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Physics education in the US

by Amok
Tags: education, physics
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superdave
#37
Nov30-12, 09:07 AM
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Quote Quote by Andy Resnick View Post
Sounds excellent! I try and include 'physics of superheroes'-type material as well. Most of my intro students are health science majors, so I tend to use those applications- weight lifting and sports injuries (forces and torques), IV drips/hemodynamics (fluids), metabolism (thermodynamics), etc. etc.

I'm contemplating a major revision to the course- introducing energy first, even before kinematics, since the students have an intuitive feel for energy and pressure but are seriously intimidated by vectors and trig. Unfortunately, I don't think any textbook would let me do that- the energy/waves/fluids/thermo chapters and homework problems all use jargon developed in previous chapters.
Yeah. But then, are text books inherently necessary? If you give them note handouts with all the vital information, is slogging through a wordy text book all that useful? Just means a little extra work on your part to make up the notes and the problems.

I'm toying with the idea of running my class without a text book, once I get hired and my own class. I've also been toying with a spiralling curriculum, where you start out introducing broad topics (v=x/t, a=v/t, F=ma, W=Fd, etc...), practice easy problems first, then return to each topic, introducing tougher problems and applications and interconnecting the topics where applicable. The problem with that is the topics that don't lend themselves to any of the others (Snell's law, etc...) I just see students doing kinematics in September, and then not touching it until the regents review in June.
Astronuc
#38
Dec2-12, 10:47 AM
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Quote Quote by Amok View Post
I'm not sure if this is the best forum for this post, but here we go. This guy (who usually makes great videos) posted this on youtube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGL22...eature=g-all-u

First of all, is it true (I'm not American)? Second, do you agree? Any comments are welcome :D

I personally think that some modern physics should be taught in high-school, but only to show students that physics didn't stop in time. I certainly do not think that a high-school physics curriculum should be centered around modern physics. I think modern physics is irrelevant (compared to classical physics) to most people who don't go into science and engineering (and even to a lot who do go into those domains). More importantly, I feel that one could only go so far into relativity or QM when talking to people who don't know what a gradient is. I'd rather have people learn the basics well than just learn a lot of trivia about lasers and how a gravitational field bends light. The guy makes a point about people like Carl Sagan. Fair enough, but I don't think Carl Sagan really taught physics (I'm a great admirer of the man, don't get all up in arms) as much as he talked about what wonders doing physics has enabled us to discover. This is great, it sparks interest for physics, but it doesn't really make people understand physics. If anything, people should learn more maths, and then learn physics more in-depth (without necerssarily going into modern developments).
I was exposed to modern physics in high school, so I'd have to disagree with a number of assertions made in the video. I'm not sure to what school district/system the narrator is referring, but requirements do vary considerably across the nation, and even within each state.

At my high school, I was able to take two years of chemistry (grades 11 and 12), in which we studied the structure of the atom and molecules, among many topics. I took physics and calculus in my senior (last) year. We did some basic review of SR and had some exposure to QM in physics. However, what I did notice was a disconnect between the math program and the physics class. I would have preferred a more integrated program in math and science. The physics teacher at the high school during the two years before I took physics was an alumni of the school and a PhD physicist from Caltech. Unfortunately, he left for a research job in industry the summer before my senior year.

During a my summers in junior high (grades 7-9) and high school (grades 10-12), I would take a 6 week program of 3 courses in various subjects at a local university. The classes I enjoyed the most were math and science. Between 10 and 11th grade, I took a class in physics in which we learned both theory and application/experiment. The class was taught by the same Caltech PhD physicist who was teaching at the high school I attended in grade 11 and 12.

During the summer between grades 11 and 12, I took an 8 week course in electrical and nuclear engineering at Colorado School of Mines. The electrical engineering was pretty standard first year university material, but the nuclear engineering was a blend of engineering and modern physics topics to which one might be exposed during the first two years of university. We also received a short course in differential and integral calculus. I was one of 40 students in that one program, which was part of a national program for thousands of students. Another PF mentor did the same program but at an earlier time. One of the students in the program as CSM was Andrew Lange, who went on to make significant contributions to observational cosmology (CMB), and who became chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Caltech.

