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What should HS physics stop teaching?

  1. Sep 26, 2004 #1

    Chi Meson

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    I've meant to start this thread for a while.

    As I go through yet another year of teaching introductory honors physics to high school students (11th & 12 graders mostly), I often stumble across a topic which makes me ask "why do we bother trying to teach this?"

    If I can't give myself a good answer, then the topic gets cut. Those who go on to advanced physics will pick it up later, but everyone else will never need to know.

    My question is to the grad students and professors out there:

    What else are we (in high school) wasting time with? What part of the canon of HS curriculum could be dropped?

    TIA
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2004 #2
    Having completed IB HS physics, I feel it is all worth it. However, keep in mind that I intend to persue a career related to physics and am a total physics nerd; those who feel some parts are useless are most likely those who do not intend to do physics for the rest of their lives after they graduate (aah, what a sad life...) :)
     
  4. Sep 26, 2004 #3

    JasonRox

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    It is only useless to those who will not go into physics really. If a student isn't going into physics, the best way for this person to avoid learning useless stuff is to not take physics.

    Are you saying you would teach nothing if the whole class was planning to pursue a business degree?
     
  5. Sep 26, 2004 #4

    robphy

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    Specifically, what is being covered in HS physics? and what topics have been dropped?

    Beyond the topics in physics, what is probably more important to the general population [though they probably don't realize it] are the problem solving skills developed while studying physics.
     
  6. Sep 26, 2004 #5

    ZapperZ

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    I disagree. As robphy has stated, the problem-solving skills one learns when dealing with physics problem transcends the subject. I have emphasized this in every physics classes/labs that I have taught, especially considering that the majority of students in a college physics classes are NOT physics majors. The analytical ability (which a large section of the population does not seem to have) that one gets out of a physics (and most science classes) is THE most valuable skills anyone can acquire out of an education.

    Take note that even for would-be medical students in the US, the MCAT exams contain physics questions, and most medical schools require at least one year's worth of physics classes for their incomming students. A dean of a medical school once mentioned that the reason why physics is required as part of a students preparation in entering medical school is that this is one of the few analytical subjects that they would encounter before entering a profession in which memorization of information is a big part.

    So no, physics isn't JUST for physics majors.

    Zz.
     
  7. Sep 26, 2004 #6
    *edit* Didn't read what ZapperZ wrote, so it's somewhat similar to what he said.
    I agree with the what some others have said about physics: Nothing is wasted, if you pursue a career related to physics, or require any of it.
    But I think that for common people, taking physics isn't meant to know facts and remember the stuff. Personally, I think that physcs, as a subject, should be used to teach people how to think logically and solve problems through logical reasoning. The physics laws and others are just some "material" and "concepts" to be used in the questions and challenges that stimulate our thinking which are the main purpose. So still, nothing in particular is wasted....save, perhaps, number constants.
     
  8. Sep 26, 2004 #7
    Ah, there's one thing that should be excluded from the curriculum: memorization of any constants. We didn't have to do this (luckily) in IB. It is, after all, rather useless to memorize constants.
     
  9. Sep 26, 2004 #8

    Tide

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    Chi,

    I still haven't seen what it is that you have dropped or would consider dropping.

    Would it be Newton's laws, conservation principles, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics? I don't see how one could in good conscience let loose on the world a whole generation of scientifically (and mathematically) deficient people who won't have a clue when it comes to functioning in our ever increasingly technical world and when they, as taxpayers, will be asked to fund ever more expensive and complex scientific and engineering projects. They will be completely at the mercy of opportunists and will be unequipped to raise even the slightest objection or to ask an intelligent question.
     
  10. Sep 27, 2004 #9

    Chi Meson

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    So many responses. And my school computer is infected with bugs!

    Sirius:
    I like the IB curriculum a lot. Its well pared-down. But not all can fit into the regular Honors course.
    And I agree about wasting time memorizing constants. I even think that memorizing equations is not time-efficient. When the students go into the advanced class, then they have to memorize equations simply because it speeds up the process.


    Jason:
    Of course not!

    Robphy:
    I didn't want to take up a lot of space to say what topics I teach. I was hoping for people remembering their personal "wastes of time." For example, two and a half weeks on projectile motion in the fall, which leaves two and a half days for optics in the spring.
    ANd I agree about the importance of the problem-solving skills yet I still think most people should be aware of the most practical elements of elementary physics (so the world will finally know that the house won't heat up faster if you turn the thermostat up high) (but now they have multi-power burners, dang)

    Zz:
    Yeah!

    Tide:
    Drop Newton's Laws? It wouldn't be physics without Isaac!
    For example, I do momentum, but not collisions in 2-D, and not perfectly elastic collisons either (busy, busy work). I do projectile motion, but only the basic kind (no cannonballs fired up to the top of a roof what speed does it have when it hits a flagpole 15 meters from the edge of the roof etc).

    I have also recently re-examined the importance of the formal lab report. Still doing them, but how useful are they? Again, this is for a students first-ever physics class.

    PS: This was supposed to be in "general discussion" not "general physics." Sorry.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2004
  11. Sep 27, 2004 #10
    if youre talking about high school curiculum, if anything is useless, its foreign language but thats just my oppinion,

    Adam

    P.S by the way where do you teach? or is that not a valid question or somthing?
     
  12. Sep 27, 2004 #11

    Ba

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    Yes projectile motion always seems to take up a lot of time, I don't really see why you couldn't put the kinematics all together, for instance skip kinematics in one dimension and start with two dimensions and circular motion combined. I've seen the biggest problem is that students take a long time to make the connections from learning the very basics and then people keep adding different parameters.
    The thing is the first physics class is an overview, it is hard to teach the students a little bit of everything.
     
  13. Sep 27, 2004 #12

    Chi Meson

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    Arsonade:
    I teach in the state of Connecticut. And I don't teach foreign languages in my Physics class. Seems odd.
     
  14. Sep 27, 2004 #13
    Labs labs and more labs. I think the best thing about physics is the lab. In the lab you can actually see things that happen even if you dont understand them all that well. At the very least you will have an intuition of the situation because you have seen it before. So if you do happen to study science you will have a strong foundation to base your assumptions on. Plus, labs are very interesting when your in high school, it beats sitting in a class day in day out.
     
  15. Sep 27, 2004 #14

    cronxeh

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    I think HS physics should start with quantum mechanics. No complicated equations or anything, just plain english - from historical point of view - from 1900 to 2004. Having built from that, and having built interest in the subject (or completely confusing the kids) - move on to macromolecular kinetics, thermo, etc.

    Everytime they enter and leave the physics class room they have to be amazed and inspired. Every class should be an enlightenment, a revelation, a humbling feeling and birth of a curious mind.

    If you can do that - kids will love you. If you can inspire them.. they will remember you and they will never want to stop learning

    my $0.02
     
  16. Sep 27, 2004 #15

    Janitor

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    You are directing your question to a group that I am not part of, and also you are asking what should be EXcluded from your course, so my response misses the mark in two different ways... :tongue2:

    I know someone who complains that the teacher of the high school physics course he took about ten years ago skipped optics and electromagnetism because she herself did not understand those subjects well enough. I think he feels cheated, and I know his father was unhappy about the situation.
     
  17. Sep 27, 2004 #16

    Moonbear

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    Okay, I'll respond as someone who has not gone on with an advanced degree in physics. To some extent, it's hard to say exactly what, if anything, to cut without knowing your specific curriculum, especially since curricula in physics courses vary quite a bit in high schools (for example, my high school physics class was harder and more math-intensive than my college physics for non-physics majors class).

