O'Brien Thompson - arxiv.org 2009

Effectiveness of Ninth-Grade Physics in Maine: Conceptual Understanding
arXiv:0901.4692v1 [physics.ed-ph], to be published in The Physics Teacher

Michael O'Brien, John Thompson

The Physics First movement - teaching a true physics course to ninth grade students - is gaining popularity in high schools. There are several different rhetorical arguments for and against this movement, and it is quite controversial in physics education. However, there is no actual evidence to assess the success, or failure, of this substantial shift in the science teaching sequence. We have undertaken a comparison study of physics classes taught in ninth- and 12th grade classes in Maine. Comparisons of student understanding and gains with respect to mechanics concepts were made with excerpts from well-known multiple-choice surveys and individual student interviews. Results indicate that both populations begin physics courses with similar content knowledge and specific difficulties, but that in the learning of the concepts ninth graders are more sensitive to the instructional method used.

UPDATE: This paper has been published in The Physics Teacher. Click here for more.