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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is a common high school science course sequence desirable?

Students who finish a year each of physics, chemistry, and biology at the high school level are better prepared for and are more successful in college. HSD data reveals that too few HSD graduates have completed the recommended three courses of physics, chemistry, and biology. Additionally, the same data show inequitable representation in physics, chemistry, and advanced science courses as well as achievement gaps with regard to diverse learners. To address these concerns, the new common science sequence will ensure HSD students are better prepared for rigorous science coursework, college and high-wage, high-demand careers.

What is the new high school science course sequence?

Physics will be taken freshman year, chemistry during sophomore year, and biology during junior year. Within each course, students will have opportunities for enrichment and additional supports to ensure learning at the appropriate rate and level. Students desiring to take AP or IB science courses will most often do so during their junior and senior years. As in previous years, students will still have the opportunity to take additional science electives.

Why “physics first”?

After researching various high school science models, the Science Study Team recommended changing from the former high school science course sequence of biology-chemistry-physics to one of physics-chemistry-biology. The rationale of placing physics first/biology third was because 1) students will be more successful in Algebra and Physics if they take those courses simultaneously to allow for the codevelopment of skills, 2) in order to understand modern molecular biology and the biochemical processes in cells, students need a solid background in both physics and chemistry, and 3) mastery of the basic physics concept of electrostatic and nuclear forces and the concept of energy storage and transfer are crucial to the understanding of chemical structures, atomic bonding, gas laws, and the periodic table of the elements. This model is currently implemented in many districts nationwide, including nearby Beaverton and Forest Grove.

What benefits have been seen in school districts that have moved to a physics first model?

In general, a physics-chemistry-biology sequence positively impacts student achievement in science and mathematics. Several districts that have implemented a physics first model have experienced increased enrollment in upper-level AP and IB science courses, increased number of female students in upper-level physics courses, increased student achievement, and has led to more positive student attitudes toward science. For more information about the benefits of freshman physics, see the resources linked below.

How will a freshman physics class differ from a junior-level physics class?

In a freshman physics class, students will explore their own notions about common, everyday phenomena, discuss their observations with peers, and draw conclusions that can be tested. They will begin to make predictions, practice data collection and graphing techniques, apply some mathematical skills to real situations, and start to make sense of their observations. The maturity level and cognitive development of typical ninth-grade students also requires adjustments in the approach to teaching physics concepts. Freshmen are more likely to be “concrete thinkers” and many physics concepts are more concrete than concepts found in chemistry and biology. Ninth-grade students will readily apply their algebra skills within physics classes. Ninth-grade physics will be more student-centered and will use inquiry and engineering design labs to explore new ideas, allowing students to learn science by doing rather than by reading about it or through lecture. Student misconceptions can be addressed and corrected before they become entrenched and harder to shed. Exposing a greater number of students to the concrete concepts of physics will provide the basis for understanding the more abstract concepts introduced in chemistry and biology.

Will students be prepared for the mathematics required for the freshman physics course?

Physics in ninth grade will parallel the goals of basic algebra: reinforcing skills such as solving equations, interpreting graphs, and reasoning proportionately. The fundamentals of physics can be taught without a great deal of higher mathematics. All necessary mathematics can easily be introduced on a “need-to-know” basis.

What materials will be used to teach the Freshman? Who is deciding?

Our Freshman Physics course will be in line with the Next Generation Science Standards and our teachers will follow a scope and sequence for the course that allows for the co-development of science and math skills throughout the year. The Portland Metro STEM partnership—a collective impact partnership including Portland State University, Intel, Oregon Health Sciences University, and administrators and teachers in Portland Public, Beaverton, Forest Grove and Hillsboro—has been supporting the development and refinement of materials and resources for teaching Physics to freshmen for the last four years. As a member of this partnership, we have been learning from our partners’ success including visiting their classrooms, participating in trainings and collaborating with their staff. In addition to published materials recommended by ODE, we are utilizing scope and sequence, units, and resources developed by our regional partners in this first year of implementation. Recommendation for materials to the Board will happen after the piloting of the materials at this new course level.

Additional information is available here: