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From the Editor

This spring issue of the Fed Newsletter will reach many of its readers after they return from the Centennial APS meeting in Atlantaa meeting which promises to be not only the largest but the grandest of physics conferences. This newsletter continues the focus on the centennial, with a look both backward at where we have been, and forward to what might lie ahead.

Physics education has made many transitions this century, and we have reason to say that we know more now than in 1900 about how students learn, what they should learn, and how best to teach them. We still have profound gaps in our understanding of the teaching - learning process, but ongoing research in physics education gives us a strategy for enlightening our ignorance.

There will be more exciting new methodologies and technologies in the coming century that will revolutionize the way we teach physics. But new questions are emerging, such as just what is, and what isn't, physics. Our audience is changing, and the traditional physics major is an endangered species. The issue of what is physics, and how should we be training future physicists, is one which demands more attention from us.

K-12 science education is an issue that has received considerable attention this century, especially since Sputnik. It is a growing concern of the physics professional community, which sees not only future scientists, but also future informed citizens in the pre-college classrooms. Recently, the concerns of two-year colleges have also received our attention. All these and other issues are the focus of this issue.

This has been an exciting century of physics discovery, and of physics education discovery. It is still true that the more we learn, the more we realize the vastness of what we do not know. The next century will prove to be exciting, too.

Physics Education in the Next Century

Jack Wilson

Editor's note: I invited several colleagues to respond to the question, "What will physics education be like in 100 years?" The query prompted this thought-provoking essay.

The Negative View
It might be that Physics Education has the same role that "Latin Education" has today. Certainly the trends have been in that direction for several decades. Rather than becoming more central, physics education has become less central. Part of that is our fault and part is a natural result of the changes in the world. We have seen that Physics research has really spun out into Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Materials Engineering, Biophysics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology. Meanwhile the purity of physics has been maintained by allowing the remainder to collapse to a smaller, brighter denser core. Now far more physics research is done outside of physics departments. Increasing, more physics education is done outside of physics departments. It is done by Engineering, by Chemistry, and by Biology by integrating into existing courses, . Is it done well? No. Has the physics community offered strong alternatives? Not really. The trend over the last half century has been that physics graduates have become a smaller and smaller percentage of undergraduates. Look at Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, or even Biology to see a contrary trend.

There are many noble efforts, but they are not yet wide spread enough. It will have to be an effort of the entire community. The research community will have to take a broader view and take up an interest in physics education. As we saw in the work of the IUPP project and others, physics education in the 80's and 90's is not much changed from the first part of the twentieth century. If we can say the same thing at the next millennium, I think we will be saying it about a very small and uninteresting profession.

I realize that this is a bit negative view, but I find it much too compellingly accurate. I intend to spend the first part of the next century to try to make my prediction completely wrong. There is reason for hope, but unless we face the difficult facts of the immediate past, we cannot improve the future.

What is my prescription for success? The Physics Community must aggressively reclaim an interest in the cross disciplinary research areas that are so close to our borders. We have traditionally shunned research (and researchers who work!) close to our borders. We must abandon our priestly (some say arrogant) image. We have to radically change our undergraduate physics courses to present an exciting picture of physics taught by exciting physicists. We must show physics centrality to the information technology areas and to the burgeoning bio-technologies. We must build alliances into all of the areas shown above. We must find ways to communicate our excitement to the public and our colleagues in other research areas.

I am serving on the NRC Physics Survey Committee and have been struck by the amazing accomplishments of the last few years and the enormous opportunities opening to us. I also serve on many broad higher education, corporate, and governmental organizations. I am disturbed that the excitement of physics is not often seen in those latter arenas.

The Positive View
The Positive View Assuming that the Physics community rises to the challenges described above, I could see an interesting future for Physics Education. The ingredients for that future are in operation today. The key issues remain: COMPUTERS, COMMUNICATION, COGNITION, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES, AND COMMUNITY. The amazing growth in computational power has put the equivalent of supercomputers in many persons' homes, TODAY. The rapid rise in the communications infrastructure and the technical breakthroughs in bandwidth provided through optical physics allow that personal computer to connect to resources at speeds unimagined a decade ago. We are teaching physics TODAY into the high schools through network based systems. I am not talking about the pitiful e fforts to teach physics using insipid world wide web materials. I am talking about full live voice, video, and data interactions that can give life to even the worst web site!

By the next millenium, communication will be entirely ubiquitous. Most likely the satellites that will introduce ubiquitous connectivity over the next five years will have been replaced by microcellular technologies connected by fiber that allow wireless communication to nearby receivers that are accessible essentially everywhere. Anyone will be able to connect to anyone else anywhere in the world. The issue will be permission to access and not ability to access.

A person's computing and communication infrastructure will be worn or perhaps embedded. I am guessing that it will be more likely worn, so that changes can be rapid and personal privacy protected. That personal computing and communications infrastructure will be in continuos communication with the network through the microcellular network. There will certainly be no real difference between the telephone, the network, and the entertainment system. Visualization will be an important aspect of the system and will include direct neurobiological imaging (creating optical images in the individuals field of view through direct stimulation of the nervous system) and large panel shared displays that can visualize information, education, or entertainment through interaction with the personal systems and microcellular network. The microcellular network will include processing nodes and access to information that will let one access almost any information with powerful data acquisition tools assisted by personal software agents that live on the network and have the sole duty of ferreting out information of interest to you or packaging that information in the best visual package.

Learning physics, or any other subject, is about interactions and it is particularly about human interactions. The entire computication (computing and communication) network described above is designed to facilitate interaction among human beings in an information and analysis rich environment. That kind of environment will be used to allow the learning of physics.

Surely that leaves no room for a teacher? Wrong again. Interaction with professors or teachers will remain a key part of the process, but what that teacher does will be far different. Filling blackboard with chalk, flipping overhead transparencies, or showing PowerPoint slides will not be a significant part of the teaching process. The professor will set the stage, pose the important questions, facilitate the interactions and monitor the learning process. There will be a lot of give and take. Memorization of equations will be even less important than it is today. The ability to discover a problem, have insight into the problem, modularize the problem, and then construct a path to solution, becomes the main goal. Computational skills that were important to us will be irrelevant to them. Human beings provide creativity and not computation. The fundamental mathematical skills will not look much like those taught today.

When students study physics they will do so in collaboration with other students and monitored by professors. Sometimes they will elect to go to social areas where they learn in the same space as other students. Sometimes they will elect to join the group electronically rather than physically. A very high percentage of learners who have not yet begun employment will elect to learn in environments that might be called colleges or universities. They will have nice lawns, beautiful old buildings, and nearly 300 years of tradition. They will have shared living spaces called dormitories. They will drink beer and wine and do other things calculated to worry and annoy their elders.

When they go to physics class they might decide to do so from a blanket on one of the lawns or from a lounge in their dorm. The mind boggles at the other possibilities! They may decide to go to a walk-in laboratory. There they will find a smorgasbord of work areas with nearly every piece of equipment connected to the network. Their activities will be monitored there by a system that will protect their safety, suggest alternatives, and monitor their progress. The system will provide carefully analyzed reports to the professor to help her monitor each student's progress. The professor will be assisted in that regard by apprentice Physics Professors termed "graduate assistants." At various times during the week, learners in designated teams will all meet at the same time. Some will elect to do so in the same place and others will not. Nevertheless, the interactions will go forward with the professors leading resource rich discussions and all students interacting whether physically present or not. Being a passive student is not an option. As the questions flow back and forth everyone is expected to respond, to discuss and respond again after discussion. Groups will form to consider questions, dissolve and re-form again to consider the next topic. They will formulate problems and dump them to parallel systems that will the respond with the solutions and visualizations. The professors will have given careful thought to just how much of the task they want to assign to the system and how much they are asking the students to do.

Once students have entered employment the situation will change abruptly. Rather than delivering the student to the education, we must deliver the education to the student. Students are far too busy to take time off to go to the university. They would not even drive across town for a night class. Classes will be delivered to them at their workplace and their home. The students will have access to the experts independent of the location of student and expert. The ubiquitous access to education will be fortunate, because everyone will need to engage in continuous educational experiences, and few will have the luxury of taking a few hours or years and going to the university.

There will remain a very small number of students who elect to go into physics research and chose to apprentice themselves to research programs. They may be found at universities or at government or industry laboratories. Their education will be under the auspices of the best practitioners of their small discipline. Those practitioners will not all be found at the local university. It will be a virtual research group that might be located anywhere in the world, but all share an interest in the particular research field and in the student's progress. Students will collaborate across the world and across languages, with the network taking care of the language translation as well as communication, analysis, data mining, and visualization.

I find that an appealing vision. Do you?

Jack Wilson is Acting Provost, J. Erik Jonsson Distinguished Professor, and Professor of Physics and Engineering Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Forum on Education.

Physics in the Two-Year Colleges

The American Institute of Physics recently published the report of its study, Physics in the Two-Year Colleges. This study explored the faculty, students, and curriculum in physics at the junior college level. The report is available from Education and Employment Statistics Division, AIP, One Physics Ellipse, College park, MD 20740. We present here a few of the highlights from the report (reprinted with permission).

  • Contacting over 1,785 two-year college campuses across the United States, we found that 1,056, or 59%, offered classes in physics during the 1995-96 academic year (page 52).

    In the Spring of 1996, these departments contained 2,692 faculty teaching physics classes (p. 52). Department heads supplied the names of 2,542 professors, with 1,710 (66%) in full-time positions and 832 (34%) holding part-time appointments (p. 20).

  • All 2,542 physics faculty were sent a detailed 12-page questionnaire, with 1,194 responding, along with another 223 who responded to a shorter version, for a total response rate of 56% (p. 52). Faculty were overwhelmingly male (89%), with a median age of 49. Eighty-nine percent were white, 6% were U.S. minorities, and 5% were non-U.S. citizens (p. 21).

  • There was little difference between full- and part-time faculty in these demographic characteristics. More surprisingly, there was also little difference in academic background. In both groups, a little over one- third held a PhD, with almost all the rest holding a master's degree. And, in both groups, roughly two-thirds had earned a graduate degree in physics (p. 21).

  • During the 1996-97 academic year, some 120,000 students took physics at a two-year college. This represented only 2% of all students enrolled in two-year schools at that time. However, given the large number of part-time and non-degree students attending classes at two-year schools, a more useful comparison would be that it included about a quarter of the entering class of full-time students (p. 5). It also encompassed approximately one-fourth of all students taking introductory physics at the college level during that academic year (p. 45).

  • Included in the physics total were 31% women and 15% who were members of minority groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science, including African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native- Americans, and those classifying themselves as "other." The level of underrepresentation in physics becomes evident when we compare these figures to the overall representation among two-year college students of 58% for women and 23% for minorities in the same year. Nevertheless, the underrepresentation of women and minorities at the two-year level is significantly lower than at four-year institutions (p. 13).

  • Most two-year college physics students were enrolled in the same type of introductory physics course that is taught in four-year schools and universities. Some 33% were enrolled in the algebra and trigonometry- based course, while 28% were taking the calculus-based or other advanced version. Only about 10% seemed to be taking courses that were specially designed for the academic backgrounds and career objectives of two-year college students (p. 10).

