First Stop Pennsylvania – Chem Standards Road Trip

Moving out from my school the first set of standards I will encounter are those in Pennsylvania. In writing their standards, Pennsylvania has sought to demonstrate cross cutting content by having five continuous columns through their document. The first on the left indicates what a they expect a 10th grader to understand about the indicated standard and the last indicates as such for a 12th grader. The middle three columns are for the three core sciences classes in Pennsylvania curriculum: Biology, Chemistry and Physics. For each standard in each of the three areas, they will comment on any related content to be covered in the other two areas. For example, under the biology standard of energy flow 3.1.B.A2, it also lists a chemistry standard that students should understand the chemistry of metabolism. I will start with what PA considers the core chemistry content standards and then tackle the chemistry crosscutting concepts.

Core Standards
The writers separated the chemistry standards into five general areas: Properties of Matter, Structure of Matter, Matter and Energy, Reactions, and Unifying Themes. Properties of matter provides the usual introduction to chemistry by discussing properties, types of matter, and atomic trends. For some reason they also included polarity with out discussing bonding. This illustrates the trouble of a linear standards structure. Here the standards appear out of order, but do not indicate their relationship to other standards.

Structure of Matter is the most extensive grouping for chemistry. It covers everything from electron configurations to molar mass and percent composition. Their analysis of electron configurations are limited to the first twenty elements. I imagine this is to avoid any discussion of the flexible transition metals. Though they continue to ask students to understand reactivity and configurations based on the periodic table. Does this then include the transition metals?

Matter and Energy is perhaps the most awkward of the groupings. It actually has very little coverage of energy in the concept of chemistry. It only describes KMT and Nuclear theory. Entropy and Thermodynamics are only included as cross cutting concepts under physics. There is no discussion of energy in any other context including phase changes and electrochemistry.

Reactions grouping is pretty straight forward. They discuss the difference of physical and chemical changes, conservation of mass, balancing and classifying reactions. They then finish up with Stoichiometry.

In what I think is a peculiar move, they added a fifth section called unifying themes. This might be more aptly referred to as the natural history section. It only describes the development of modern atomic theory, from Dalton to Bohr. Though it doesn’t even touch the concepts of the quantum model of the electron. But, that is a more controversial choice to open the Pandora’s box of quantum mechanics in a intro class.

Cross cutting concepts:
There are a number of cross cutting chemistry concepts in the biology standards. There are extensive discussions of the molecular nature of biomolecules, both large and small. Interesting enough, they do discuss metabolism and how energy affects the rate of reaction. This would be a core concept in chemistry, but this is its only appearance in the secondary science standards. Finally, as previously stated, the concepts of conservations of energy, endothermic vs exothermic, and entropy are covered as part of energy in physics.

It is nice to see that the writers attempted to identify the cross cutting concepts between chemistry, physics and biology. It would be nice to see them extend it into earth and space science. Both of which have a lot of amazing chemistry. However it would be nice to see them expand these connections and show their relationships more explicitly or visually in the document. It is also nice that the there is a pretty thorough discussion of the properties and structure of matter.

Unfortunately, there are several weak points in these standards. First they do not include energy as an essential part of chemistry. Energy should be a unifying theme in chemistry, but here it is treated as an weak add on. There are also several important concepts not included at all. Some of the most important are solutions, gas laws, electrochemistry, and acid and bases. Electrochemistry and acids play an incredibly important role in biology and electrochemistry provides a strong link to physics. It is also strange to see stoichiometry as the final standard. It is an important tool in chemistry, it should be seen as a link among so many parts of chemistry. Finally, the section of Unifying Themes is not appropriately named. It does not unite the chemistry standards. These are important concepts in the particulate view of matter, but really only directly apply to the Structure of Matter standards.

Overall, I think the writers should be commended on trying to include cross cutting concepts. However, there are still some major issues with the coverage of material. They still seem very incomplete. As of this week, I have covered all of their chemistry standards and still have more than 3 months of school left. If this was an early draft, I think their off to a good start. However, these standards are far from complete.

Next week, I’ll be heading up to New York to see what the Empire State Chemistry Standards look like.

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