Board of Education members Tuesday reacted warmly to proposals for courses in Conceptual Physics and Introduction to the Automobile — both aimed at freshmen — as well as a class in Sports Nutrition.
A final vote is expected Feb. 28.
Paly Principal Phil Winston estimated the new physics class — which would count toward the laboratory-science requirement for admission to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) — would attract at least 90 ninth-graders.
The class is particularly aimed at students who struggle with math. Unlike Paly's existing introductory physics class — which will be retained — Conceptual Physics will not require Algebra 1 as a prerequisite, but students are expected to be taking it simultaneously.
The class would lead to biology in the sophomore year, chemistry in the junior year and a science elective in the senior year. The traditional science path at Paly, which will continue for most students, has been to take biology in freshman year, chemistry in sophomore year, physics in junior year and a science elective senior year.
Community member William Rosenberg said students would not have adequate problem-solving skills without having taken Algebra 1 first and suggested that Conceptual Physics be offered sophomore year with Algebra 1 required ahead of time.
"Any course that purports to teach physics (or chemistry for that matter) without a strong problem-solving base is only really teaching physics appreciation," Rosenberg said.
But board member Melissa Baten Caswell noted that many school districts across the country have switched their high school science progression to offer physics first, followed by biology and chemistry.
"To me this is interesting," Caswell said. "There is research to show that, developmentally, simple physics is easiest for kids to understand of the three sciences."
Conceptual Physics would replace Paly's Integrative Science class, which did not fulfill the UC/CSU lab science requirements.
Aimed at ninth-graders, Introduction to the Automobile would give students "a chance to see how the automobile works and all the knowledge needed to diagnose and repair one," Associate Superintendent Charles Young said.
For students with greater interest, it would lead to more advanced Auto 1 and Auto 2 classes, which currently are off-limits to freshmen for safety reasons, according to auto teacher Doyle Knight.
Knight, who has taught auto shop for 20 years, said students frequently discover a passion for mechanical engineering in his class.
"It's not old-school auto," he said. "I've got one of the best shops around, with the latest, up-to-date equipment.
"Don't get me wrong — I love the parents here. But you see they're four-year college-driven, and they think 'auto, grease monkey, dummies.'
"But it's not like that at all anymore. With new technology, a lot of stuff we do now is all computerized," he said. "And I have a lot of girls in my class, and they actually really excel."
Winston said Paly has "some Tesla families, and a general interest among students to combine academics with hands-on skills."
At the request of Winston, Doyle said he's looking for ways to make the Intro to Auto class compliant with UC/CSU entrance criteria.
Sports Nutrition would include guest speakers such as athletes, trainers, nutritionists and former student athletes.
Paly foods teacher Theresa McDermott said she came up with the semester-long class as a way to spark more interest among the 65 percent of students who are athletes.
The idea of a general nutrition class was met with relative indifference "but if I said 'sports nutrition,' all of a sudden the interest level would come up.
"They all want to be active and healthy, and if you can tie it directly to their lifestyle there's more interest," McDermott said.
School officials also will submit Sports Nutrition for UC/CSU prerequisite approval in the elective category, Young said.