Vernier Science Education - June  2024


Forums / Research in Science Education / Course Sequencing

Research in Science Education

Course Sequencing

Author Post
Kara Kitamura Kara Kitamura 360 Points

Our school is in the middle of creating smaller learning communities. This process has led to us trying to create a course sequencing for all of the subjects. We are having a major debate within our department on what classes to offer. Currently we have all freshman take physical science, all sophomores take biology, juniors and seniors can choose between chemistry, physics, human physiology, AP biology, or marine science. Some of the people at our school believe physical science should be eliminated and biology should be for the freshman students. I wanted to know what other schools are doing and if there is any research on what courses are a better choice for our students at the high school level.....anybody have some suggestions or answers?

Jerry Citron Jerry Citron 10 Points

I think what is needed is an integration of components of physical science into biology. For example for lesson dealing with the physiology of breathing, introduce Boyles and Charles law. Don't scarp physical science, place it accordingly into the other disciplines. Not hard to do

Maureen Stover Maureen Stover 41070 Points

Hi Kara, You ask some great questions in your post! Although I can not speak for other states, in Florida physical science is one of the courses that is required for graduation. At a minimum, students are required to take life science (usually in 9th grade), physical science (usually in 10th grade), and Earth and space science (usually in 11th grade). Students taking higher level classes (for example Biology for life science) get credit for the associated class. Since I am a physical science teacher, I of course think it's an extremely important class :)! Physical science is a great introductory class for several reasons. For the students who are going on to advanced chemistry and physics, they have an introduction to some of the principals and concepts presented in these classes. Additionally, the students who do not intend to continue on to advanced science have an opportunity to explore physical science. I see this as a positive for many reasons. First, students may find after taking physical science that they really enjoy physics and/or chemistry and may decide to take additional science courses. Additionally, physical science, by it's nature, lends itself to hands-on and inquiry based activities. This in turn gets kids excited about science and helps develop their critical thinking skills. I would definitely push to continue offering physical science as part of your district's curriculum. Maureen

Jennifer Marsico Jennifer Marsico 880 Points

My district decided to put students into two "tracks" for lack of a better word. If they are in the first track, they take Biolgy, Chemistry and Physics. Biology is for 9th grade, but I don't know which is 10th and which is 11th (12th is an elective science, if chosen). If they are in the second track, they take three years of integrated science, with the first year focusing on Biology, and then physical sciences the remaining years. All freshman take Biological sciences the first year because of the end-of-year exam, which is focused on Biology.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Kara,
The smaller learning community idea for high school is a noble one. My chilcren went to a high school that attempted to do that a few years ago. Students (and their parents) were able to petition to be in the learning community, and it was 'cut off' at 100 students. They were promised the same group of teachers for their courses; the teachers would have common planning, etc. - just like a middle school. The science offered was earth science. However, almost immediately the 'group' became earmarked as the group where all of the special needs students were placed. No one wanted to be placed there. After the second year it was discontinued. Are all of your students going to be placed in smaller communities? Will there still be 'tracking'? Is there thought to coordinating science offerings with specific math courses that tie into the math in the science course being offered each semester? Will the small learning communities still have rigor and fully prepare students for college work? Are parents buying into the concept? These are questions I am sure your school has already sifted through. I just thought I would mention some of the obstacles I encountered. I will be interested in hearing others' thoughts on what the sequencing should be for high school science courses and if that sequencing changes depending on students' math and reading abilities.

 Loyola Pasiewicz 610 Points

Hi Kara, In Massachusetts, at my school, we offer biology to freshman, chemistry to sophomores, and once students pass chemistry they can take any AP science, physics, or anatomy/ physiology. We have limited science electives. There has been discussion at my school of changing the sequencing to physics first, then chemistry, and biology to the juniors, after which they can take any science elective. However, the reason for the discussion at my school has been because of the MCAS. The biology MCAS test is more difficult that the physics MCAS. I personally don't agree with pysics first becuase the students don't have the math background to be able to do the actual physics, it would be a more conceptual based class.

Nathan Thompson Nathan Thompson 4500 Points

I am new to the school but the system here seems to be Biology for Freshman, then as Sophmores and Juniors they can take two of the following: Integrated Pysics and Chemistry, Chemistry, or Physics. IPC is more for students who feel they are not yet prepared for either Physics or Chemistry. This may be because they feel they lack the math skills, they feel they lack the science skills or are not sure if they would like chemistry or physics and choose this class to get to know some of the basics before moving on. Their senior year they are allowed to choose an AP Science, Earth Science, Anatomy and so on. They are required to have taken atleast four science classes over all.