    In line with this latter finding, few faculty indicated that they had developed ties to or received regular input from potential employers of two-year college graduates. For example, only 8% reported that they received guidance from industry-based curriculum advisory group, and fewer than one-tenth taught any courses that had been structured to incorporate the needs of local employers (p. 17).

  • The major problems cited by full-time faculty included students' weak math backgrounds (53%), insufficient funds for equipment and supplies (47%), and inadequate space for labs/facilities outmoded (34%) (p. 34). Nevertheless, the survey registered a strong sense of job satisfaction among almost all segments of the two-year physics teaching community, with 69% saying that they would still choose two-year college teaching if they had it to do over again, and 77% saying they preferred teaching physics to other subjects (p. 32).

  • Along similar lines, we found extremely high levels of career and job stability. The vast majority of teachers were still at the school where they started teaching, and a high proportion indicated that they planned to remain with two-year college teaching until they retired. Thus, full- time faculty had taught for a median of 15 years and had been at their current college for 13 years, with 93% expecting to remain until retirement. Even part-timers had spent a large portion of their teaching career (with a median duration of 5 years) at their current school (median 4 years) (p. 34).

700 Students Make Holograms in High School Physics Course

Thomas D. Rossing

More and more high school teachers are finding light and sound to be subjects that appeal to high school physics students (the latest edition of Paul Hewitt's popular physics textbook "Conceptual Physics," for example, includes 7 chapters on sound and light). That is certainly true at New Trier High School, where over 700 students take high school physics. In fact, Christopher Chiaverina, a teacher at New Trier, has joined me in writing a new textbook "Light Science" (Springer-Verlag, 1999) which is aimed at students in both high school and college with an interest in visual arts.

In order to enhance their teaching of Light Science, Chris, Mary Beth Barrett, and other physics teachers at New Trier High School decided to arrange a laboratory experiment for all levels of physics at New Trier. To set the stage, they invited Tung Jeong, professor emeritus at nearby Lake Forest College, to do a lecture/demonstration on holography, which drew an enthusiastic response from their students. Then by borrowing some extra equipment from Jeong and from our lab at NIU, they were able to have each of their 700+ physics students make a reflection hologram, using an object of his/her own choice (watches and jewelry seemed to be the most popular, Chris reports). Imagine 700 teenagers showing their own holograms to parents, grandparents, friends, etc.; what public relations for physics education!

FEd members should be reminded that both Chris Chiaverina and Tung Jeong will be invited speakers at the FEd-sponsored session on "Physics and the Arts" at Atlanta. There probably won't be time to make your own holograms that afternoon, but Chiaverina and Jeong will probably bring along some that their students have made.

Tom Rossing, a physics professor at Northern Illinois University, generally edits the Fall newsletter. He is especially interested in physics and the arts, and has arranged the FEd-sponsored session on physics and the arts at Atlanta. In addition to "Light Science" he has written or edited 12 books on acoustics.

Writing Textbooks for the Pre-college Audience

Paul W. Zitzewitz

In 1984 the science educator in our education school told me that the company for which he wrote elementary science textbooks was looking for a new physics author and suggested that I apply. As a result, for the past fifteen years I have been co-author and principal author of the Merrill, now Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, high school physics textbook. I have also been a member of a team of eleven authors that wrote three middle-school integrated science books, and the only physicist on a team of seven that wrote a ninth-grade integrated science book. I have tried to make the physics correct, understandable, and inviting to students, and to write books that aid teachers in their task of helping students learn.

I would like to present an entirely personal account of this part of my professional life. Writing textbooks has been an educational experience. I've learned how easily one can make mistakes, and how hard they can be to correct. I've also learned quite a bit about the way the textbook publishing industry works and the way the K-12 system buys books. When a publisher produces a new book it actually produces a package of the student edition, teacher edition, about a dozen ancillary books, video tapes, CD-ROMS, and, today, a website. This, obviously, is a large financial undertaking, so, before beginning such a project, a publisher needs to be assured that there will be a market for the product.

The K-12 market has two components, adoption states and free states. In an adoption state like Texas, Florida, or California, roughly every five years, a state authority issues a call for new books in a given field. The call often includes very specific requirements for content (e.g. the textbook should include treatment of inertia, centripetal force, torque, the Compton effect, etc.), and pedagogy (e.g. it should adhere to the national standards or to the California themes). The call often requires bound textbooks to be delivered in a very short time frame, often within one year. After the books are delivered, a state-wide adoption team reviews the submitted books and selects several to be approved. Schools can then choose one of the approved textbooks. Often the state pays for approved texts, but requires schools who want to use other books to pay for them out of their own funds. Thus if a book is approved in one or more of the adoption states, a large market is guaranteed for several years. Adoption states also drive the development of new editions. A new edition should be ready for the year Texas adopts, not one year later.

In the free states, on the other hand, books are specified and sold district-by-district, and so an order may be as few as twenty or as many as several thousand books. Given this diverse market, books must respond to the desires of many state curriculum committees and textbook adoption committees and be attractive to a wide audience. They should appeal to teachers who emphasize concepts, those who believe students should do many problems, and those who are convinced that getting significant figures correct is of greatest importance, to teachers who have Ph.D.'s in physics, and those who had one course a dozen years ago. The books should attract the interest of students who want to be prepared for college physics, those who are in the class to be with a friend, and everyone in between.

Do these conflicting requirements result in books that always tend toward the common denominator? Perhaps, but I have been pleased by the freedom given me by my publisher to incorporate modern pedagogy. In the most recent edition of my physics book, half the lab exercises contained in the textbook are open-ended explorations. The first of two chapters on velocity and acceleration is conceptual and qualitative (with motion diagrams). Throughout the book, each solved problem includes a sketch, strategy, and check for reasonableness. The 6th through 9th grade texts were written in response to a call from the National Science Teachers Association for a thorough integration of the sciences (Scope, Sequence, and Coordination, or SSC). Their goal was to introduce each new idea with an exploration for students to make before providing an explanation for them to read. Corporate America may be more willing to change than the majority of the physics teaching community!

