Explosive Products of Science Department Change


Photo by: Cecilia Nguyen

Chemistry lab tables in Mrs. Connie Su’s classroom.

Public schools should dedicate their efforts towards providing a thorough education to all students. The new suggested science route removes the freshmen courses Earth Science and Physical Science Honors, jeopardizing students’ abilities to succeed and potentially lessening their exposure to the many fields of science.

Beginning with the class of 2021, in order to graduate, students will take College Prep or Honors Biology freshmen year followed by Chemistry sophomore year. All students, including English language learners, home and hospital teaching students (HHT), and special education students (SPED), will be enrolled in Chemistry.

In the current system, students can graduate without taking Chemistry. Currently, only students interested in satisfying A-G UC requirements and attending a four year university take Chemistry.

Chemistry demands knowledge of logarithms, inverse logarithms, proportions, percents, and the quadratic formula.

Most sophomores are not mathematically prepared to succeed in chemistry. In fact, students are not even introduced to logarithms until Math 3, which about two-thirds of students (according to current records) do not take before their junior year. About 160 students are not even in Math 2 by their sophomore year, which means they will be lacking the necessary Algebra skills to do basic chemistry.

Math teacher Mrs. Brandae Rossini said, “I’m assuming that the chemistry teachers will have to teach math, as well as chemistry. The students may be able to do the basics, but it may be a bigger struggle than normal.”

Even juniors struggle with the math required for chemistry. Chemistry teacher Mrs. Carla Davis said, “A lot of times, students can’t even solve for x.”

Is it wise to have students taking Chemistry a year earlier, when the math is already a challenge for students?

“Math is the language of chemistry, and many students have difficulty with math,” said Ms. Susan Thee, Earth Science and past Chemistry teacher. “I remember teaching chemistry one year and a hard-working student came for some extra help. I tried several ways to teach stoichiometry and she just couldn’t get it. Next year, she came back and did just fine.” By making this change, we risk having two-thirds of sophomores face similar frustrations and challenges.

Supporters of the new route are in favor of altering the chemistry curriculum to remove some of the math calculations. This solution would only broaden the gap between college and high school courses; consequently, producing students who are unprepared for the rigor of college courses. “When I met with another chemistry teacher, she actually said that she was moving away from doing a lot of math and doing more concept-based. I like the idea of that. The only problem is, when you go to college, you still have to do the math,” said Davis.

One positive result of this change is that all Biology classes will be receiving a new class-set of computers. The district offered Cam High the computers if the school adopts this new science system. The computers will be used to house an integrated text-book which can be updated yearly to suit new requirements and information. They will also be utilized to display and record lab data.

The new changes eliminate freshmen classes that do not satisfy A-G requirements. Theoretically, by taking only A-G level courses, students finish their required science courses a year early. The administration hopes that this change will allow students to take more courses that interest them. Although, this could also be accomplished by adopting an Earth Science course that satisfies A-G requirements.

The possible Earth Science course has already been approved by the school board. Thee, member of the team of teachers who wrote the A-G Earth Science course, said “Our staff worked long hours and without pay to get the courses written by the UC deadline for the 2017-2018 school year.”

The point of high school is to expose students to as much information as possible, either in order to maximize their knowledge as they enter the workforce or to facilitate their ability to discover their own interests. In the new, proposed method, students will only be required to take Biology and Chemistry.

Dr. Kim Stephenson said, “Letting kids choose more classes gives them more of a story.” Although, how can students possibly know if they want to include Earth Science, Environmental Science, or Physics in their story if they have never been introduced these topics? How can they possibly craft their own unique and personal story when they have such a limited variety of experiences?

Ms. Joi Hiraishi, biology teacher said, “In high school, I think students should be given a well-rounded education. Taking away earth science takes away an entire branch. So, if anybody has ever heard of astronomy or geology or meteorology, those are all Earth-only sciences. Nobody will know about those. We’re not going to inspire anybody to become an astronaut. We’re not going to inspire anybody to do weather or oceanography. They’re not going to have the exposure by removing an entire branch.”

Proponents of the new system argue that chemistry teachers will teach the math that students need, but have not yet learned or mastered. They also argue that biology and chemistry teachers will teach the earth science applications to their course.

However, this would require that chemistry teachers teach math, earth science, and, of course, chemistry. Our science department is extremely competent, but how can a science teacher be expected to teach their curriculum while also teaching students math? There is not an unlimited number of days in the school year. Adding math and earth science lessons will inevitably result in fewer chemistry lessons. Clearly, this is simply infeasible.

Not only will students lack a well-rounded education, they will also likely perform worse on standardized tests.  The standardized science exam tests earth science, chemistry, biology, and physics principles. Currently, students who take three or more years of science are exposed to at least three of these four standards. With the new system, it is likely that many students, even those who take three years of science, will only learn two out of these four principles.

Essentially, while this change could allow students to try more avenues, it will also limit the different subjects they learn.

When I was voicing my concerns about the new system, the administration rationalized the system, despite its faults. They claimed that since other schools across the state have this system, we can successfully incorporate it as well. Mr. Gary Peterson, associate principal, said “It’s nothing new for most of the state. It’s new for us.”

While I doubt that this will drastically hurt most students, it will certainly not help most students. Besides, do we want to change and conform simply because other schools are practicing this new science route? Or, should we focus on the needs of our students?

The main motive for these changes should solely be in the interest of benefiting students’ education. The only benefit I see is the computers that the district is providing. Should we be sacrificing the education of our students for a few computers?