Daniel Brown Daniel Brown 1345 Points

We are debating major changes in our sequencing next year at our school in Indiana. A major suggestion we have made as a department is to move Biology from a freshman course to a sophomore course. In Indiana, Biology is a high stakes testing class. Our freshman over recent years have shown a certain lack of maturity and understanding of what it takes to succeed at the high school level. If your state has similar testing, I would recommend that the decision is made after much deliberation. I can't imagine anyone would do away with physical science. Then, you are just shortchanging your students for the future.

Sue Garcia Sue Garcia 42675 Points

In Texas, IPC was eliminated several years ago and now Freshmen start with Biology 1, next Chemistry or Bio 2, followed by Physics after taking a Chemistry, especially if you are wanting to go to college and you are not strong in some of the courses. (4 years of science are required)(each district can offer any of the state approved classes). At my school we offer Physics, Anatomy & Physiology, and an Ecology based class (changed names). Also, there are 4 tracks (with different levels of each science) that students can pursue. It is getting confusing trying to figure out which courses to take. I feel, after teaching IPC, that it is an incredible course that is perfect for most freshmen. If they are going to be required to take chemistry and physics,I feel it gives them a better foundation. Now, without IPC, I have noticed more students are struggling in the required chemistry and physics. Many of them should not be struggling, but middle school has so much that they are required to teach (also with middle school's mental development), that many freshmen come under prepared to start some of the more formal classes.

Kathy Sparrow Kathy Sparrow 47692 Points

In my district when I was in Ohio, students took physical science in 9th grade and biology in 10th grade. In those two grades we tried to also integrate Earth science and science as inquiry. The Ohio Graduation Test is given the second semester of 10th grade and assesses all the Ohio science standards: life science, Earth and space science, physical science, science and technology, science inquiry and scientific ways of knowing. Obviously, it was really important for students to get a good science foundation not only from middle school, but also from elementary school. Ohio requires 3 units of science for graduation, so students could choose two semester electives or a year of physics, or chemistry in 11th and/or 12th grade. If the students were in the honors track, they took honors biology in 9th grade, honors physical science in 10th grade, and then took advanced courses (e.g., IB or AP biology, IB/AP chemistry or IB/AP physics) in 11th and 12th grades.

Aoko Hope Aoko Hope 1540 Points

In Chicago, at a charter school we offer Bio, Chem, Physics. I have tried to get Biotechnology offered as an elective since this is a field that is increasing in demand. It is noteworthy that so much of the ACT science is Earth Science, particulary the data and graphs, yet it is not a required science course in my district. Can anyone suggests a good Physical Science curriculum that meets the needs of struggling readers?

Apartment Patino Mario Patino 1295 Points

Forgive my ignorance but is there science curriculum that exist for non-readers? How can you obtain science literacy without the ability to read?

As for course sequencing-we teach conceptual physics to all freshmen, chemistry/honors chemistry to all sophomores, and biology to juniors. This sequence is more aligned to understanding key concepts/unifying themes which are shared among the disciplines. For instance, when I teach photosynthesis to juniors, I can tap into background knowledge they have related to electromagnetism, Law of Conservation of Energy/Matter, and inorganic/organic chemistry. Again, the rigor of an 11th grade biology course is greater because I am able to build upon previous knowledge the student gained in conceptual physics and chemistry. I know there is an argument out there which addresses that most students are not 'math' ready for a traditional chemistry course yet I would suggest reflect on why the value of maintaining 'tradition' and the 'traditional' sequence. Teaching biology at the 9th grade makes no sense to me (as a former researcher/or high school student) because you need to understand concepts in physics and chemistry to understand biological phenomena. I do understand that teaching such a sequence can be challenging if teachers are not prepared to address these unifying themes (content expertise, pedagogy, or resources). To be fair to the student, the sequence should be taught based on the readiness and comfort of the science teachers.

Kelly Amendola Kelly Amendola 10320 Points

In my old school we had the "normal" course sequencing. 9th graders took earth science and needed to take the state test at the end, then we took biology then chemistry and as seniors we could take physics, pick an AP course or drop science all together. Now they changed the order, in 6th grade the students take general science and then as 7th and 8th graders they take biology. At the end of 8th grade they have to take their state test then as 9th graders they have to take earth science. Personally, the sequence that I went through made more sense. I know that some of the 7th and 8th graders are struggling with really understanding the content of biology.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Aoko and welcome to the discussion threads! You asked, 'Can anyone suggests a good Physical Sceience curriculum that meets the needs of non-readers?'
I am wondering if you would find this book in cartoon format a possible option:
The Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonick.
Also, I do not know anyone who has used them, but there is a series of general science texts designed for students who read at a second grade or below level. It is called Exploring Science Through Symbols and Words. At the website, you can download a table of contents for the physical science text.
I hope this helps,

Ronaldo Relador Ronaldo Relador 45315 Points

Hi Carolyn, Although I cannot really suggest a full curriculum for teaching Physical Science, I know of reading resources that integrate science, math, social sciences, and study skills. I give them to my special class of mostly nominal readers. The website is: The kids enjoy them for daily warm-up for being so concise, consistent, and yet touching so many different topics. the Reading and Comprehension series goes from Grade 1 to Grade 5, but since they are not labelled as such, but rather coded, they can be handed even to older kids with challenges in reading and comprehension.

