Supported SiteSupported Site University of Arizona: Appendix 4: Syllabus for "Central Ideas in the Physical Sciences"

CHEM/PHYS 439: Central Ideas in the Physical Sciences
MW 4:30-5:45 PM; PAS 170C


Vicente Talanquer
Office: OC 135
Phone: 626-8169
Ingrid Novodvorsky
Office: PAS 387
Phone: 626-4187

Office hours by appointment

Course Description

This course is designed to open a space for discussion and reflection on the content, learning issues and teaching methods specific to the physics, chemistry, or physical science classroom. The course will include discussions about central ideas and concepts in physics and chemistry, the nature of typical student ideas, and the design and selection of appropriate learning activities and assessment tools to promote student understanding.

Learning Goals

This course will help you meet the following goals:

  • Identify key concepts and big ideas in the physical sciences and analyze their meaning, implications, and relationships;
  • Identify physical-science concepts that secondary level students are likely to have difficulty understanding and evaluate the implications for teaching and learning science;
  • Create instructional activities that are based on central ideas in the discipline, build upon students’ interests and prior knowledge, target meaningful learning goals, and promote student understanding.

AZ Professional Teaching Standards Addressed

STANDARD 1: The teacher designs instruction that develops students’ abilities to meet Arizona’s academic standards and the district’s assessment plan.

You will design lessons based on Arizona’s academic standards that focuses on the academic standards, aligns curriculum with student assessments, addresses prior knowledge of the student and which includes learning experiences that are developmentally appropriate, based on principles of effective instruction, and which accurately represent content.

STANDARD 3: The teacher implements and manages instruction that develops students’ abilities to meet Arizona’s academic standards.

You will present your lesson plan to your colleagues in a manner that communicates the specific standards addressed, links learning to student’s prior knowledge, and which models the skills, concepts and thinking processes to be learned. Your lesson plan will demonstrate effective written and oral communication, encourage critical thinking, stress relevance to the lives and interests of students and if appropriate, use appropriate technology.

STANDARD 7: The teacher has a general academic knowledge as demonstrated by the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. The teacher also has specific academic knowledge in his or her subject area of areas sufficient to develop student knowledge and performance to meet Arizona academic standards.

You will demonstrate mastery of your discipline’s content throughout the course as you develop the pedagogical content knowledge necessary to support learning of content by your students.

Topics Outline

Throughout the course you will be asked to analyze and reflect on:

  • The central questions that chemists and physicists try to answer and the nature of their work;
  • The essential ideas that chemists and physicist have developed to explain and predict the behavior of the natural world;
  • The nature of the models and the modeling processes developed in these disciplines;
  • The personal and social relevance of central concepts, ideas, and models;
  • The pedagogical problems associated with teaching and learning chemistry and physics at the secondary school level.

Course Topics

I. Interactions and Processes: A Microscopic View
Properties of matter: Structure and interactions
Modeling change: Physical and chemical transformations

II. Interactions and Processes: A Macroscopic View
Thermal interactions: Energy, heat, and temperature.
Mechanical interactions: Newton’s approach.


We will use readings from a variety of sources to initiate and guide our analysis and discussion of central concepts and ideas in chemistry and physics. Over the course of the semester we will complete readings from journals such as: ChemMatters, American Journal of Physics, Journal of Chemical Education, The Physics Teacher, Chemical Educator. As mentioned before, we will be constantly analyzing and discussing chemistry and physics concepts and ideas. Thus, make sure that you have easy access to at least one general chemistry and one introductory physics textbook.

Course Resources

Course handouts and grades will be available via D2L. To log onto the D2L course site, go to and click on UA Net ID Login. Once you log in, you will be able to select PHYS-CHEM 439 from the list of your courses that are using D2L.

