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Physics education

Physics education

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Physics education or physics education research (PER) refers both to the methods currently used to teach physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and to an area of pedagogical research that seeks to improve those methods. Historically, physics has been taught at the high school and college level primarily by the lecture method together with laboratory exercises aimed at verifying concepts taught in the lectures. These concepts are better understood when lectures are accompanied with demonstration, hand-on experiments, and questions that require students to ponder what will happen in an experiment and why. Students who participate in active learning for example with hands-on experiments learn through self discovery. By trial and error they learn to change their preconceptions about phenomena in physics and discover the underlying concepts.

Unfortunately, owing to the abstract and counter-intuitive nature of many of the elementary concepts in physics, together with the fact that teaching through analogies can lead to didaskalogenic
Didaskalogenic
Given their inherently abstract nature, many scientific concepts, such as Newton's Laws of Motion, directly conflict a "working" and immediate understanding of the world. Where this is the case, such conceptual conflicts can give rise to serious obstacles to students' acceptance and understanding...

 confusions, the lecture method often fails to help students overcome the many misconceptions about the physical world that they have developed before undertaking formal instruction in the subject. In most introductory physics courses mechanics usually is the first area of physics that is discussed. Newton's laws of motion
Newton's laws of motion
Newton's laws of motion are three physical laws that form the basis for classical mechanics. They describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces...

, which describe how massive objects respond to forces, are central to the study of mechanics. Newton arrived at his three laws of motion from an extensive study of empirical data including many astronomical observations.

However, students frequently have preconceptions about the world around them that makes it difficult for them to accept Newton's Laws of Motion
Newton's laws of motion
Newton's laws of motion are three physical laws that form the basis for classical mechanics. They describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces...

. As an example Newton's First Law, also known as the law of inertia, states that, in an inertial frame, a body at rest will remain at rest and that a body moving at constant velocity will continue to move with the same velocity unless a net force
Force
In physics, a force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a change in speed, a change in direction, or a change in shape. In other words, a force is that which can cause an object with mass to change its velocity , i.e., to accelerate, or which can cause a flexible object to deform...

 acts on the body. Many students hold the misconception that a net force is required to keep a body moving at constant velocity
Velocity
In physics, velocity is speed in a given direction. Speed describes only how fast an object is moving, whereas velocity gives both the speed and direction of the object's motion. To have a constant velocity, an object must have a constant speed and motion in a constant direction. Constant ...

. They know that to slide a book across a table a "push" has to be exerted on the book. However, they fail to take into account that there is more than one force acting on the book when it is being pushed across the table at constant velocity. In addition to the "push" being exerted, there also is a frictional force in the opposite direction acting on the book from the tabletop. When the book moves at constant velocity those two forces balance out (add vectorially) to produce a net force of zero.

In an active learning
Active learning
Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning, on learners. Bonwell and Eison popularized this approach to instruction . This "buzz word" of the 1980s became their 1990s report to the Association for the Study of Higher...

 environment students might experiment with objects in an environment that has almost no friction
Friction
Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and/or material elements sliding against each other. There are several types of friction:...

, for example a block moving on an almost frictionless air table. There they would find that if they start the block moving at constant speed, it continues to move at constant speed without the need for a constant "push". It is hoped that exercises of this nature will help students to overcome their preconceived ideas about motion.

Physics education in American high schools


Physics is taught in high schools, college and graduate schools. In the US
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, it has traditionally not been introduced until junior or senior year (i.e. 12th grade), and then only as an elective or optional science course, which the majority of American high school students have not taken. Recently in the past years, many students have been taking it their sophomore year.

Physics First
Physics First
Physics First is an educational program that teaches a basic physics course in the ninth grade , rather than the biology course which is more standard in public schools. This course relies on the limited math skills that the students have from pre-algebra and algebra I...

 is a popular and relatively new movement in American high schools. In schools with this curriculum 9th grade students take a course with introductory physics education. This is meant to enrich students understanding of physics, and allow for more detail to be taught in subsequent high school biology, and chemistry classes; it also aims to increase the number of students who go on to take 12th grade physics or AP Physics (both of which are generally electives in American high schools.) But many scientists and educators argue that freshmen do not have an adequate background in mathematics to be able to fully comprehend a complete physics curriculum, and that therefore quality of a physics education is lost. While physics requires knowledge of vectors and some basic trigonometry
Trigonometry
Trigonometry is a branch of mathematics that studies triangles and the relationships between their sides and the angles between these sides. Trigonometry defines the trigonometric functions, which describe those relationships and have applicability to cyclical phenomena, such as waves...

