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Worried about modern science education

  1. Jan 11, 2012 #1
    I see a disturbing thing nowadays.

    Today's budding physics students are necessarily exposed to quantum concepts early on. Because of limited time of course there isn't enough time spent on classical physics. And I think it's a big problem.

    The main problem is that a student trying to come to grips with some physical process will immediately try to explain it in quantum terms when a perfectly good classical explanation would be much better. The quantum formulation can actually be a big time waster.

    Typical example: the reflection of light from a window. The classical explanation of this is elegant; that you must balence the electric and magnetic fields on either side of an interface; that any imbalance gives rise to a new wave (reflected wave).

    To explain the reflected light from a window to a new student by invoking photons as either entering or bouncing out with some probability seems like a downright disservice.

    What could or should be done about this?

    (this isn't unique to physics. It happens in engineering too.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2012 #2


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    I wish I would have know about QED when I was a "budding physics student". :biggrin:
  4. Jan 11, 2012 #3
    I'm a student in Year 11 at a secondary school in the UK, equivilent of US grade 10 or sophomore.

    The problem I find more is not that they're teaching us too advanced physics, its the exact opposite, they're dumbing down the physics to obviously make it more suitable for the "masses"

    For example, instead of teaching us the far more useful lens maker equations or thin lens equations we're taught to work out the focal length or image height using scale diagrams, which make less sense to me as surely a diagram is far less accurate than a mathematically solution to your problem?
  5. Jan 11, 2012 #4


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    Don't despise diagrams just because they don't give you the answer to 6 decimal places. Being able to draw a realistic looking diagram quickly (not necessarily a careful scale drawing) and make correct conclusions from it is a useful skill in itself.

    I think the biggest problem with UK science education as school level is that somebody made the crazy argument "Mathematics is not a science, therefore you can teach science to people without using math." The old UK system of selective education from age 11 had its disadvantages, but it did mean that anybody taking their first science exams (at age 16) had most likely already taken the equivalent level math exam a year earlier, and was already learning simple calculus, complex numbers, etc. That's a huge difference from the current situation - not to mention the higher standard of the earlier age-16 exams, where the current grade C is officially equivalent to the earlier grade E.
  6. Jan 11, 2012 #5
    Drawing a realistic diagram is a skill I expect to learn in Technology and Design not physics and certainly would never think of using it for calculating figures.

    I think your second paragraph hits the proverbial nail right on the head. They're trying to teach us physics (and Chemistry and Biology) with as little mathematical content as possible.

    Although I'm probably a bit biased as I did maths a year early and I'm doing Ad Maths this year so I'm learning all the "good" stuff like calculus and whatnot.
  7. Jan 11, 2012 #6
    I didn't even know about quantum mechanics until I read about it in 2008, and I did the basic science Year 9 - 11 (2001-2003) at High School.
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