Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…


Physics First

The New York Times picked up the torch that Richard and I were carrying on Friday:

Some experts on science education also point to the typical sequence of high school science instruction: biology, chemistry and then physics. It would make more sense in reverse, these people say, because the principles of physics underlie chemistry, which is crucial for an understanding of biology.

Perhaps the leading champion of this “physics first” approach is Leon M. Lederman, a particle physicist, Nobel laureate and former director of Fermilab whose focus lately has been on improving science and math education. He said the current biology-chemistry-physics sequence dates from the late 19th century, when “we didn’t know enough” and biology was considered a “descriptive” subject.

In fact, Dr. Lederman said, “biology is the most complicated of all subjects, and it is based on chemistry and physics.” And, he added, “there is nothing in chemistry, no fact of chemistry or process of chemistry that if you ask ‘Why does this happen?’ you don’t go back to physics.”

It’s interesting that biology was chosen as first because it is “descriptive” (and therefore, presumably, easier). Maybe that’s why they do Earth Sciences first at Bret Harte? Maybe it makes it more interesting for people who don’t like science?

Anyway, Richard and I are firmly in the physics first camp. You can’t understand the others properly without it and – for a kids who wants to know how things work – it’s by far the most interesting.