The production of a new edition requires a large team who must work together on a tight schedule. In addition to the author and editors, there are in-house designers and artists, and free-lance photographers, contract writers for features, problem solution checkers, content consultants, and reviewers. Not only the printing, but the production of the final four-color plates, films, or computer files may be subcontracted. In the K-12 area books are identified by the publisher first, then the title, last by the author. The book is very much the property of the publisher.

Often the book is printed as quickly as seven months after the project is started (requiring a revision of two chapters per week). The author may be writing one chapter, responding to the first edit of another and reviewing the second edit of a third chapter simultaneously. There are many other constraints. Each chapter must be an even number of pages, and the style of features, such as example problem solutions or science-and-society essays, must be the same in each chapter. Some states require enough laboratory activities in a book to take up 40% of class time. The space left for text is limited, but so is the interest in reading of many students.

Textbook writing can be a lonely activity, quite different from laboratory research. It is very hard for publishers to find and hire editors, to say nothing of artists, who know physics. Thus it is hard to get timely feedback on ideas. External reviewers usually don't see the text until it is almost ready to go to the printer. Extensive changes at that point in the process are very costly, and therefore unlikely to be made. Everyone involved in the process has to choose a few battles to fight, and withdraw graciously from the rest.

Writing is rewarding in many ways. Because of the size of the production team, royalties are substantially less than in the college market. Books are used for five or more years, but they eventually wear out. There is also great satisfaction in getting positive feedback from teachers, parents, and students. Many seem to be surprised that a real person writes the books! Although my research on positronium decay rates isn't in the book, one or two references to positronium are, and a problem involving the collision of a hockey puck with an octopus shows that I live in Detroit.

I believe that it is important for professional physicists and university physics educators to establish and maintain connections with traditional textbook publishers. We are best able to interpret the work of the physics research and physics education research communities to the large number of high school teachers and students who, unfortunately, have little contact with our profession except through their textbook.

Paul Zitzewitz is the outgoing chair of the Forum on Education. He is on the faculty of the Dept. of Natural Sciences at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Results from Physics Education Research

Donald F. Holcomb

(Text of talk presented at the March 1999 meeting of the American Physical Society)

Physics Education Research results give valuable information about how to help students learn physics effectively. I consider the question, "How can physicists assess the relevance and validity of research results from this expanding field?"

Physics Education Research has become a large enterprise, and its contributions to improving the effectiveness of student learning are demonstrable. But many physics faculty members who work hard at being effective teachers have overall responsibilities (research, leading the work of graduate students, heavy teaching load, university committees, etc.) which preclude their engagement in PER directly. Such a person will naturally ask, "What's in it for me? Are there results from PER that I should pay attention to and have some confidence in, in order to improve the effectiveness of my teaching?" My goal in this talk is to take some steps toward answering this question.

While I do not consider myself an expert practitioner, I have been an interested observer of the field of PER for some time, and have recently (Fall Term, 1997) led a group of ten Cornell physics graduate students in a study of the recent literature. Beyond the intuitive explorations into how to help students learn, which any serious university-level physics teacher naturally engages in, my direct engagement in PER has been limited to working with other colleagues on evaluation of the outcomes from the Introductory University Physics Project (IUPP).

The Job for Physics Education Research

  1. To determine and describe the "initial knowledge state" of students as they enter a course or come to a new segment of the subject matter.
  2. To form appropriate teaching materials or a delivery system in response to two elements which are often in tension:
    1. What is the initial knowledge state? [Determined by step A.]
    2. What are the goals of the course? What working knowledge of physics and technical skills (e.g., math, computer, and lab skills) do we want students to carry away from the course?
  3.  To test and evaluate these materials and/or delivery systems, both in terms of whether students master the subject matter, and in terms of the level of their engagement and enjoyment. D. To recommend adoption, modification or abandonment of the materials or delivery systems, as guided by results from Stage C.

Some Criteria for Judging Whether to Pay Attention to a Particular Study
As one attempts to assess the utility of results from a particular piece of work, a good initial question to ask is "Have these workers selected an important question to try to answer?" By "important" I mean a question for which an answer stands a good chance of having significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning. Then:

Look for sound methodology -- i.e., evidence that workers are savvy about how to use the tools -- an appropriate combination of interviewing of students and other tools such as well-designed multiple choice questionnaires, analysis of written responses via journals or open-ended questionnaires, sampling, and appropriate statistical tools.

Is a student sample used in the evaluation process of adequate size, suitably representative and well characterized?

When new materials or delivery systems are tested -- is an evaluation done with proper attention to possible biases stemming from the self-interest of the designers or promoters of the new components? (Either people other than designers or promoters should carry out the evaluation, or non-fudgeable evaluation patterns and instruments need to be used, or both.)

Do researchers exhibit awareness of the possible tilting of evaluation results as a consequence of the awareness of teachers and students that something different is going on. [In the Hawthorne Effect, students respond positively simply to the fact that someone is interested in helping them learn better. In the John Henry Effect, teachers or students in a control group respond to a sense of competition and exert unusual effort. In the Pygmalion effect, the positive attitude of teachers enthusiastic about a new approach infects students and drives them to extra effort.]

Look out for poorly-controlled comparisons. An example: Researchers decide that a particular systematic deficiency in student learning is of major importance. Some new pedagogical technique is introduced in an effort to repair this deficiency. Performance improves. But the real control is not in place -- namely, using a more standard pedagogical technique but spending an amount of time on the topic equivalent to that devoted to it while using the new pedagogical technique.

