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Physics First Is Good, But Don’t Shortchange Biology

The major success of Physics First lies in its logical reorganization of the high school science curriculum so that each course sets the foundation for the next–physics leads into chemistry, which leads into biology. This transition from course to course is a solid way of teaching high school science.

However, the current science curriculum is not without its problems. The current science overemphasizes physics at the expense of biology, allowing students to graduate without taking biology at all.

Loyola should require that all students take a year of each of the three core sciences taught in high schools–physics, chemistry, and biology. Loyola should strongly consider modifying the existing Physics First program to allow for more student choice and ensure that all students receive an education in life science.

Biology is key to a good high school science education. If Loyola students are to truly find God in all things, they should gain a fundamental understanding of evolution, of life at a molecular level, of genetics and of ecology.

The major problem with the current science curriculum is simple. At best, under the current system, two years are spent on physics, and only one is spent on biology. At worst, students leave high school without a foundational understanding about how the world we live in works–without taking any biology course.

According to College Board, AP Biology is a two year course, and both AP Physics courses offered by Loyola are one year courses. Right now, Loyola inverts the two, spending one year on AP Biology (unless students take regular biology in junior year and AP Biology in senior year, an uncommon practice) and two on physics.

Loyola is not going to change its commitment to the AP program anytime soon, and for science courses, it shouldn’t. A stated prerequisite for AP Biology is coursework in chemistry and biology. Students going into AP Biology without any experience in biology are at a significant disadvantage.

One solution Loyola could consider is allowing freshmen to choose between biology and physics. In general, freshmen do not enter Loyola knowing much beyond Algebra 1. If physics were taught in junior or senior year, students could approach even a college preparatory level course with a solid understanding of more advanced algebra and, for some students, trigonometry. These students could take biology, which requires far less mathematical prowess, during freshmen year.

While taking chemistry before biology and physics before chemistry may in fact make more sense for students learning science, by no means does deviating from this Physics First model preclude the ability of students to have a well-rounded understanding of each of the three sciences.

Students still interested in having a fundamental understanding of physics before chemistry and biology use Loyola’s proven Physics First model.

Arguments for Physics First should focus more on the logical flow of the science curriculum and on student learning than on a possibly insignificant difference in student scores on the old SAT. Physics First is certainly a valid way of educating high school students, but scores on a College Board test with little to no ability of predicting college success should not guide our curriculum decisions.

Understanding biology is crucial at a time in which science is being attacked on numerous fronts. No student should leave high school without taking biology. Loyola should stand up for biology and strongly consider modifying the physics first program to allow the school to continue its mission of Jesuit education.


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