The changing physics curriculum in 1961

  • #1

Frabjous

Gold Member
1,524
1,828
Phillip Morse (of Morse and Feshbach) wrote this preface for the preliminary* edition of his book Thermal Physics. It has some interesting comments about curriculum reform.

IMG_0034.jpegIMG_0035.jpegIMG_0036.jpeg
* First time I have heard of a preliminary edition of a book
 
Last edited:
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes apostolosdt, DeBangis21, Florian Geyer and 5 others
Science news on Phys.org
  • #2
Fascinating! I'd never even considered that differential calculus wasn't foundational at the early stages. One of the things I loved about my physics education was its generality. Although specialization is inevitable at the boundaries of human knowledge, being a generalist to some degree is its own advantage. Very cool read, thank you for sharing!
 
  • Like
Likes DeBangis21, Florian Geyer, gleem and 1 other person
  • #3
It could be that what Morison is referring to is the "absolute differential calculus" which is more advanced than is typically taught to first year students.
 
  • #4
Haborix said:
I'd never even considered that differential calculus wasn't foundational at the early stages.

1706807738295.png


mpresic3 said:
It could be that what Morison is referring to is the "absolute differential calculus" which is more advanced than is typically taught to first year students
Morris's comment referred to a generation ago so that would have been about 1935. so I don't think he was referring to absolute differential calculus since in 1965 absolute calculus was not needed for (Jackson) electrodynamics or Stat Mech nor is it still today(?).
 
  • #5
Very interesting preface by Morse. One thing we never got a grasp of as students was the drive in the US toward teaching more science, technology and math due the fear of Sputnik and that the Russians have leapt ahead of us.

My math teacher in high school explained it to me years later that Sputnik opened up lots of grant money. He used it to buy several pricey desktop computer/calculators (Olivetti Programma 101s) which at the time were $2500 a pop and he got three. In todays dollars that would be about $20K.

In college physics circa 1970s, we were exposed to calculus based physics often taking calculus in parallel or just prior to needing it in physics. Our first course on modern physics introduced us to Quantum Mechanics, the players and the Schrodinger equation as applied to the square well and Special Relativity.

Our Quantum Mechanics class came in the junior year using the Schiff book on Quantum Mechanics. We would use Morse and Feshbach for when we needed more help. Schiff was known to outline the high points and to have the student work out the details in the problem sets. It seemed that Morse and Feshbach were more approachable.

Reading a review of the book circa 1949, I discovered Schiff's book was for grad students so I guess my college was compactifying things by using it at the undergrad level which explains why Schiff's content was so high-level for us poor undergrads.

Schiff is available on the internet archive:

https://ia601609.us.archive.org/11/...-quantummechanics/Schiff-QuantumMechanics.pdf

Another book my Union College profs used to mention a lot was Rojansky with almost and air of reverence about it. Rojansky was a former physics dept head at our college (1930-1955) a decade or so earlier. I can't comment much on his book but it appears both Schiff and Rojansky's books were highly regarded with Schiff having a more modern graduate student approach.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Rojansky
 
  • Like
  • Wow
Likes dextercioby, DeBangis21 and Florian Geyer
  • #6
We don't like lumping post-secondary education in with the "military industrial complex", but it is there. When WW2 ended, where did all those scientists working on military research go? Back to universities.

One could argue that WW2 was won with technology (atomic bomb, cavity magnetron) and while I think this goes to far, it is true that it was won with industry. Japan attacked a country with an industrial capacity an order of magnitude larger, and when the war was over, the Empire of Japan essentially ceased to exist. This lesson was not lost of the leadership of the day. Sputnik energized and reinforced this, but the ideas had already taken root.
 
  • Like
Likes dextercioby and Paul Colby
  • #7
Vanadium 50 said:
One could argue that WW2 was won with technology (atomic bomb, cavity magnetron) and while I think this goes to far, it is true that it was won with industry.
Marc Reisner makes this point in "Cadillac Desert," a book about, in part, about hydroelectric dam projects on major rivers in the US. His point was that the Columbia River and those of the Tennessee Valley Authority made it possible to refine large quantities of aluminum for B-17s and B-29s as well as to power centrifuges at Hanford, WA and Oak Ridge, TN for uranium enrichment.
 