    There is an old school group of biologists who can't imagine a biology curriculum that didn't require physics. To them, it's not the material but the way of thinking that's important. I liked physics, but have no idea how the "way of thinking" is any different for that than any other course I had to take. But then, I've also discovered that my undergraduate biology and chemistry curriculum was far more rigorous than at other schools I've worked at.

    As for the formal lab report...YES, KEEP IT!!! The type of thinking that goes into preparing a lab report in any science class is probably the most important thing students can be taught. The facts they can always acquire later, but the thought process of developing an hypothesis, writing up the results and coming up with conclusions and a discussion are hard to teach, so the more exposure they get to that, the better they will understand scientific method. I used to feel like beating my head against the wall when grading lab reports of college intro biology students, so I know this is something they don't get enough of prior to entering college. I don't even feel like the two required formal lab reports in each semester of biology were enough. One thing you could require that usually isn't required in high school lab classes...make them write their materials and methods in paragraph format, not just a list of materials and a numbered list of protocol steps.

    Since you're teaching an honors class, most of your students are likely to go onto college and a number of those into science majors. The more physics they can learn in high school, the easier it will be for them in college. And for those who never need to take a class on it again, consider this your one opportunity to make a little science stick so they don't wind up being a flaky politician or actor who doesn't understand science and tries to get science cut from the curriculum or cuts science funding because they don't understand the need for it, etc.
     
  18. Sep 28, 2004 #17

    ZapperZ

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    Moonbear touched on something that I have been thinking of for quite a while, ever since I had to design a set of experiments for a 3rd semester intro physics class. I think for high school physics, there shouldn't be a rigid, formal type of lab work and reports the way we require at the college level. Let me explain....

    What most people/students lose track of in a lab class (even in college) is that we typically want to know how two different parameters or quantities relate to each other. This could be the length of a pendulum with period of oscillation, height of free-falling ball and time, etc. I think at the high school level, we should simply ask the students "Look, see this pendulum? See how it is oscillating? See how long it takes for it to swing to and fro? I want you to figure out how this time changes as you change the length of the pendulum." .. and leave it at that! Ask the students to describe what they did, what they measured/found out, and if they can, why they did it that way, as part of their "lab report". There need not be any physics principle involved here at all. All this is about is thinking through a methodology and getting exactly the quantity that is required to do the task. I think such exercises are a lot more valuable than having a set of instructions that the students follow blindly and then trying to connect to a physics lesson.

    I would even suggest that you also include exercises where you describe a scenario, ask the students before hand to write down what they think will be the results, and then ask them to test it out. The helium-balloon-in-a-train is a good example of this. The students will gain a lot more when they are testing out and finding out the error in their own intuitions. Again, there need not be a lot of physics being tied to the exercise. Just simply let them test it out any way they see fit to get the most accurate result.

    Maybe this way, we'll get a lot more incoming freshmen in college who start out already wanting to be experimentalists! I can only hope....... :)

    Zz.
     
  19. Sep 28, 2004 #18
    I can't imagine going through life without being at least passively familiar with basic kinematics, dynamics, and conservation of energy/momentum. It would be like not knowing that plants make food through photosynthesis, and that chlorophyll makes them green. A person that doesn't know these things must have a wholly incomplete worldview.
     
  20. Sep 28, 2004 #19

    BobG

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    Ideally, the lab reports force the student to bring everything they observed into some organized comprehension of what they did in lab.

    For an honor's physics class, they probably accomplish that. For your normal introductory physics class, I would imagine a large percentage accomplish little more than make the physic's instructor very frustrated.

    It would probably be more beneficial to have the students do the lab report in two parts. One before the lab to help them organize in their minds what they hope to see, and one after the lab explaining what actually did happen and why.
     
  21. Sep 28, 2004 #20

    Moonbear

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    Bob, that is an excellent idea! Sort of like writing the proposal, then writing up the experimental results later. To make life easier at high school level, let them write up the intro and methods plus some expected results. Then after doing the lab, replace expected results with real results and discuss why they were/weren't the same.
     
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