CA Science Framework Description (Physics of the Universe)

Highlighted Phenomena from High School Physics of the Universe

  • The hood of a car crumples just as mountains form when two plates collide.
  • Fossil fuel power plants do not convert 100 percent of the fuel’s chemical potential energy into electricity.
  • According to radiometric dating, the oldest rocks on the ocean floor are only 280 million years, but the oldest rocks on land are about 4 billion years old.
  • Earthquakes usually consist of two pulses of shaking, one which arrives first and is weak while a second arrives later but is usually stronger.
  • Hydrogen and helium (atomic numbers 1 and 2) are the most common elements in the universe, yet lithium and beryllium (atomic numbers 3 and 4) are among the least common elements in the top six rows of the periodic table.

Introduction to High School Physics of the Universe

The framework emphasizes the synergy between physical science and Earth and space sciences by focusing on electricity production. The first part of this course builds the conceptual understandings in physics that students need to understand how various power plants work, including fossil fuel, nuclear, wind, hydroelectric, and solar photovoltaic. Students then discuss the impacts that each technology has on different Earth systems and use other Earth and space sciences phenomena to motivate further study of physical science.

In addition to this overall theme, the framework provides examples of engineering embedded in an integrated Earth and space sciences and physics curriculum. In an engineering connection in IS1 (Forces and Motion), students test the strength of different optimal materials to see how much force they can withstand before they break and try to select materials for different applications based on cost and other factors. As students learn about orbits of planetary bodies, they engage in an engineering connection to modify computer codes that calculate orbital paths to determine the initial launch speed and fuel cost for different size payloads.

Instructional segment 1 (Forces and Motion) begins with Newton’s laws and an emphasis on collisions caused by plate motions. Students further develop understanding of force in IS2 (Forces at a Distance) when they perform calculations involving gravity and electromagnetism. Instructional segment 3 (Renewable Energy) is the core of the course where students apply DCIs about energy conversion to understand electric power generation. In IS4 (Nuclear Processes and Earth History), students develop a model of how the internal structure of the atom changes during nuclear processes, how these changes release energy, and how these processes are the timekeepers of geologic history. Earthquakes are a tangible phenomenon that introduce the study of waves in IS5 (Waves and Electromagnetic Radiation). Building on this example of mechanical waves, students analyze stellar spectra to understand electromagnetic waves. Patterns in these spectra provide evidence about how stars work and the history of the universe in IS6 (Stars and the Origins of the Universe).

from d’Alessio, Matthew A. (2018). Executive Summary: Science Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. Sacramento: Consortium for the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Physics of the Universe Storyline

Physics in the Universe Storyline
Physics in the Universe Storyline

Image Source: 2016 CA Science Framework