Examples of New Knowledge Gained From PER:

  • Listening to Students
    Out of such interviewing has come well-documented knowledge of deep and persistent difficulties with, among many other topics, the concept of acceleration as a physical quantity which is different from velocity, how the electrical circuits work and the phonton concept. 
  • Sensitivity to use of different representations, including testing their usefulness
    Interviews have shown that certain words or representations often just don't carry to a substantial fraction of students the meaning or message we intend them to. A couple of examples follow:
    (1) Diagrams often use vectors or other schematics drawn in coordinate space to represent physical quantities in some other space -- e.g., velocity, force, electric field strength. For the case of E-field vectors, Adrian and Fuller reported an interview with a student at Nebraska who asked, "To which point in x,y,z space does this E-field vector apply -- the point at the beginning of the E-field arrow or the point at the end?" (2) In a recent article, Ambrose, et al demonstrate that some students interpret a sketch of a sinusoidal wave form moving through space to imply that a photon travels along this sinusoidal path. Note that both of these misconceptions have been created by us! They were not brought into the classroom from some previous, ineffective instruction.
  • Ineffectiveness of some standard practices
    Interviews and free-form journals in the IUPP evaluation turned up evidence that some common practices used in classroom and lab instruction are inherently ineffective.
    1. Derivations of important relations in the lecture class format commonly miss their mark. The fundamental purpose of a derivation is most frequently to show how a chain of logic leads from one result or relationship to another. It is very difficult to get useful student feedback in the course of a classroom derivation -- are they really "getting it?" A quick bow to interaction with students in the form of the query, "Are there any questions?" is hopelessly inadequate. J. J. Thomson said it well many years ago, "A textbook must be exceptionally bad if it is not more intelligible than the majority of notes made by students. The proper function of a lecture is not to give the student all the information he needs but to arouse his enthusiasm so that he will gather knowledge himself..."
    2. Use of computer programs in real time in the classroom are of questionable benefit. A quote from a student at an IUPP test site carries a cautionary message. "We did go over a computer spreadsheet program [in the lecture.] [Prof. A] had set it up, but I zonked out for a lot of it (the lights were off, he was talking about fuzzy figures on a distant screen, and the night before I'd been studying for our test ... oops!")
    3. Again and again, at many IUPP test sites and with both new and traditional syllabi, students told us how much they valued synchronization of the subject matter of laboratory work with the classroom subject matter. Even in cases where students were explicitly told that the sequence of laboratory work was designed to be independent of the particular classroom topic being investigated, they said to us "But we'd learn better if it were synchronized."

Some Examples of "Good" PER Work and Why I Think So

"Investigation of student understanding of the concept of acceleration in one dimension," by D. E. Trowbridge and L. C. McDermott (This work, with plenty of student interviews, displays the deep problems students have with the concept of acceleration.)

"Concepts first -- a small group approach to physics learning," by Ronald Gautreau and Lisa Novemsky (This work appears to me to be one of the cleanest demonstrations of the effectiveness of a particular form of active learning. This cleanliness was to some extent serendipitous, arising from some particular local circumstances.) [Comment: I like the following simple definition of "active learning," given by M. C. Di Stefano of Truman State University at a recent conference. " 'Active learning' is any process that involves students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing."]

"Interactive engagement versus traditional methods ...", by R. R. Hake (Hake collected lots of data. Playing off many chunks of data against one another is often important in the unavoidably murky world of social science research within which falls much of Physics Education Research.)

"Implications of cognitive studies for teaching physics," by Edward F. Redish. (There is much wisdom in this piece of thoughtful reflection.)

Studies of the effectiveness of active-engagement, microcomputer-based laboratories -- There is a long chain of work in this area by, among others, R. F. Tinker, R. K. Thornton, Priscilla Laws, David Vernier, and David Sokoloff. A recent evaluation paper contains references to the earlier work.

Computer Assisted Instruction: What to do about this 600-lb. gorilla?
In spite of thirty years or so of massive investment of time and energy by physics teachers in developing simulations, substitutes for text, and interactive learning materials, it's my sense that we know remarkably little about whether student learning is significantly enhanced by the presence of the computer. (I do make an exception to this sense of unease for the case of thoughtful use of the computer in the introductory lab, as noted in the last item in my previous list of "good" pieces of PER work.)

What to do, in response to PER results?-- Do they suggest major changes in syllabus, curriculum, pedagogical modes?
Most importantly, it seems to me that we should think freshly. This talk is too brief to give many examples, but here is one for starters. The conceptual and technical difficulties which students find in really mastering Newton's mechanics at the introductory level are amply documented. I am puzzled at our apparent unwillingness to seriously consider pathways through physics as alternatives to the Standard Model -- trying to build confidence, giving experience with the use of models, developing mathematics confidence through the use of early subject matter less littered with the minefield of preconceptions and complicated ancillary ideas which is characteristic of our typical approach to Newtonian mechanics. Wave physics and thermal physics come to mind as natural candidates. (One of the IUPP courses, "Physics in Context," used the thermal physics entree to good advantage.)

Finally, I urge us non-practitioners in the PER field to beware of holding the thought which is the oldest known barrier to productive change in physics instruction, namely, "I learned physics in a certain way and came to satisfactory mastery, so I'll teach it the way I learned it. Why can't today's students learn it the way I did?"

Holt Elected to Congress

Congratulations are extended to Rush Holt, a past chair of this forum, upon his election to the House of Representatives. Rush's election, which has received national attention, adds much-needed representation for science in congress. Thanks go also to those who supported Rush during his campaign. Rush can be contacted through his website. We wish him success in the chaotic world that is our nation's capital.

Why Don't We Do This More Often?

