A Faculty Original: Joseph Scherrer 1760 is passionate about Physics First
Posted October 15, 2012
Now in his 34th year at Germantown Academy, Upper School Physics Teacher Joseph Scherrer 1760 is well known amongst current students and alumni. Those who have spent any time in Mr. Scherrer’s classroom know that he is passionate about physics, specifically physics serving as the foundation for later course work in the sciences at GA.
This summer, at the National American Association of Physics Teachers conference in Philadelphia, Mr. Scherrer had the opportunity to present his paper, “Challenges and Rewards of a ‘Physics First’ Sequence,” which looked at the evolution of the Upper School’s current three-tiered “Physics First” program.
"This is a broad and complex topic,” said Mr. Scherrer, who has spent 37 of his 41 years of teaching in a Physics First classroom. "It isn't so much about the physics course as it is the biology course. You cannot have a credible biology course in the 21st century that is not based on chemistry. Students have to have knowledge of chemistry to study the kind of biology that we feel kids should have here. You can offer a descriptive biology course, but in the 21st century that's not worth much anymore. Therefore, chemistry has to come before biology. Physics is the foundational science and is really the foundation of chemistry. So the ordering has to be chemistry and then biology, and if you're going to put physics into the curriculum, it makes sense to put it before chemistry because chemistry involves a lot of quantitative work and we do a great deal of that in physics."
GA became a full-blown Physics First school in 1990 when all ninth grade students were required to take physics, and is the third oldest school in the country running the program. According to Mr. Scherrer, only about six percent of American schools offered a Physics First curriculum last year.
Mr. Scherrer and his colleagues have seen first-hand the benefit of a Physics First curriculum, including recent regional, state and national awards won by science research students.
“We have an extraordinary number of kids that participate in the science research program,” Mr. Scherrer said. “This is very scholarly research and many of the students publish papers. We have quite a number of science fair winners on all levels, some Intel scholars and several others award winners, all of them outstanding science scholars. In my mind, it was the reordering of the science curriculum that allowed for those students to excel in science.”
From 2009-2012, GA’s mean SAT 2 score for Physics was 704 (out of 800). Last year the average score for ninth graders was around the 95th percentile.
“What's significant about the 95th percentile is that almost all the kids that take that test are juniors and seniors, so our ninth graders are vastly outperforming juniors and seniors across the country,” Mr. Scherrer said.
“High schools around the country have been trying for decades to make Physics First work in their programs, but very few have had the talented faculty and spirit of curricular innovation to pull it off as successfully as Germantown Academy,” said Assistant Head of School and Upper School Head Rich Schellhas. “Thanks to outstanding teachers like Joe Scherrer, GA has been at the forefront of the Physics First movement since its inception, trailblazing the future of science education. An added benefit of our Physics First program is that we have a large number of juniors and seniors every year taking either AP Physics B or the extraordinarily rigorous AP Physics C, thereby giving them a well-earned advantage in college, and inspiring the next generation of physicists, engineers, doctors and research scientists.”
CLICK HERE to read more about GA’s Upper School Science Program.
- GA Science Researchers Win More than $428,000 in College Scholarships; Three Advance to the Intel International Fair
- A Faculty Original: There is a Buzz about Mrs. Franklin's Science Classes
- GA Scientists Wow Community with Research Projects
- Alumni Spotlight: Aja Carter '10 pursues her love of dinosaurs
- GA Hosts Regional Math and Technology Conference