What is this project?

Who Am I?
My name is Joe Kremer. I have a Bachelor's degree in Physics and Russian Language from Oberlin College, and I worked teaching physics at the Brooklyn Friends School in Brooklyn, NY for seven years.  I left BFS in the fall of 2010 to pursue some other interests, and to try to get better perspective on the state of ninth grade physics education outside the walls of this one school. 

What Am I Trying to Do?
Currently, I'm trying to get this better perspective by visiting schools that teach ninth grade physics and recording my observations in a form that is easily accessible to any other individuals who would be interested in hearing about them.  If you are visiting this blog, you are encouraged to comment freely about any posts, anonymously or otherwise. 

Some Big Questions at the Center of this Research 
I'm still in the very preliminary phase of gathering any information that I can find about ninth grade physics classes, but my research is focused on some big questions:

• What does a ninth grade physics program need in order to be successful?
• What can ninth grade physics do well? (By this I mean really well and uniquely well, as opposed to simply "almost as good as as physics class for seniors.")
• What do we want students to be good at or excited about doing when they graduate from a high school science program?
• How can physics teachers best contribute to this desired result? 

Priorities in My Own Class
The ninth grade course I developed for Brooklyn Friends reflects my (mostly isolated) best effort to answer these questions.  Even though I have come to realize that some concepts or methods I emphasized in this course were chosen somewhat arbitrarily, I believe that the general approach I took to the course has promise.  My approach was centered around trying to develop a truly "conceptual" understanding of physics- an understanding based on a qualitative analysis of equations and problem solving with words and explanations. Typical question that a student would be expected to answer correctly include:

• "Why does a egg break when you drop it on the floor?" (A fundamental Newton's second law question: if a student can truly answer this question thoroughly and correctly a month after they've studied the material, then their teacher is doing something right!)
 • "What will happen to the brightness of Bulbs A and B when I unscrew Bulb X?" (The circuits unit provides many excellent opportunities for conceptual explanations of some very tricky physics.) 

• "How do people breathe?"  (In my class, students would build up an answer to this question using a model based on the kinetic theory of gases, making use of computer simulations.)

What to Expect in the Future
Through observing how other schools teach physics first, I hope to learn more about what can be done most effectively with ninth graders in a physics class.  As I observe more, I hope that this blog will grow as a resource for other teachers as well.