David G. Haase

Several years ago the national laboratories instituted K-12 science/mathematics/technology outreach programs. Their purpose was to translate the science of the labs to the teachers and students in a way that would enhance K-12 education and encourage the next generation of students to study science. Examples of these Centers are the Fermilab Education Center, and the CEBAF BEAMS program. The programs cover all the science at the lab and include staff members whose prime functions are to link the science expertise of the lab to the needs of K-12 science education.

My question is: "Why don't university science departments or colleges do the same thing? Why don't the academic science departments put more coordinated interdisciplinary effort into K-12 outreach?" We have the same motivations as the laboratories to improve K-12 and to let the public know about our science. The universities surely have a bigger stake in K-12 because we will teach those students some day in our service courses. We will hope to recruit some of them into our disciplinary majors. Maybe we could also lure some into careers in science teaching. K-12 outreach introduces us to our future students and helps us link our curricula to their high school science courses. By making a sustained contribution to K-12 science we earn the right to be heard in the debates on education decisions of our region or state.

One shining example of a university-wide science outreach project is the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley, perhaps the largest science and mathematics resource center in the US. On a far smaller scale, eight years ago our College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at NC State University established The Science House, a center which has the mission to work with K-12 teachers to emphasize the use of hands-on learning activities in science and mathematics. Building from existing science department outreach programs we annually reach 600 teachers and 20,000 students in about half of the counties in our large state. Our eight teaching staff members and several associated university faculty provide teacher training, school science demonstration programs, summer camps and Saturday academies, and extensive laboratory equipment distribution programs, especially to the many rural schools in North Carolina. We cover physics; chemistry; math; and marine, earth and atmospheric sciences; and collaborate with the biological sciences and science education faculty. We are a full service K-12 science outreach center that is in daily contact with schools, students and teachers.

It is true that many science departments are involved with K-12 science, but most outreach projects from university departments are based in one science and serve a limited number of students and teachers. Sometimes a single faculty member has made outreach a priority and is the "designated outreach person" for the science department. But K-12 science is not split into departments. The high school chemistry teacher may teach physics or math as well. The middle school teacher teaches everything. Our compartmentalized university structure is not a good fit to K-12 science and math. The science departments have to be involved and work together - even to the point of collaboration with the math and education departments!

Although there are notable exceptions, an active research faculty member usually has neither the time nor the expertise to make a lasting impact on K-12 education or to reach students and schools outside his or her immediate geographical area. The scientist has little time to work out the politics of school systems or curricular issues. A scientist who tries to work on K-12 education without assistance risks wasting time and producing negative results. It is, however, important that such faculty be able to contribute in some way in K-12 education.

The advantage of an interdisciplinary science outreach program is that it makes the most efficient and effective use of the resources of the science faculty to support K-12 education. By pooling our programs we can afford to operate year-round projects, not just summer teacher institutes. We can hire and train teaching specialists whose job it is to facilitate the connections among the schools and the university faculty. We can translate the science of the university faculty into lessons that fit the K-12 curricula. We can make connections to the state and local educational systems that are far stronger and longer lasting than the connections of a single faculty member. These connections build the partnerships needed to obtain competitive external funding for K-12 programs. To be effective, K-12 outreach should be as knowledgeable, scholarly and as well-documented as scientific research. An interdisciplinary outreach center can fill these functions.

If we are to preserve physics in K-12 we physicists must collaborate with the other sciences. Only 10 - 15% of students now take high school physics. That number will never improve if we do not support the chemistry, biology, earth science and mathematics courses and the teachers that provide the future physics students.

We have found, as have others, that interdisciplinary themes lure students rather than ideas from one discipline. Like everyone else we are very concerned about interesting students from groups under-represented in science (females, minorities) in studying science and mathematics. One of our high school student programs - built on themes such as Sports Science, Chaos and Fractals, Imaging in Science, and Global Change - has attracted equal numbers of females and males. Our Imhotep Academy for middle school students targets math and writing skills as much as physics and chemistry. In interdisciplinary programs we can show how the physics plays an important part of any science.

The major obstacle to effective K-12 outreach is lack of time and money, but the motivations are many. As part of a land grant university we are motivated to support education just as much as our soil science department is motivated to support farming. The recruiting of students is important and supporting K-12 education is always good public relations. The Science House has benefited from the continuing support from our Dean and from many partnerships to obtain external funding.

Interdepartmental/intercollege rivalry can be an obstacle. There are many cases of lack of respect or cooperation among the science and education departments in universities. They are two cultures having different but inter-twined goals. At NC State we have found that a strong collaboration with the education faculty is absolutely necessary if we are to truly improve and sustain K-12 science education.

Our own physics academic culture limits serious, effective K-12 collaboration. Outreach may not produce tenurable research or big research overhead payments, but it is more easily appreciated by the public than a Physical Review Letter. However, K-12 science outreach is a field worthy of our time, resources and our intellectual efforts, without us having to discard our credentials as scientists.

So I return to my original question. "Why don't the academic science departments put more coordinated and sustained effort into K-12 outreach?" An interdisciplinary science outreach program from a university is an efficient and effective vehicle for the university to contribute to K-12 education. Through its collaborations inside and outside of the university it can produce the sustained programs needed to produce real change in K-12. Through collaboration we physicists can present our science to more students and make a stronger contribution to education than we would by merely concentrating on the minority of the students who end up taking high school physics.

David G. Haase is Professor of Physics and Director of The Science House at North Carolina State University. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Forum on Education.

Physical Review Focus

Physical Review Focus is the APS web site (URL below) that explains one or two papers per week from Physical Review Letters at a level accessible to undergrads. We write one or two articles per week in a brief, easy-to read style and usually include color pictures and occasionally videos. We have heard positive comments from several college teachers who have used it or plan to use it as part of their courses, so we thought FEd members might be interested.