Course Activities

You will be expected to:

  • Attend all classes and participate in all activities and discussions;
  • Read and discuss articles and complete associated assignments;
  • Reflect and write about your understanding of scientific concepts and pedagogical ideas;
  • Do lab investigations, develop and explain models, and deploy models, just as you will ask your students to do;
  • Create instructional activities and assessment tools based on ideas discussed in class;
  • Complete exams, investigations, and projects on diverse topics.

Written Assignments

You will have several written assignments throughout the course of the semester. Since one of the goals of the program is that you learn to communicate clearly, these assignments will be graded for content as well as form; e.g., proper grammar and sentence structure, correct spelling, overall clarity.

Attendance and Participation

Responsible students bear much resemblance to responsible teachers. In this course, your responsibility extends to active participation in all class sessions. Your active participation in class activities is important enough in your development as a teacher in this program that poor attendance, including chronic tardiness, will significantly impact your achievement in this course. Attendance and participation are weighted as 10% of your grade in this course. In addition, you are expected to notify your instructor of any absence, either before or immediately after the missed class, and make arrangements to complete missed work.


All holidays or special events observed by organized religions will be honored for those students who show affiliation with that particular religion. Absences pre-approved by the Dean of Students or the Dean of our College will be honored.

Evaluation and Grading

Students are expected to submit assignments on the day they are due. Late assignments will be accepted, up to a week beyond the original due date. If you need to turn in an assignment late, you need to notify the instructors in advance, and commit to a day by which the assignment will be submitted. Each day that an assignment is late will result in the deduction of 1 rubric point from the grade.
If you are absent from class the day an assignment is due, you need to submit the assignment no later than the next class. You may also send assignments to the instructors via e-mail. The instructor is NOT responsible for reminding you about turning in assignments after an absence.

Final grades will be based on the following weighting scheme:

Activity Weight
Class Participation (discussions and activities) 10%
Concept Tests (pre and post) 5 %
Course Assignments 30%
Exams and Special Projects 40%

Final Assignment


The following table will be used to assign final grades for the course:

Average Grade
[9.0- 10.0] A
[8.0-9.0) B
[7.0-8.0) C
[6.0-7.0) D
[0-6.0) E

Withdrawal from the Course

Please look at the Fall Session Schedule for the last day to drop the course resulting in deletion of course enrollment from record (September 15, 2006) or to withdraw (October 13, 2006). After the final withdrawal date the letter grade earned in the course will be awarded. A grade of I (incomplete) will not be given to cover a low grade. Incompletes are only given in the specific case of a student who is passing the course and has missed a portion of the assigned work because of documented illness or other extreme cause.

Students with Disabilities

If you anticipate the need for reasonable accommodations to meet the requirements of this course, you must register with the Disability Resource Center and request that the DRC send us official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please plan to meet with us by appointment or during office hours to discuss accommodations and how our course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.

Academic Integrity
Violations of scholastic ethics are considered serious offenses by The University of Arizona, the College of Science Teacher Preparation Program and by your instructors. All work done for the class must be your own. You may collaborate with you colleagues on group activities, but your performance on individual assignments should be based on your own achievement. Any form of cheating or plagiarism will result in a failing grade for the course, and in other appropriate disciplinary actions as described at

Prohibited Behavior

Disruptive Behavior is Prohibited. "Disruptive behavior" means conduct that materially and substantially interferes with or obstructs the teaching or learning process in the context of a classroom or educational setting. This type of behavior includes cell phone use, refusing to collaborate, interrupting class activities, sleeping, newspaper reading. In the event of disruptive behavior by one of the students in the course, official policies and procedures will be followed as described at

Threatening Behavior is Prohibited. “Threatening behavior” means any statement, communication, conduct or gesture, including those in written form, directed toward any member of the University community that causes a reasonable apprehension of physical harm to a person or property. In the event of threatening behavior by one of the students in the course, official policies and procedures will be followed as described at

Information contained in this course syllabus, other than the grade and absence policies, may be subject to change with reasonable advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.