Science teachers voice PCB support
Last updated 1/29/2020 at 3:48pm | View PDF
The plan to alter the science sequence at Hinsdale Central High School is backed by science teachers at the school, who say it creates a more effective progression of courses and a better synergy with students’ simultaneous math instruction.
Speaking at the Jan. 23 Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting, science department chairs and teachers sought to counter community objections to the switch to the so-called physics-first sequence by touting its benefits.
“All of us who are directly involved in it are super-excited about the direction things are going,” said Alan McCloud, earth science teacher at Central, standing with fellow members of the science sequencing committee.
The committee was formed in the spring of 2019, including and the under the guidance of outgoing superintendent for academics Carol Baker, to help implement the Next Generation Science Standards adopted by the state of Illinois to equip students to enter STEM fields. The principals of both Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools were also on the committee.
The group determined that a physics-chemistry-biology (PCB) sequence should be used at Central as had been practiced at South for several years. The plan calls for freshmen to start with Physics in the Universe rather than the traditional biology, and earth science will be woven into the three courses instead of taught separately.
Dylan Cavanaugh, earth science teacher at Central for 18 years, expressed support for the plan.
“I firmly believe that integration of earth science into the other sciences is the best choice,” Cavanaugh told board members. ”Students that leave Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools will be better prepared to be successful.”
But critics of the plan say the district has moved too quickly in making the change and that it will limit science options, advocating instead for a selection of science strands. Last month the district announced it was delaying its implementation of the new sequence at Central, with both PCB and biology available to freshman the next two school years and a full transition to PCB in 2022-23.
Retired high school biology teacher Mark Miller acknowledged PCB benefits for students eying careers in engineers. However, he argued it would be detrimental for those going into life sciences, such as the medical field.
“You cannot teach the entire AP biology curriculum to a student with no prior knowledge of biology,” he said. “They need that freshman biology course before they take AP biology. That’s why the College Board requires it. I am asking for a choice, an option, for the life science kids.”
Retired Central science teacher Dave Fetty said he was a “physics-first skeptic” until witnessing the value of PCB firsthand.
“We had students with an increased satisfaction in the science experience, so that led them to take more science classes,” Fetty said. “The number of students enrolling in AP science classes expanded, and research shows that students that even attempt an AP class have better success in college than students that do not attempt these classes.”
Hinsdale South senior Kaitlyn Hurka said she has taken seven science courses under the PCB approach, and it has not inhibited her from getting top marks on AP science tests.
“Instead of taking bio first, which I think can be disengaging for many freshmen, taking physics first allows freshmen to do the hands-on activities and apply what they learn in class to the world around them,” she said.
Under questioning from board member Kevin Camden, teachers said they never felt coerced by district leadership into supporting the plan, as some PCB critics have suggested.
Fetty urged opponents to trust the educators.
“Be patient. Support and embrace this change,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way to teach science. It’s very effective, and it’ll be the best for our community and our students.”