Science department braces for upcoming coursework changes

Honors chemistry ditched for new curriculum


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Honors Chemistry – a class favored by many students – is being dropped in order to make room for curriculum changes.

  Three years ago, high schools across California changed their math curriculums to Common Core, bringing in Integrated Math and ditching the traditional Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 sequence.

  Now, another statewide change to the high school curriculum has been made – this time in the science department.

  This year, Granite Bay High School has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards – an initiative that was passed in 2013 but has only begun taking shape now – with the addition of NGSS Biology and the removal of the traditional biology course.

  The new NGSS curriculum will now require students to start with NGSS Biology, then take NGSS Physics, and then NGSS Chemistry as the third class.

  In other words, it is a prescribed program that students have to follow in order to fulfill their science requirements to graduate.

  However, while NGSS Biology did not eliminate any courses offered at GBHS – as it only replaced the normal College Preparatory Biology – the plan next year to add NGSS Chemistry will result in the cutting of Honors Chemistry – the intermediate course between CP and either Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Chemistry.

  This means that since there will be no substitute for Honors Chemistry, GBHS students who want to continue with chemistry will progress immediately from NGSS

Chemistry to AP or IB Chemistry.

“We are transitioning our whole science progression district-wide to NGSS so that it aligns with current state standards,” assistant principal Jennifer Buschmann said. “Our current class content is not in alignment.”

We are transitioning our whole science progression district-wide to NGSS so that it aligns with current state standards

— Jennifer Buschmann

  Although feelings are mixed on the change by both teachers, students, and parents alike, the change was a long time coming.

  “In reality, (the change) has been coming for quite some time,” Damien Lawrence, a current Honors Chemistry teacher, said. “The fact that we still had it this year was surprising.”

  A lot of the concern for removing Honors Chemistry comes from teachers and students who are worried about the void that will now lie between CP Chemistry classes and the much more challenging AP and IB levels.                     

  “Making an analogy with math, they make everyone do Honors Pre Calculus before AP Calculus,” said Theodore Tran, a junior currently taking IB Chemistry. “So, I think it’s important then that they have Honors Chemistry too for AP and IB Chemistry.”

  Also, since NGSS Chemistry will be a new class when it is installed next year, the verdict is still out on whether or not it will appropriately prepare those students who want to take the next step.

  “There might be a pretty big shock for students (who took NGSS instead of Honors),” Tran said, “and they may not do as well in the upper level classes because there’s a lot of knowledge that people wouldn’t know. To have a class like Honors Chemistry, though, really does prepare you for the next step.”

  Thus, some students feel like the choice to get rid of Honors Chemistry is the wrong one.

  “I don’t think taking out Honors Chemistry is a good idea” Tran said, “for the same reason that math teachers are not getting rid of Honors Pre-Calculus; they want to prepare their kids adequately for AP Calculus.”

  And while many science teachers do not necessarily feel as though it is the wrong decision to cut Honors Chemistry, they did try their best to persuade administration to keep the class. Ultimately, though, it was for naught.

  “I was disappointed (when I heard the news),” Lawrence said. “Mostly because (the chemistry teachers) made our stance clear as to why Honors Chemistry was an important course here at GB.”

“I was disappointed (when I heard the news),Mostly because (the chemistry teachers) made our stance clear as to why Honors Chemistry was an important course here at GB

— Damien Lawrence

  Many feel as though the science curriculum should at least be afforded the right to have an Honors class, just as the math department was.

  “The science department has often mused why the math department was allowed to keep their Honors Pre-Calculus course when they underwent a curriculum change,” Lawrence said. “Don’t get me wrong! I want Honors Pre-Calculus to remain. I just wish we could keep Honors Chemistry… for those that intend to follow the IB/AP pathway.

  However, while there is the concern from many that NGSS may not be able to adequately prepare students who intend on taking AP and IB chemistry, the class should still at least prepare students with the basics and fundamentals of science.

  “I think you can still learn everything you need to in NGSS Chemistry,” senior Cate Wolfe said. “It would just be less advanced and slower paced and probably wouldn’t be in as much depth as Honors Chemistry was.”

  This is, after all, one integral part of teaching – not necessarily preparing  students for a higher level class in the topic, but instead imparting them with much needed knowledge.

  “I think Honors Chemistry was good preparation for someone who wants to take AP Chemistry or someone interested in chemistry,” Wolfe said, “but I didn’t necessarily need to take it since I’m not that

interested in chemistry.”

  Regardless of its successor and how NGSS does, the end of Honors Chemistry marks the end of a class, but not the memories that came with it.

  “Having taught in many districts and other countries… the most memorable part will be the coining of the expression, ‘It was on the handout! (Also, a student) Bronson Vanderjack drew a picture of me on a whiteboard and it stayed for years until someone erased it. Never fear, Bronson made me a poster with me in my ‘Evil Science Teacher’ pose and it now has a place of honor on the wall.”