  • Like
Likes ohwilleke, jedishrfu and Vanadium 50
  • #8
Amazing.
Philip Morse was an American physicist known for his contributions to theoretical physics, particularly in statistical and quantum mechanics. Along with Herman Feshbach, he co-authored several influential books, including "Methods of Theoretical Physics" and "Theoretical Physics."
 
  • #9
Why is it amazing that an expert would write a textbook?
 
  • #10
Hello respected member.



Your message sparked a lot of thoughts, which I want to share here.

First is not it counterproductive to make students study materials far higher than their level? As I understood this is the connotation of your message
jedishrfu said:
I guess my college was compactifying things by using it at the undergrad level which explains why Schiff's content was so high-level for us poor undergrads.
Well, in my opinion, it is much better to teach materials that are suitable to the level of the students. I will refer to some educational literature to support this idea (also to try to reach to some generalizations and be objective).

- First and foremost, the idea of zone of proximal development ZPD by Vygotsky, more on this in the following link https://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html

- Ausubel also espouse the same idea, see this quote "If [he] had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principle, [he] would say this: The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly" (Ausubel, 1968, p. vi) the source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ausubel

- Even if we took the educational ideas of Jerome Bruner, we will find that although he doesn't believe in the idea that leaners should first become (mature enough) to be presented with some advanced material, he still thinks that leaners should exposed to the material gradually in what is known as "Spiral curriculum".

I will quote the following text from a lesson written about him (although it refers to children sometimes but the presented ideas still apply to older learners).

"Bruner (1960) explained how this was possible through the concept of the spiral curriculum. This involved information being structured so that complex ideas can be taught at a simplified level first, and then re-visited at more complex levels later on.

The underlying principle in this is that the student should review particular concepts at over and over again during their educative experience; each time building and their understanding and requiring more sophisticated cognitive strategies (and thus increase the sophistication of their understanding).

Therefore, subjects would be taught at levels of gradually increasing difficultly (hence the spiral analogy). Ideally, teaching his way should lead to children being able to solve problems by themselves."

Source: https://www.simplypsychology.org/bruner.html#The-Spiral-Curriculum

It seems that the educational research is in contradiction to the way of teaching you have referred to thus it is counterproductive to learning (or am I wrong?)

I think it would more beneficial to shift the focus of the teaching to what the students are learning more than what their professors wish them to learn.

I am not sure to how extent, but I think these educational ideas are not entirely in contradiction with the practices in all universities since I have read about some professors who seem to espouse the ideas presented in the previously mentioned educational literature.
I will take the following statement by prof. Weiskopf “It is not important what we cover, but what you discover” in his reply to the student who asked him about what they will cover in the semester… resource https://rtraba.com/2015/11/11/it-is...cover-but-what-you-discover-victor-weisskopf/ (you can also listen to the whole video presented by prof Chomsky.



Based on the previous reasons I built my *HUMBLE*opinion on how should the educational process should be.



Please if anyone suggest otherwise tell me and explain why (hopefully with some educational research). Thank you.
 
  • Like
Likes ohwilleke and WWGD
  • #11
Curriculum compactification is a necessary thing to do as we acquire new knowledge and let go of older knowledge no longer of use in the modern world. In a sense, its a form of educational evolution.

A case in point, my dad when he attended college needed to learn Spherical Trigonometry. In contrast, when I majored in Physics thirty years later, spherical trigonometry was an after thought that might come up in some specialized Calculus integral and that was the extent of it.

The curious thing was my last job required me to look into spherical trigonometry for proper global distance calculations using lat/lon values. The whole notion of lat/lon and nautical mile basics was foreign to me as well since my last exposure to it was in 4th grade and that was over 50 years ago. So it was a "what goes around comes around" ordeal.

In general, schooling is there to teach the basics while it teaches you how to learn. The basics are defined by what industry needs in its scientists, engineers and applied mathematicians. It will necessarily change as the world changes and by necessity compactification to teach you some things in preparation before others comes into play.
 
  • Like
  • Informative
Likes Paul Colby and Florian Geyer
  • #12
Some March issues of Physics Today talk a lot about curricula

1967 IMG_0053.jpeg
1968 IMG_0052.jpeg
 

Similar threads

  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
6
Views
3K
Replies
3
Views
549
  • Science and Math Textbooks
Replies
4
Views
1K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
2
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
11
Views
818
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
2
Views
2K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
3
Replies
101
Views
6K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
13
Views
2K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
15
Views
3K
  • STEM Educators and Teaching
Replies
3
Views
966
Back
Top