Monday, April 20, 2009

Living By Chemistry - Key Curriculum Press - Ninth or Tenth Grade Chemistry for Everyone


The University of California/Lawrence Hall of Science/NSF ESI-9730634 generated curriculum Living by Chemistry, with Dr. Angelica M. Stacey as the lead writer raises inquiry-based, high school Chemistry to an incredibly accessible level. It simply allows more students with different backgrounds time to practice being a scientist while learning standards. Obviously, it can be adopted as an alternative text at many schools, but its greatest impact could be felt by convincing many students to take Chemistry in ninth or tenth grade, and, possibly, reducing the number of dropouts.

ACT research clearly shows that taking Physics, Chemistry, and Biology in high school correlates well with graduating college. Leon Lederman has convincingly argued that a sequence beginning with Physics First works best. However, with Biology being the 10th grade NCLB test in California, a sequence of Chemistry - Biology could serve students and that state adequately. From an opportunity-cost standpoint, the current practice of ordinary students taking ninth grade Earth Science or Integrated Science does not correlate with college graduation. In effect, ninth grade non-core science requires that students complete four years of science. Yeah, that happens. Bluntly, students in non-core ninth or tenth grade courses do not graduate college from a statistical basis. However, the core science alternative is beset with problems; since many students have weak backgrounds that preclude success using conventional Chemistry texts. Living by Chemistry offers light, engaging paperbacks with numerous experiments to drive students into classes. It helps solves the rigor/engagement problem.


Keeping students in school with interesting academics and supporting teachers with easy-to-use materials are the purposes behind the Living in Chemistry curriculum. Typical students and science teachers can thrive on the small texts, detailed teacher guides, and exercise kits. More interestingly, practicing Chemistry is real and different from other courses. It gives students a flavor of real academic work. It's risk entices. More students in Chemistry may correlate with the holy grail of increased rigor concommitant with a higher graduation rate.


Designate one teacher to offer one to two sections of Chemistry with ninth graders having priority. Make sure texts are approved for full year piloting or satisfy whatever rules are necessary. Try not to issue a new course number - Chemistry standards are Chemistry standards. The next Chemistry class to students would be AP Chemistry anyway.

Debug the course over the year. If successful, add additional sections as more teachers and classrooms become capable of teaching the course. In California, an Earth Science teacher has to pass on Chemistry CSET, but this isn't about eliminating Earth Science, but increasing the number of students taking the core science courses. Remember, ninth grade Biology was rendered obsolete with the advent of molecular Biology 50 years ago. It's time to change. The world has. Taking Chemistry before Biology enriches the curriculum for all.

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