, many students in the Physics First program take the course in conjunction with Geometry
Geometry
Geometry arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers ....

. They suggest that instead students first take biology
Biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

 and chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 which are less mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

-intensive so that by the time they are in their junior year, students will be advanced enough in mathematics with either an Algebra
Algebra
Algebra is the branch of mathematics concerning the study of the rules of operations and relations, and the constructions and concepts arising from them, including terms, polynomials, equations and algebraic structures...

 2 or pre-calculus education to be able to fully grasp the concepts presented in physics. Some argue this even further, saying that at least calculus should be a prerequisite for physics.

Physics education in American universities


Oregon State University restructured its junior and senior physics curriculum with the aid of a grant from the National Science Foundation . This curriculum represents a departure from the traditional one that is firmly rooted in courses of equal difficulty devoted to a particular sub-field of physics. The approach teaches physics as physicists think about it, namely in terms of concepts that broadly underlie the various sub-fields: energy, symmetry, wave motion, rotations and so forth. The major structural change during the junior year is that two separate traditional course sequences, running in parallel, have merged to form a single intensive sequence, to encourage mastery of the concepts as you go along. These "paradigm" courses, taken typically in the junior year, are followed by senior year "capstone" courses in each of the major sub-disciplines of physics.

Goals of physics education research (PER)

Number of Publications on Students' Ideas on the Bibliography by Duit (2005)
Fragment Publication

Mechanics
Mechanics
Mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the behavior of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment....

 (force)*
792
Electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

 (electrical circuit)
444
Optics
Optics
Optics is the branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light...

 
234
Particle model 226
Thermal physics
Thermal physics
Thermal physics is the combined study of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and kinetic theory. This umbrella-subject is typically designed for physics students and functions to provide a general introduction to each of three core heat-related subjects...

 (heat/temp.)
192
Energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

 
176
Astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 (Earth in space)
121
Quantum physics  77
Nonlinear systems (chaos) 35
Sound
Sound
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations.-Propagation of...

 
28
Magnetism
Magnetism
Magnetism is a property of materials that respond at an atomic or subatomic level to an applied magnetic field. Ferromagnetism is the strongest and most familiar type of magnetism. It is responsible for the behavior of permanent magnets, which produce their own persistent magnetic fields, as well...

 
25
Relativity
Theory of relativity
The theory of relativity, or simply relativity, encompasses two theories of Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. However, the word relativity is sometimes used in reference to Galilean invariance....

 
8

* Predominant concept in brackets.
Adapted from Duit, R., H. Niedderer and H. Schecker (see ref.).

Approximately eighty-five institutions in the United States conduct research in science and physics education. The primary goal of physics education research is to develop pedagogical techniques and strategies that will help students learn physics more effectively. Research often focuses on learning more about the common misconceptions (see Scientific misconceptions
Scientific misconceptions
- Types of scientific misconceptions :In general, scientific misconceptions have their foundations in a few "intuitive knowledge domains, including folkmechanics , folkbiology , and folkpsychology ", that enable humans to interact effectively with the world...

) that students bring to the physics classroom, so that techniques can be devised to help students overcome these misconceptions. A variety of interactive learning methods (sometimes also called active learning
Active learning
Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning, on learners. Bonwell and Eison popularized this approach to instruction . This "buzz word" of the 1980s became their 1990s report to the Association for the Study of Higher...

 methods) and laboratory experiences have been developed with this aim. The recognition of the value of interactive engagement over more passive lecturing strategies has been promoted in large measure through studies initially using the Force Concept Inventory
Concept inventory
A concept inventory is a criterion-referenced test designed to evaluate whether a student has an accurate working knowledge of a specific set of concepts. To ensure interpretability, it is common to have multiple items that address a single idea...

.

The Kansas State University Physics Education Research Group has developed a program, Visual Quantum Mechanics (VQM), to teach quantum mechanics to high school and college students who do not have advanced backgrounds in physics or math.1 The material is taught visually using software and supplemented by written text and hands on activities.2 The program is divided into units. The units can be used alongside traditional curriculum.3 The program seems to be more for high school teachers to insert units at appropriate stages thereby showing how quantum mechanics explains certain observations that classical cannot. However, a college course on modern physics or quantum mechanics could make use of the units either in class or as further independent study. More information about Visual Quantum Mechanics and the KSU Physics Education Research Group can be found at http://web.phys.ksu.edu/vqm/.