Donald Boonstra Donald Boonstra 8585 Points

Since 1972 I have been involved in schools that have initiated 'physics first' with a conceptual physics followed by chemistry, then bio then electives. I haven't seen rigorous research, but from my experience I have seen great excitement for physics in 9th. This level of phys is less abstract than any other high school course. The students were naturally asking these questions about force and motion. The intro to mechanical energy helped in chem in 10th, the chem in 10th made the level of bio taught in HS easier to understand. In my last school where I was dept chair, The requirement for grad was 3 courses. Before the change to this sequence, about 30% took four courses - a few took five. After the change about 70% took four and about 30% took five and about 20% took six courses. Students were taking AP chem with bio and AP bio with AP physics. And the kids not interested in AP were taking our other electives. Students told me they were taking the advanced courses because they liked and understood the intro chem, bio, and phys. I would love to see rigorous research in which the teachers who teach the conceptual physics are trained and not 9th grade bio teachers who have to teach physics. I have seen several studies in which the phys first failed - but on closer inspection the issue lay not with the course sequence but with the qualification and training of teachers who had to implement the new structure.

Lorrie Armfield Lorrie Armfield 51438 Points

Wow Donald. Excellent read; your posts are always so very informative. Thanks for sharing, as I personally enjoy expanding my repertoire of teaching's my number one reason for perusing the Learning Center. LA

Eric Carlson Eric Carlson 30050 Points

I certainly don't feel like I have any definitive answers, but here's what I've thought anyway. I would ask what you want to make sure every student learns by the time they leave high school. It's also worth asking what they already know by the time they hit high school. Why would you get rid of physical science? Have the kids already learned that material by the time they get to 9th grade? Will they learn it in some other required course? Or is there nothing in it that's important to you that they learn? In any case, I believe there is value in introducing topics conceptually at first before diving into them deeper, and it seems like physical science can serve this purpose for chemistry and physics, and even a bit for biology. The more exposure students have to material, the more they will learn it.

Lou Gasperine Lou Gasperine 1170 Points

Physics First has been around quite a while and I believe it is being adopted more (no data to back that up as of yet). We changed our sequence to 1/2 year earth and space and a 1/2 year physics first for ninth grade. This is our first year of that and we love it. We are still adapting the lessons and labs, but for the most part, the switch has energized us and the kids. As sophomores,biology was the next step, but that too is changing next year to chem because of the state biology exam (it has more biochem on it than we thought). So to afford the students a better prep for the biochem, they will take chem as sophomores and biology as juniors. Seniors may elect full physics, anatomy and physiology, and other half year electives that are offered if we have enough students to take them. We have about 900 students in our hs and 7 science teachers who do it all!

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Something has been catching my attention for quite some time now. It's not just biology for 7th graders and physics for 8th graders. It's also pre-algebra for sixth graders, algebra for 7th graders, and more algebra and geometry for 8th graders. Children as young as 9 and 10 are now being asked to solve for 'x' in elementary and I know of one seventh grade teacher who uses 'To Kill a Mockingbird' in her language arts classroom.

But when students arrive in my classroom, I have trouble teaching them to use a triple beam balance because they can't do basic mental addition. Something's amiss.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for higher standards. But shouldn't we, as educators, be seriously concerned about what is and isn't developmentally appropriate for children?

I'm sure we're all familiar with Piaget's work. Children are not capable of hypothetical and deductive reasoning until they reach the formal operational stage of development. This typically begins at about age 12. But with the above course sequencing, we're asking children to make rather large leaps, all of which require strong deductive reasoning, well before the age of 12 and we just keep piling it on.

This also doesn't take into consideration current brain research which has shown (quit well, in fact) that the adolescent brain undergoes serious structural changes during puberty (ahem, ages 11-16). Many of these structural changes occur in the brain's frontal lobe, which is where the majority of our higher mental functions take place. A reduced frontal lobe does not a cognitive powerhouse make...

I fear that we're going in the wrong direction (again). Rather than trying to force students into algebra, biology, and physics - wouldn't it be better for us to go deeper into topics so that students become fluent rather than just exposed to different topics?