My first memory of nuclear energy is from second grade when I read an article on the hydrogen bomb. It was quite an impression upon me. In fifth grade, I studied topics in mathematics, chemistry and physics, and I began to explore the periodic table, and topics in nuclear physics (proton, neutron, electron and subatomic particles) and astrophysics (stars, planets, galaxies, . . .). In grade 6, my science project was the design of a nuclear powered aircraft based on adapting a submarine reactor to an aircraft geometry. My interest in nuclear and astrophysics, and nuclear energy, has continued undiminished.


However, the vast majority of students do not learn much with respect to modern physics, which is very unfortunate in my opinion. I think it important to establish an integrated approach to math and science as early as possible, even to the first years of school. That's when students can be exposed to basic or everyday phenomena, e.g., such as rocks and minerals, structures/statics, perhaps some dynamics/motion, heat, optical phenomena, etc.

My parents actively encouraged my education through interaction and buying various books on math and science. In elementary school, I had access to a library of 'How and Why Wonder Books' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_and_Why_Wonder_Books). I very much enjoyed reading those books, and in some cases, doing experiments found in some books on physics topics like Science Experiments, Light and Color, Magnets and Magnetism, or simply devising my own experiments based on what I read.

The education system in the US (and I imagine other countries as well) certainly needs improving, as does the teaching of math and science. Beyond the schools, parents play the most critical role in the education of their children, and often a child's education is limited by the education/knowledge of the parents.


I cerrtainly agree about the awesomeness of mathematics and physics!
Andy Resnick
#39
Dec3-12, 09:48 AM
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Quote Quote by superdave View Post
Yeah. But then, are text books inherently necessary? If you give them note handouts with all the vital information, is slogging through a wordy text book all that useful? Just means a little extra work on your part to make up the notes and the problems.<snip>
For the intro classes, I agree that textbooks (or at least, a specific textbook) are not required- especially since the homework is done online. However, I disagree that creating homework problems is only 'a little extra work'- at least I am not confident in my ability to create 10 well-defined appropriately difficult questions every week, especially since the online homework includes hints/tips/supplementary material.
Conde
#40
Dec3-12, 09:52 AM
P: 8
Hi Everyone! I teach chemistry to eleventh grade and physics to twelfth grade in a private high school in central NJ. I was wondering if anyone knows a nuclear physicist or anyone that has experience working with atoms that may be interested in speaking to my class. Thanks for any information
symbolipoint
#41
Dec3-12, 01:51 PM
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Quote Quote by Andy Resnick View Post
For the intro classes, I agree that textbooks (or at least, a specific textbook) are not required- especially since the homework is done online.
That is very bad. We really need to use paper and pencil because we need to fluently perform algebra/symbolic steps and make diagrams. To put computer technology in this path just complicates or interferes with the homework exercise process. This will interfere with physics education.

On the other hand, you are absolutely correct about this part:
However, I disagree that creating homework problems is only 'a little extra work'- at least I am not confident in my ability to create 10 well-defined appropriately difficult questions every week, especially since the online homework includes hints/tips/supplementary material.
Creating your own instructional exercises is very time consuming. Sometimes a person has their own experience in reality which can be adapted into an exercise, but this depends on what practical work one has had. Also, in the real world outside of academic life, problems to solve do not automatically come with a label, "Category for Introductory Mechanics Physics", or any such like that.
Andy Resnick
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Dec3-12, 05:12 PM
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Quote Quote by symbolipoint View Post
That is very bad. We really need to use paper and pencil because we need to fluently perform algebra/symbolic steps and make diagrams.
<snip>
Who is 'we'? occupational therapists? dentists? psychologists? historians? Why are those practitioners (who are in my intro class) required to perform symbolic manipulation of equations with paper and pencil (especially since there are tablet computers now...)?

Honestly, online homework is fantastic- both for the student and for the instructor. The students have access to all kinds of supplementary information, are still required to 'shut up and calculate' to get the answer, and I am able to statistically analyze student responses and errors to assess what underlying problems are.
Jessca
#43
Dec3-12, 08:17 PM
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Quote Quote by Andy Resnick View Post
I'm contemplating a major revision to the course- introducing energy first, even before kinematics, since the students have an intuitive feel for energy and pressure but are seriously intimidated by vectors and trig.
I think this is a great idea. I am currently a high school junior taking AP Physics B (physics using algebra), and the first semester is ending soon. We began with the basics: definitions of vectors, scalars, displacement, velocity, acceleration, etc and then practice with them in simple assignments. Then we learned more about kinematics; halfway through the semester, we began learning about energy in systems and more conceptual things with that, using energy bar charts (E=K+U+Q), etc. Kinematics became much easier to understand when energy was introduced, and I wish it was introduced first.

