Why I Chose My Scope and Sequence - Physical Science

As teachers, it can be challenging to determine the best order in which to teach our curriculum.  This back to school season, I decided to share my scope and sequence for physical science and why I think it is the best for using in the physical science classroom!

Last year after completing my full year biology curriculum, I decided to write a blogpost to give context for why I chose the particular scope and sequence that I use in biology.  I loved hearing from so many of you, so after a little break from product creation, I ended up spending this past summer writing up my full year physical science curriculum.  Now that it is finished, I can finally get back to writing, as I know I have severely neglected this little blog and I have so much I want to share with you AND hear your thoughts on too!  So I decided to start off a year of intentionally blogging with the rationale for my physical science scope and sequence. 

Back in the day when I taught at public school, I didn’t even think twice about my scope and sequence.  This was all provided for me and standardized across the district.  This was great as a first year teacher - one less thing for me to have to worry about!  But as time went on, I realized I really didn’t like the sequence in which I was told to teach the content and wished I had an opportunity to change it.

Then my husband’s job moved us to a different part of the state and I found myself in a private school, where I have now taught for 4 years.  I went from being one of 5 teachers who taught my subject matter, which was dictated entirely by my school district, to being the only teacher who taught my subjects, given complete autonomy over my curriculum.   My only guidelines were that my unit plans be guided by the Next Generation Science Standards.  (If you are unfamiliar with these, I’ve written a blog post about them here.)

I was overwhelmed and overjoyed at the idea of being able to completely rearrange my curriculum (isn't teaching such a mixed bag of emotions?)   Over the past few years I’ve tried a few different strategies for my physical science classes, just like I did with my biology ones, and I’ve landed on this being my absolute favorite scope and sequence of all. 
As teachers, it can be challenging to determine the best order in which to teach our curriculum.  This back to school season, I decided to share my scope and sequence for physical science and why I think it is the best for using in the physical science classroom!
I decided to maintain a consistent set-up and strategy for my biology and physical science classes, as I have all of the students two years in a row.  I divide each unit into smaller concepts, as you can see above.  In terms of long-term sequence, my students traditionally take physical science with me in the 8th grade, then I have them again for biology in 9th grade before they take chemistry as a 10th grader.  This is a serious blessing in that I am able to REALLY challenge them in physical science to build up their skills at a time when their grades don't really affect their future getting into college, since they are still in middle school.  They can learn it is okay to struggle and through the struggles, they come out stronger and better equipped for their futures in high school.  This is why I start with the introduction to physics. 

I know this may seem CRAZY, especially since so many of my students are concurrently taking Algebra 1, and this curriculum is heavily math-based.  But, I think it is really important for several reasons.  

One, physics is much easier for the students to visualize and "get" than chemistry.  Chemistry is really abstract.  Of course we can model and show them things, but physics is such a cool subject that they can really experience.  Even though the math is challenging for them, they really understand the context through labs, inquiry-based explorative stations, and demonstrations, which makes them appreciate the math components.  

Two, it is so fun to hear students talk about how this is the best year they have ever had in math because of what they are doing in my science class.  The numbers have meaning to them when they learn how to manipulate them in real-life situations!  

Third, it has created AMAZING connections with my Algebra 1 teacher, where everything I am teaching is being reinforced by him and vice versa.  

Lastly, there are so many cool things to do with teaching physics (no offense to any chemistry teachers - y'all are awesome!) that I really love starting with it because students become super engaged really quickly.  If you've purchased any of my physical science units, you'll see how many amazing real-world connections can be made with this content (I LOVE the activity in the Motion and Force unit where students investigate the physics behind the long-term effects of concussions.) The students become so incredibly drawn in that they don't get as overwhelmed by the complexity of what they are learning. 

I also think it is really important to start with a STRONG scientific method unit.  I spend a lot more time on these foundational skills in physical science than I do in biology.  Because I do it strongly here, I can move quickly through it as a review in biology.  I spend a good bit of time on safety, equipment, and foundational math skills for the course.  By teaching them metric conversions and dimensional analysis, they are acquiring skills they will use in math and science courses for years to come - and they are getting it within the context of real-world situations, like making fudge.  I also spend a good bit of energy on the scientific method with them.  I don't have them work through a full formal lab report, by any means, in this first unit.  We just set the foundation and build upon it in each subsequent unit.  Every unit has a formal lab investigation, and we slowly exercise our skills throughout the first half of the course until they are ready to write a full report by the time we get to our Matter unit.  In some labs we focus on graphing, in others the focus is on the analysis or conclusion.  But by subdividing the skills they need, it scaffolds it so that by the time we do get to unit 6 and I have them writing a full report, they've acquired all of the skills to do the report and to do it well. 

I do a lot more math than the NGSS requires for middle school physical science. This is because I think it is so important for helping them appreciate the content, and because I have taught this same curriculum to 10th grade students who weren't ready to jump from biology to chemistry just yet, and I want them to be prepared mathematically.  This is why you will see that I do some integration of the high school physical science standards with the middle school ones in the curriculum I have written up. It does make it take longer to get through the intro. to physics content (and I often end up having to move my waves unit to the beginning of January) but I truly think it is worth it in the long run.

Finally, I end the year with chemistry.  I like to do this since ALL students take chemistry (and most just 1.5 years later!) and not all students take physics, so I want the chemistry content to be the most fresh in their minds as they move forward.  Also, they have already built up a solid foundation of skills, resiliency, and study habits throughout my intro. to physics portion that they are more capable of handling the beautifully abstract complexities of chemistry.  I continually try, even in chemistry, to make real world connections within all of the content so that students can see the relevance of everything they are learning. 

If you are just starting to teach physical science for the first time, need to lighten your prep load, or looking to change up how you do things, you can find my entire physical science here! If you also teach biology, I have a full curriculum available for it now too!  Check it out here

How do you determine your scope and sequence?  Is it determined by the district or school you are in or did you pick it out yourself?  If you could teach in your ideal order, how would you do it?  How have you integrated math skills into your physical science curriculum?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

2 comments

  1. Have you done Scope and Sequence for Biology?

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    1. Yep! Link is in blog post above or you can copy and paste this into your browser: http://www.itsnotrocketscienceclassroom.com/2016/08/why-i-chose-my-scope-and-sequence.html

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