Looking forward to your responses,

Sue Garcia Sue Garcia 42675 Points

Kendra, I could give you a great big HUG! There is so much research about what mental development most kids are in at various ages, but schools are pushing for advanced classes such as Algebra 1, an abstract math for 6th graders...the majority of them do not have abstract math development yet. Then they leave the class thinking they are "dumb" because they don't get it. The problem is that the material is not age appropriate for them. A lot of science is that way. I think physics is a very important class, however-it is so abstract, students need to be taught on a conceptual basis before going into the more abstract mathematically based physics. If students were taught with more conceptually designed sciences earlier in the science sequencing, I think there would be more students pursuing science as a field, not giving up too early because they felt "dumb" when pushed to early into a science that they were not quite developmentally ready for.

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25635 Points

Kendra brings up a valid point; as topics are "pushed down" into lower grades, students are expected to master concepts that they may not be developmentally ready to master. I've seen this in my own district with the requirement that all seventh graders take some form of algebra. Last year was the first year and numerous students were placed into an alternative class after one marking period because they encountered difficulty with the math. At the high school level our district is moving to a two-year biology course. Environmental and ecology topics will be taught in the first year, with more difficult concepts (such as those requiring some biochem) in the second year. The impetus for the shift away from the typical 9th grade earth science course is the looming Keystone biology test which the state has mandated must be passed by students. Like others have said in this forum, there's little emphasis on incorporating engineering, which will be in the next generation of science standards. It will certainly be interesting to see how states and individual districts respond to the changes.

William Dorsey William Dorsey 10 Points

Hi, folks, Exploring the possibility of transitioning from a traditional (B,C,P) curriculum to Physics First. (We are already in flux with the transition from AP to IB Diploma, for jr/srs.) The issue I'm having is the scarcity of evidence that there's a true and meaningful difference in the skills and knowledge at the end of HS, and/or impact on subsequent college work. I have read the arguments in favor of Physics First, but I am hoping someone can share some research-based evidence that one sequence is actually more beneficial than another. Show me that it actually makes a difference...not that "it makes more sense." (We are an independent school, so performance on state tests and SOLs are really not my concern.) Please share any educational research that you know of. Or, if you have hard data from your own school, I'd be interested in your experience. Many thanks,

Kindra Harris Kindra Harris 35 Points

I teach in california and I think Biology needs yo be taught at the 10 th grade due to the lack of maturity of the 9 th graders. Currently we teach it at the 9 th grade.  9 th needs to be something General, maybe human development or no science for maintream unless you are honor, map etc.   instead of science make them take avid or a foreign language.  10 th needs to be bio for mainstream,11 th chem and 12 th physio or physics or any other elective. 


The honors, myp etc 9th graders need to take science all 4years.  They can take bio at the 9 thgrade.  Currently there are too many 9 thgraders failing biology in the mainstream and when I taught integrated and physical science our f grades were still high.  They would get more out of the course if taught at the 20 th grade.  33% of the s bac is onbio, 33% earth and 34% split physics/chem.  I’m thinking the kids will gain more from bio if taken at the 10 th grade,then cheat the 11th

Maura Purcell Maura Purcell 1250 Points

I have to disagree about students not taking some kind of science during 9th grade. Mature or not, if there is a three year requirement for science then that puts all students at risk of not meeting graduation requirements. Also, many senoirs opt for reduced scheduals so you risk less science enrollment across the bord. 

I would say that lack of maturity is a problem wheather it's life or physical science. However, biology requires less math skills so if you start with bio then go on to physical in 10th grade they will be better prepared in math. 

Kindra Harris Kindra Harris 35 Points

It’s interesting this concern is coming up now?? I’ve taught both subjects at the 9 th grade and I have had more engagement with the biology vs. the physical science. The physical science concepts were interesting to the kids, although the content brewed an environment of less maturity. I remember Newton’s laws with the related labs, the motion lessons and labs being very difficult to coordinate and control with 36 9 th graders in each class. I definitely wouldn’t recommend physical science to anyone 9 th grade and under for that reason alone. Now the bio is more paper activities or activities I can do on computer that get the point across. Some units are more engaging than others and the curriculum is well organized and builds to the next unit of study. I would vote for some health class... something for the lower level 9 th graders and give the a-c kids bio . It’s sometimes the combination of kids you have in a class... just a few can change the atm, and there’s no where to put them they must stay. That’s the real issue in my book.

Estrell Mamonese Estrell Mamonese 250 Points

It is important to discuss the opinions of different parties, taking into account the interests and needs of the students, in order to make the best decision. Good luck in your quest to improve education for students!

Estrell Mamonese Estrell Mamonese 250 Points

It is interesting to hear about your ambition to improve science education in your school through the creation of learning communities and course optimization. When such research-based debates arise, it becomes possible to make more informed decisions. I had a course in literature at school, I remember being asked to read about frankenstein, I then found for that. For information on which courses are the best choice for high school, it is recommended to consult academic journals, publications, and research in the field of science education. Such research can help determine the optimal sequence of courses that contributes to the successful learning of students and the development of their interests in scientific disciplines.

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