciplines, is more of a process that all the traditional disciplines share.  In order to understand a discipline such as biology, one needs to understand chemistry, or the interaction of different types of matter.  But to know how and why chemistry works, one needs to understand there are forces and conversions of energy that drive chemical reactions and the ways different states of matter form, and this is primarily in the realm of physics.  The point is, all of the ideas that come up are inter-related and shared between the scientific disciplines.  More fundamental than those specific topics is why scientists believe what they believe, and how modern theories of how our world works came about in the first place: the scientific process, or what some may call the scientific method. 
            Science is one of a few major realms of human thought. We might claim that there are three basic realms – Science, Religion, and Philosophy.  What is the difference between these ways of thinking?  It comes down, essentially, to the foundational way beliefs and conclusions are reached.  In Religion, the foundation is faith.  If one believes in an ultimate Creator or God, that belief is based on a deeper sense of what our purpose for existence is and how we should behave morally, and we have reached a conclusion of what eternity and heaven and hell might be without ever really seeing these places.  
            Philosophers may argue over the existence of these places, or the existence of a God, based on some observations of reality, but primarily on whether or not the premise of a certain entity is logically consistent with the human experience.  Some philosophers will reach a conclusion that God exists, some will reach a conclusion that a God is inconsistent with the way the world works, but logic dominates the way conclusions are reached.
            For the scientist, a different process of thinking is used.  In essence, all three cases realms are looking to understand our world and how things ultimately work.  Science is based on what we physically observe in our surroundings. It’s foundational ideas come about from the way things feel to the touch, or smell like, or look like.  If we don’t ‘see it with our own eyes,’ a scientist cannot draw much of a conclusion about that particular entity or process.  Instead, observations and measurements of a phenomenon are used to develop ideas (ultimately called theories), and these ideas can be used to make predictions of what we would expect to happen under certain circumstances, and those predictions need to then be testable by others to see if they are correct.  This is then what separates science from religion and philosophy – the physical testing and observation of ideas and predictions to determine their validity, or, in a word, experimentation
            This course will take the reader through a process of thinking.  Parts may seem more like a story, and others will be talking about multiple traditional disciplines at the same time.  This will be quite different from traditional science courses, which focus primarily on a single discipline and certain topics, chapter by chapter from a textbook.  We’ve attempted to make this course as ‘chapterless’ as possible, because it is our experience many students will forget about the material in an earlier chapter because, since it had its own chapter, it must not have much to do with the current chapter.  In fact, there is no single textbook for this course. Students will compile their own book for the course!
In science, everything is related to something else at some level, and it is that inter-connectedness we are after.  This follows from how much of modern science research is done.  Go to a university website, and look up some research professor’s webpage.  Look at their research group page.  There is a good chance that a professor of chemical engineering will have a microbiologist, a computer scientist, a biophysicist, a chemist, and an industrial engineering student in his or her group.  Or some other funky combination that most people would never have predicted should be working together on the same problems.  This is typical, because actual scientists understand that to solve the complicated problems being asked about the world, one needs knowledge in a variety of other areas of specialization.  There is far too much information for any one person to know, and we need to collaborate and share information (scientists do this by publishing their findings in peer-reviewed journals, on web sites, in books, at conferences, through collaborations, via personal communications, and so on) in order to develop models and theories about why things work the way we observe them.  This premise, that many areas of specialization are related, is our approach in this book. 
We hope this approach will also grab most readers’ attention because there will be multiple ways of thinking about the same ideas at multiple points of the book and course.  Several major concepts will work their way into the discussion numerous times, regardless if the material is more biological or chemical.  One such concept is energy, for example.  Another such concept is the atom. 

How it all works and fits together:
This is meant to be a two-year course, starting in 9th grade and completing at the end of 10th grade.  Students would be team-taught, by the same set of teachers, both years.  Teachers would rotate students every couple weeks on average, as the material is integrated.  There would be some sort of supplemental work that is done over the summer between grades 9 and 10.  There would need to be at least 7 class periods each week, so that lab work can be done.  The course should be built around demos, labs, inquiry, the inclusion of technology (PowerPoint, Internet supplements, computer simulation, electronic sensor technology for data collection, Excel and possibly Matlab-type software for graphing, class web page with notes and relevant links including enrichment and advanced study materials, class blogs or something similar for additional student feedback and posts on topics that cannot be covered in class, conference calling with professors who can make ‘class visits,’ and so on), and group collaborative work, which is what is done in real life jobs.
This is based on the general structure of Chem-Phys at ETHS.  It is through multiple presentations and varied exposures to the material that learning is more likely to take place.  Keep the notion of multiple learning styles in mind, and that each individual should have experience with a variety of learning styles, strategies, and techniques in order to develop higher learning skills and ability.  I personally believe that integrating material from all the major disciplines in a coherent manner, along with working with different teachers, will help keep students more engaged and ‘on their toes,’ and that placing a focus on how the science is used to understand everyday life will help in student learning.  This is also supported with brain and learning research.
The material in such a course should cover the basic, essential science from the main disciplines of physics, chemistry, and biology, along with basic algebraic and graphical math applications, that everyone should know.  Emphasis to everyday life and relevancy is a must, as this is what learning and brain research shows engages students and allows for the best transfer to long-term memory.  The course wraps up with complex, science-related issues students will need to deal with in their lifetimes.  As many of these mini-units should be covered as time permits, and students should help decide which ones are ‘must dos’ based on their interests.  Each mini-unit should get into the science behind the issue, and then branch into the politics and economics of the issue, and why citizens need to have knowledge of these issues when selecting leaders during elections.
This course should be followed up with at least one more year of science. Hopefully high schools will require, in this day and age, at least three years of science for graduation.  In the 11th grade students could take a full-year, focused course in the discipline of their choice, be it biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geoscience, anatomy/physiology, or whatever else a school offers.  These could be regular/honors or stand-alone AP courses.  It is in these full-year courses that all the details of that discipline will be examined.  The 9th-10th grade course is meant to get into the main concepts of each discipline, as they pertain to everyday life, and certainly numerous details for each discipline will need to be omitted because of time restraints.  We need to be honest and realistic when we say the average person will never have a real need to know many of the smaller ideas of a particular discipline since they are likely to never come up in the everyday life of an average person.
Ideally, many of the main concepts that come up in this course will have been covered in grades 6-8.  Typically, it is on the second or third exposure to an idea or concept when learning takes place.  This will require close communication and collaboration, and a well-planned vertical alignment of topics, between high schools and middle schools.  It is essential so students get the most out of their science experience.  I would go even further and state that this should require close contact and collaboration between science and math departments.  Whenever possible, students should get the mathematical proofs, derivations and theory in math class and then shortly thereafter apply that math in science.  This has worked wonders for students in Chem-Phys, for example, where they get something in calculus and then apply it in physics, and I cannot begin to tell you how many ‘A-ha’ moments I’ve seen students have over the years…this does work.
In the end, the questions that need to be addressed are: How do students get the best science education that is useful to them in life?  In the present system, how much retention and learning takes place?  Would this proposed science course do better?  How would we know (what data and evidence would be needed?)?  I would love to do a trial-run of this type of course, even if with just one section, to see how it would work.

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