In reply to this thread, I definitely wish that more modern physics was discussed in high school physics courses. In practice, I don't think there is enough time in the year to introduce it in basic physics courses; we spent half of the school year on Newtonian Mechanics (kinematics and energy, etc) so far. Plus, almost no one taking this course has taken a calculus class before (only 3 people in my class, and they're taking it currently). As a senior next year, I will be taking AP Physics C (using calculus) along with AP Calculus. The teacher for that course is going to talk about some modern physics, since we'll be using calculus and it will be easier to explain.

In conclusion, I feel that harder mathematics need to be taught at earlier grades, which will result in efficient high school physics courses that actually prepare students for college physics. Students should be familiar with Algebra before high school, and it should implement physics examples. This way, high school physics courses won't have to start with the bare basics of physics using algebra, and they could offer the class to freshmen/sophomores as well. Simple calculus could then be introduced in these physics classes, instead of only if the school offers a higher level physics course i.e. AP Physics C after AP Physics B.
symbolipoint
#44
Dec3-12, 08:30 PM
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Quote Quote by Andy Resnick View Post
Who is 'we'? occupational therapists? dentists? psychologists? historians? Why are those practitioners (who are in my intro class) required to perform symbolic manipulation of equations with paper and pencil (especially since there are tablet computers now...)?

Honestly, online homework is fantastic- both for the student and for the instructor. The students have access to all kinds of supplementary information, are still required to 'shut up and calculate' to get the answer, and I am able to statistically analyze student responses and errors to assess what underlying problems are.
Anybody who either studies or studied physics is the "we". Writing on paper and reading from a real book are natural things, or more natural than using a computer for the same purposes. Users then do not need to learn and struggle against the technology. A user has a certain flexibility on paper that would not happen through a computer program. Maybe software programs for education and instruction in sciences is better than for other subjects. The only online instruction assignments I have done have been very badly designed. I had seen some Mathematical instruction software for high school level that was just extremely difficult to learn; fortunately, no assignments using that software were required for the institution; just as well.

One great thing about homework performed and shown on paper is that you do not need a computer to do it nor to see it. We do not need to be connected to our computer as if to be plugged in to something in order to think and solve.

At the rate technology is stepping so far, .... H.A.L. 9000! You maybe do not believe we are there yet, but one day, maybe technology will control US.

(I still not know what to say about this:
The students have access to all kinds of supplementary information,
Students should not need to resort to all kinds of supplementary information and try to sort through it, especially at the beginning levels of something like Physics.)
Andy Resnick
#45
Dec4-12, 07:12 AM
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Quote Quote by symbolipoint View Post
Anybody who either studies or studied physics is the "we". <snip>
Please see my posts #22 and #24 in this thread, containing my thoughts on general-education math and science curricula. In brief, the current curriculum does only one thing really well: discourage people from enjoying math.

As for online homework, we use WileyPlus. While I cannot endorse a commercial product, I can say I am very glad we use it.
Andy Resnick
#46
Dec4-12, 07:36 AM
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Quote Quote by Jessca View Post
<snip>
In reply to this thread, I definitely wish that more modern physics was discussed in high school physics courses. In practice, I don't think there is enough time in the year to introduce it in basic physics courses;
<snip>
I feel that harder mathematics need to be taught at earlier grades, which will result in efficient high school physics courses that actually prepare students for college physics. Students should be familiar with Algebra before high school, and it should implement physics examples. <snip>
If I may, I'd like to paraphrase your thoughtful comments as "why does it take so long to get to the good stuff?"

I don't have a satisfying answer- certainly, the 'start earlier' idea comes up often, but ignores the reality of the developing brain's limited ability to process abstract thought. Efforts to better integrate math and science (and better integrate the various sciences) are generally good, but each discipline deserves to be presented 'natively', since they are indeed different disciplines.

It's also worth mentioning that there is a distinction between 'minimum competence' and advanced courses- for example, I have no problem with a high school student taking my class instead of the course offered in their high school.


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