What will the sequence of science classes be at Frassati Catholic High School?
Frassati Catholic High School will require four courses in the following order: freshman Physics, sophomore Chemistry, junior Biology, and then a science elective for seniors.
Why was this sequence chosen over the more common Biology-Chemistry-Physics sequence?
The Biology-Chemistry-Physics sequence dates back to the 1890s, when biology was based on observation of what we can see visually or microscopically. Today, biology instruction requires a good working knowledge of chemistry to understand what happens on the atomic level. In-depth study of chemistry provides the necessary background to understand how the structures of such molecules as DNA, chlorophyll, glucose, and amino acids allow them to react the way they do. Physics is studied at the very beginning of the sequence because it starts with the foundational principles for understanding all science.
What other schools are using the sequence with Physics first?
Private schools with the Physics first in the sequence include St. Cecilia Academy and Pope John Paul II High School (Nashville, TN), McGill-Toolen High School (Mobile, AL), and Pope John Paul the Great (Arlington, VA, modified sequence). Public schools include schools in Michigan, New Jersey, New York, California, and others. In Texas, Richardson ISD near Dallas has plans to gradually switch the entire district over to the sequence beginning with Physics.
How will freshmen handle the math needed in Physics?
The most common objections to the sequence switch concern the level of math required. Other high schools often approach physics from a purely mathematical point of view, with AP Physics using calculus and trigonometry. While students in these classes may become proficient at manipulating numbers in sophisticated formulae and equations, the real meaning of the calculations is often muddled. At Frassati Catholic High School, students begin with a strong foundation in the first principles that are the starting point for physics so that they clearly understand how the math expresses the physical reality. The math required in Physics corresponds with the level of math in each student's math course, thereby reinforcing concepts and giving abstract algebra a concrete relevance.
How does the sequence with Physics first fit into the overall curriculum of Frassati Catholic High School?
The mission of the Frassati Catholic High School Science Department is to provide each student with the essential knowledge and thinking skills foundational for future academic endeavors and for life in general.
Human beings gain knowledge through the senses. Questions about the world and even about the meaning of life can only be answered deeply by one who knows how to observe and think about observations. Students acquire practice in such thinking by drawing conclusions from observations based on the most fundamental principles that everyone knows. These first principles include, for example, things exist; things chance; a thing cannot be one way and another way at the same time. These first principles were understood first by Aristotle, developed by medieval scientists (such as St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Buridan, ROger Bacon, and others) and then used by Galileo and Newton. It is only after students learn to reson from these first principles that they can understand the role of mathematical analysis in physics, the reactions of chemistry, the sophisticated systems of living things in biology, and then all of reality. That is why Frassati Catholic High School begins the science sequence from its most fundamental beginning - physics, as the study of physical things.
The Ethics and Culture Department and the Religion Department both reinforce the lessons learned in Physics and late science courses. For example, freshmen taking the Human Person course put into practice what they learn about how people acquire knowledge. They use philosophical terms to help describe phsyics concepts beyond mathematical expression. As juniors, students take Bioethics. Since Biology is taken in the same year, discussions on bioethical issues can easily continue in that course.
Beginning with the first principles in this manner allows the mission of the Science Department to be achieved because students learn how to reason starting from objective reality. Such an approach to science is authentically scientific rather than scientistic. Whereas scientism denies that there is any reality beyond what can be measured, authentic scientific thought begins with the physical world while, at the same time, acknowledging the transcendent reality that is beyond what is directly perceived by the senses. It regards reason and faith as complementary.