There is also an e-mail list associated with Focus. Subscribers receive a weekly message containing the first paragraph from each of the stories of the previous week.

You are invited to visit the site and contact me with any comments on how it could be improved to better serve educators. (A search engine will be added in the future.)

David Ehrenstein
Editor, Physical Review Focus
American Physical Society
(301) 209-3201

Browsing the Journals

Thomas D. Rossing

"Long live the lecture" is the title of a lecture given by Pedro Goldman at the annual congress of the Canadian Association of Physicists and reprinted in the December issue of Physics World. Although many teachers insist that lectures are an antiquated method of teaching, he expresses the contrarian view that the traditional, straight-forward lecture remains both valuable and important. Some of his colleagues must agree, since they awarded him the association's medal for excellence in teaching.

"The biggest misconception about the lecture is that its main role is to deliver information to students." Students can obtain information from books. Two of the most important justifications for lectures are that they help to motivate and to inspire students. "Our primary role as teachers, after all, to communicate our enthusiasm for physics to our students." His guidelines for a successful lecture include respect for the students, flexibility, and a sense of humor.

A thought-provoking paper by Gerald Holton entitled "1948: The New Imperative for Science Literacy," presented at the 1998 annual meeting of AAAS, is reprinted in the December/January issue of Journal of College Science Teaching. In keeping with the theme of the session at which it was presented "Advocating Science Literacy: A History of the Future," Holton traces the imperative for scientific literacy from Plato to the present. In medieval universities, he reminds us, the curriculum had seven components, three of which were in mathematics and the sciences (arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy), and in the best private nineteenth-century colleges, science could take up to a third or more of the total curriculum. In that golden age, science was still thought to be part of culture, and the imperative for teaching it at all levels was part of the effort to shape the person into a cultivated citizen, regardless of the future career path.

That changed in the twentieth century, however, as scientists turned their attention to the education of future scientists and engineers. The GI Bill of Rights brought more than two million veterans of World War II into schools of higher education, and about a third did their studies in scientific fields. The average American had a positive attitude toward science and was eager to read science news. Educational leaders, such as James Conant, president of Harvard, championed general education, including natural science, for all students. Scientific literacy, in Conant's view, would not consist merely of knowing some facts or laws, but understand what he called the "tactics and strategy of science," an understanding of science that could best be acquired by studying examples of science in the making.

"Physics at the breakfast tableor waking up to physics" is the title of the 1998 Klopsteg Memorial Lecture by Sidney R. Nagel, printed in the January issue of American Journal of Physics. The Klopsteg lecture, honoring one of the pioneer physics teachers in the United States, is given at summer AAPT meetings. Nagel discusses such familiar things as coffee stains, flow of granular materials (such as sugar and salt), and the behavior of liquid droplets.

The number of PhDs in science and engineering granted by U.S. institutions fell from 27,230 in 1996 to 26,847 in 1997, according to the NSF's annual Survey of Earned Doctorates ( Both the number and percentage of women are going up, however; they received almost 33% of the total in 1997 compared to 27% in 1996. The female share of engineering PhDs has plateaued at around 12%, while the number in science increases. The number of non-U.S. citizens receiving PhDs, which peaked at 10,542 in 1994, fell to 9202 in 1997.

An editorial entitled "Industry/Education Partnerships" in the October issue of THE (Technological Horizons in Education) Journal mentions several examples of successful partnerships, including Western Governors University (launched by grants from 18 states plus AT&T, Microsoft, Novell, IBM, Cisco, and others) and US West/National Education Association Teacher Network. Several other partnerships were aimed at supplying computing equipment to school districts in Ohio and New York.

A series of three editorials on Newton's laws by Cliff Swartz appear in the October, November and December issues of The Physics Teacher. The October editorial asserts that the role of Newton's first law is to establish a reference frame in which the second and third laws are consistent. The November editorial worries about Newton's second law and proposes methods of defining mass and setting up a force scale. The December editorial considers the third law, and reminds us that it is best characterized as being equivalent to the conservation of momentum, rather than to say that action equals reaction.

"Science under siege" is the title of an interesting Guest Comment by Hans Christian van Beyer in the November issue of American Journal of Physics. At the close of the most scientific of centuries, scientists have reason to feel a little like the hapless citizens of medieval Istanbul. Between the years 600 and 1100, it was successively besieged by the Persians, the Bulgars, and the Russians. However, today's science community is beset by three enemies at once: the combined forces of antiscience, pseudoscience and indifference to science. Of the three, he feels that indifference to science, which characterizes the attitude of nearly 100% of the population, is the most ominous. Although science affects the life of every human being, it does so indirectly. Science cannot command the kind of passion aroused by a soccer team, a dictator, or a rock group, because it is too abstract and cerebral to compete for attention in the modern world. In order to reach the public, he asserts, we must engage its feelings and passions by exposing our own. Contrary to everything we have been taught about scientific discourse, we must learn to express our feelings if we are to communicate more effectively with the public.

To the Editor

In the Fall 1998 Forum on Education Newsletter, Kenneth Heller views teaching as transforming students from their initial states to desirable final states, with some of the latter "forbidden" e.g. by energy conservation. However, "forbidden" perpetual-motion machines (PMMs) can be pedagogically helpful for understanding the "allowed" laws of physics. So can hypothetical physically-valid schemes which resemble PMMs. Their study, which may also involve many other useful concepts and techniques, could become interesting introductory-course team projects integrating science and engineering, as recently called for by many engineering deans and the National Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET); see, e.g. the Forum on Education 1998 Summer and Spring issues.