Dahncke et al. (2001) argued that there is a split in the science education community. On the one hand the major focus in on science whereby the group is usually organized close to the domain discipline, like physical societies. On the other hand, there are science educators whose aims are to balance the domain and educational issues.
  • Themes drawn adapted from Duit, Niedder and Schecker (2007)

Philosophy of physics ---------Physics---------History of physics
\ | /
\ | /
Pedagogy-----------------Physics education-------------Psychology
|
|
Further reference disciplines: sociology, anthropology, linguistics, ethics

Journal association


Physics education research papers in the United States are primarily issued among four publishing venues (Hsu et al. 2007). Papers submitted to the American Journal of Physics
American Journal of Physics
The American Journal of Physics is a monthly, peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics. The editor is Jan Tobochnik of Kalamazoo College.-Aims and scope:...

: Physics Education Research Section (PERS) are mostly to consumers of physics education research (e.g., those for whom interest is in reading about and using it rather than those whose interest is in conducting the research; to the Journal of the Learning Sciences
Journal of the Learning Sciences
The Journal of the Learning Sciences is a peer-reviewed academic journal and an official publication of the International Society of the Learning Sciences. It covers research on learning and education and is published by Taylor & Francis publishers. It was started in 1991 as by founding editor...

 (JLS) for whom attention is addressed in real-life or non-laboratory environments often in the context of today's technological society, and about learning, not teaching. Manuscripts sent to Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research
Physical Review
Physical Review is an American scientific journal founded in 1893 by Edward Nichols. It publishes original research and scientific and literature reviews on all aspects of physics. It is published by the American Physical Society. The journal is in its third series, and is split in several...

 (PRST:PER) are aimed at those for whom research is conducted on PER rather than to consumers. The audience for Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings (PERC) is designed for a mix of consumers and researchers. The latter provides a snapshot of the field and as such is open to preliminary results and research in progress, as well as papers that would simply be thought-provoking to the PER community. Other journals include but are not limited to Physics Education
Physics Education
Physics Education is an international journal that covers the teaching of physics at the secondary school and introductory undergraduate level...

 (UK) and the Physics Teacher
The Physics Teacher
The Physics Teacher is a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Association of Physics Teachers and includes papers on physics research, papers on the history and philosophy of physics, papers on applied physics, papers curriculum developments, papers on pedagogy, papers on instructional...

.

See also

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    The building of balsa-wood bridges is very often used as an educational technology. It may be accompanied by a larger project involving varying areas of study....

  • Concept inventory
    Concept inventory
    A concept inventory is a criterion-referenced test designed to evaluate whether a student has an accurate working knowledge of a specific set of concepts. To ensure interpretability, it is common to have multiple items that address a single idea...

  • Egg drop competition
    Egg drop competition
    The egg drop contest is an experiment usually performed by college or primary school students. Competitors typically attempt to create a device that can keep a raw chicken egg intact when dropped from a height...

  • Feynman lectures
  • Learning Assistant Model
    Learning Assistant Model
    The Learning Assistant model was established at the University of Colorado at Boulder to achieve three related goals: to recruit and improve the preparation of future mathematics and science teachers, to improve the education of all students enrolled in our mathematics and science courses, and ...

  • Mousetrap car
    Mousetrap car
    A mousetrap car is a small vehicle having only one form of motive power being from a mousetrap. Variations include the use of multiple traps, or very big rat traps, for added power....

  • Physical Science Study Committee
  • Physics
    Physics
    Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

  • SAT Subject Test in Physics
    SAT Subject Test in Physics
    The SAT Subject Test in Physics is the name of a one-hour multiple choice test given on physics by The College Board. A student chooses whether to take the test depending upon college entrance requirements for the schools in which the student is planning to apply...

  • Science education
    Science education
    Science education is the field concerned with sharing science content and process with individuals not traditionally considered part of the scientific community. The target individuals may be children, college students, or adults within the general public. The field of science education comprises...

  • Walter Lewin Lectures on Physics
    Walter Lewin Lectures on Physics
    The Walter Lewin Lectures on Physics are a set of three courses including video lectures on physics by MIT Physics Professor Walter Lewin. He explains the basics of classical mechanics, electricity, magnetism, vibrations, waves and introductory topics on astrophysics...

  • Harvard Project Physics
    Harvard Project Physics
    Harvard Project Physics was a national curriculum development project to create a secondary school physics education program in the United States. The project was active from 1962 to 1972, and produced the Project Physics series of texts, which were used in physics classrooms in the 1970s and 1980s...


External links