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What are top 10 physics concepts for middle schoolers?

  1. Mar 10, 2015 #1
    We are modifying our middle school physics curriculum. What are the ten most important physics concepts for middle schoolers to learn for a solid foundation in physical science? Secondarily, what labs are most memorable to engage students in these concepts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 10, 2015 #2
    I don't think any concept is important, because what's important is to understand the philosophy and methodology of physics. If they should learn anything then it's that. So I think they should learn:
    1) How the scientific method works and why we use it
    2) What questions physics can answer and what question it can't answer (imprecise questions, untestable questions,...)
    3) All knowledge of physics is conditional and subject to change: there are no absolutes
    4) Physics is very old, but is still being researched extensively today

    I think it would be good to let the come up with certain hypotheses and then let them find out a way to test them. A good example would be to see what kind of variables influence whether an object falls faster or lower (is mass a significant influence? Volume? Kind of matter? etc.) But I think it's important to let them find something themselves and to complete the process themselves.

    I also think it would be nice to really question the very basic knowledge that they've been taught. For example, they should all know the earth is (approximately) a sphere. But try to question them as to how they know this. How can they test it themselves? etc. I think this would teach the students to think independently and to do experiments themselves.
  4. Mar 10, 2015 #3


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    Middle school? "Common core standards? To be retained for HS graduation test requirement? What would we like to see stated as a standard for what every high school graduate should know about physical sciences?
      1. Goal: prediction of properties and interactions of matter and energy;
      2. Method: systematic observation;
      3. Conservation laws: seven as of mid-60s;
      4. Fundamental measurements: seven fundamental units;
      5. ???
  5. Mar 10, 2015 #4


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    Welcome to the PF.

    Are you an Alternative Education School, where you can modify the state-mandated curriculum? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_school

    What alternate curricula have you found so far that look interesting?
  6. Mar 10, 2015 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    I'm with berkeman on this: what is your current curriculum based on- common core, international baccalaureate, etc., and what (if any) state rules do you have to follow?
  7. Mar 27, 2015 #6
    Thank you for feedback and clarifying questions. We function as an adjunct to private homeschoolers, offering classes that are traditionally more difficult to teach at home. As such, we are not adverse to state or national education standards, but we do have the freedom to modify curriculum. Historically, we have used five or six different texts, none of which has functioned perfectly in our unusual system. We are looking for a middle school text that is limited to physics, that explores topics deeply, that inspires awe/wonder/interest, and that offers sound and memorable labs. It is our assumption that many career scientists were initially engaged in the middle school years. As we consider writing our own curriculum, we are interested in knowing, from physicists, what topics they consider most important for those years, how physics captured their attention in those years, and what the gaps were that could/should have been filled.
  8. Mar 30, 2015 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    I selected this sentence because it perfectly captures the dilemma: to cover a topic 'deeply', while keeping all students fully engaged. And to make it even more difficult, the textbook has to operate at a conceptual level appropriate for middle school. I don't know of any.

    I would almost consider using non-textbooks like:


    And supplement with problem sets and labs from other sources: perhaps Physics PhET would be appropriate.

    But to your specific question: "What are the ten most important physics concepts for middle schoolers to learn for a solid foundation in physical science?" I would start here:


    Math-specific skills should include: geometry, ratio reasoning, graphs of functions, basic statistics.

    Does this help?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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