In one example, which was actually denounced as a PMM by a Mechanical- Engineering Professor with a Ph.D. in Physics, packets of lunar material would first be "slung" electromagnetically from the moon towards earth. Their original launch kinetic energy would then be amplified gravitationally by a factor of about twenty on reaching the "edge" of the earth's atmosphere. Here their homed-in controlled horizontal multiple "impacts" with initially-slow spacecraft and orbiting generators could convert part of their kinetic energy into usable craft propulsion and electrical energy. Damaging accelerations can be prevented e.g. by pre-expanding the packets to low density, and attaching delicate payloads to the craft by long rotating tethers perpendicular to the impulse at impact. A fraction of the electrical energy could then be sent back to the moon by microwave beam, there to launch additional material and repeat the cycle, seemingly perpetually.

Eventually, of course, the moon would shrink, preserving thereby the laws of physics. But this would take hundreds of millions of years at present global energy-consumption rates.

Louis A. P. Balazs
Department of Physics
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1396

Why I Teach My Students Things That Are Incorrect

S.L. Haan

We physicists can be sticklers for correctness. It grates on us when we see scientific errors in books, movies, and so forth. It especially grates on us when we see errors in educational materials. I remember my first encounters as an assistant professor with elementary school science materials. I was appalled at the errors, and I wrote letters to publishers to try to get the errors corrected. I also made a very conscious effort in my first years of teaching to avoid teaching anything that I knew to be wrong. If a concept was too complex to be completely understood by beginning students, but the material was unavoidable, I'd teach my students just part of the concept.

Now I regularly teach things that I know are incorrect. Without bashfulness. I'm even admitting publicly that I do it.

What are some examples of things I teach that are incorrect? Among other things, I teach that planets travel in elliptical orbits around the sun. I teach that mass is conserved. I teach that force equals mass times acceleration. I teach that warm air holds more moisture than cold air. I even teach that electrons orbit atomic nuclei somewhat like miniature planets orbiting a sun.

Planetary orbits around the sun are not perfectly elliptical. The interactions between the planets (and occasional asteroids or meteors) perturb them; variations in the orbit of Mercury provided important tests of general relativity; and so forth. Each of the things listed is incorrect--but in some ways is "almost correct" and even useful. In fact, I submit that each person should learn that these things are true before he or she can appreciate that they are not true. The equivalence of mass and energy, for example, becomes significant only if one already understands the classical idea that mass and energy are conserved separately.

Am I dishonest to my students when I teach them ideas that I know are incorrect? If I am teaching an introductory course in classical mechanics, do I have a responsibility to go beyond teaching "mass is conserved" or "F=ma" to include a disclaimer that it really isn't so? I've tried including disclaimers in the past, but feedback from student journals and exams has led me to conclude that more often than not my disclaimers just confuse the students.

Yet I do admit that I find it somewhat unsettling to hammer on a concept that I know is incorrect, or at best is only a partial truth. Happily, I have found a way that I can teach incorrect ideas with integrity. What I do is to teach my students models, and I tell my students what I'm doing. I don't teach that electrons orbit nuclei like little miniature planets orbiting the sun as if it were the final word on atomic structure--instead I teach a model of the atom, and I tell my students that I'm teaching them about a model. My goal is that when I've finished, they will understand the model and also recognize that what they have learned is a model and not the "final word."

Of course, for this approach to be effective students need to understand what models are. Consequently, I spend some class time specifically discussing models. We discuss that some models can be physical constructions--e.g., a globe as a model of the earth--while other models are sets of analogies or ideas that are intended to help us understand intrinsically complex systems. For example, the "particle model" of matter postulates that all matter is composed of indestructible particles called atoms, whose masses are conserved, and which can be rearranged in a host of ways to form different molecules.

So I'm actually quite selective about what I teach that's "incorrect." I'm still very careful to try to get the facts --i.e., the data itself--correct. It's only in the explanatory principles that I allow for "mistruths" to arise. I don't feel obligated to try to tell students everything I know about a topic.

In some ways, my teaching hasn't changed much. But one very important change is that in the past I rarely made a conscious effort to tell my students when I was teaching a model or theory, so I don't think they were as prepared for learning refinements or revisions as my present students. When students know that what they have learned is a model, they will be naturally inquisitive about the limitations and shortcomings of the model.

Since students apparently must construct a scaffold of understanding in order to learn physics, I have come to the conclusion that it is very dangerous to try to avoid teaching something that is wrong by distilling out only certain concepts from a complex system. For example, if we want to teach about atomic structure and we only teach that electrons are bound to atomic nuclei and that various atomic states can be described in terms of energy, then as far as I know we haven't said anything that is wrong. (Note that I avoided saying that electrons could only have certain prescribed energies, since I know that would be incorrect--states which are coherent superpositions of energy levels are quite possible.) But what have the students learned? Perhaps empty verbalism. Or perhaps they have constructed their own model of an atom and have somehow grafted our teaching onto it. I think they'd be a lot better off learning the Bohr model of the atom in its entirety (including its popular extension into multi-electron atoms that makes my rigorous side cringe). Then, when students are ready, we can refine the model or teach them a whole new model.

In many ways using models in our teaching is consistent with the historical development of science. Our scientific theories are themselves in many ways just models that have grown in complexity and depth with time, or perhaps have been replaced by superior models. Our theories may themselves need additional refinement in the future. A hundred years ago someone could teach F= ma and believe it to be fully correct. I believe we should still teach it today without obfuscating it in a cloud of relativity; we just need to let our students know that what we're teaching--and all our scientific theories--should not be considered the "final word" on a subject.

By the way, I still try my hardest to stamp out factual errors. There's no excuse for teaching facts that aren't facts--such as that the Coriolis effect causes water in sinks to spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere. Or making movies that have noises on the moon or in space. Or ...

Stanley L. Haan is Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI