Approaches for teaching Modern Physics in Grade School and University

In summary, this senior author believes that eighth grade is a good time to introduce the concepts of General Relativity to primary school students. They also think that it is important for teachers to have a strong background in physics in order to teach this material effectively.
  • #36
vanhees71 said:
Imho one should put thermodynamics and statistical physics (or rather substitute thermodynamics entirely by statistical physics) at the very end, when quantum-many-body theory is available to the students. This avoids a lot of the immense problems of classical statistical physics, which then can of course be derived from quantum statistical physics as an appropriate approximation.

Isn't that more or less the usual thing? I saw thermodynamics at the same time as QM II, and stat mechanics after that.

However, I don't see how a deep knowledge of QM is required for classical thermodynamics.
 
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  • #37
robphy said:
Some thoughts about modern physics:
  • Does each generation have to endure 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th century physics before 21st century physics?
  • "Therefore, I apologise, if apology is necessary, for departing from certain traditional approaches which seemed to me unclear, and for insisting that the time has come in relativity to abandon an historical order and to present the subject as a completed whole, completed, that is, in its essentials. In this age of specialisation, history is best left to the historians."- J.L. Synge in Relativity: The Special Theory (1956), p. vii
  • There may be new intuitions.. new ways of looking at old topics (and new topics) that can be developed. The next generation doesn't have to learn things the way the previous generation did, possibly stumbling over the same the roadbumps and conceptual barriers.

    [For example, I think relativity should be taught with Minkowski spacetime diagrams, which have been traditionally considered too mathematical... But, instead many books reason with moving boxcars... the way Einstein did... the physicist's way... not that mathematical way. Geometric intuition from high school could be modified and developed for relativity... but no... we're stuck in boxcars with cryptic transformation equations... and can't see the geometry of spacetime.

    Along these lines, I often wonder about electromagnetism... When in the history of introductory textbooks did we start drawing field vectors? They haven't always been there. At some point in the future, could we have drawings of differential forms or tensors... or is the vector field the last word in teaching electrodynamics? I wonder if someone told the first textbook author using vector field diagrams... that's too mathematical.

    Sadly, that's what Edwin Taylor told me about rapidity in relativity... why it was omitted from the 2nd edition of Spacetime Physics... some felt it was too mathematical.
    ]
  • There may be someone out there who catches onto something important about some modern physics topic without having the traditional prerequisites or isn't tied down to a classical viewpoint ... someone who thinks differently from the crowd. Sure, it could be argued as unlikely. Maybe folks should just stay in their [classical] lanes.
My $0.03.
The way I think about it, the way we teach physics is just tied to the way the math curriculum is taught. If the main goal is to teach problem solving skills, then one should pick the most elegant formulation of the theory using available math that is taught in that grade, to teach as a vehicle for solving problems. It really doesn't matter whether it's 19th, 20th century physics or older as long as students can problem solve with it.

So the order things are taught using vectors and F=ma (Newton style classical mechanics) is because that's the math that is taught in secondary school. If secondary school taught differential forms, exterior algebra, then sure, the physics curriculum will reflect that to make use of the deeper perspective.

Regarding relativity, spacetime diagram and rapidity is definitely fair game to teach in high school physics (needs only basic algebra and coordinate geometry). So if relativity is taught, then using that tool is fair.

The more ambitious goal is to say, who cares what math they are being taught concurrently, let's teach both the math and the physics at the same time. That's very difficult to do.

The final consideration is practicality. The number of people who need to use classical physics, thermo in their daily job vastly outnumber the number of people who need to use quantum physics, stat mech. Therefore the school curriculum prioritizes accordingly. Basically the physics curriculum in secondary school is designed to train future physicists, the same way the math curriculum is not designed to train future mathematicians.
 
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  • #38
Thats a good insight that physics must necessarily follow the math rollout. Math has similar issue of building on prior math. Other science fields aren't constrained in the same way.
 
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