Archived Newsletters

Setting the Agenda

Ken Heller

As new Chair of the Forum on Education, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to the past Chair, Andrea Palounek, for her leadership during the past year. I would also like to thank the members of the Executive Committee for their stalwart service during the past year. Special thanks to the members completing their service on the Committee, David G. Haase, Barbara G. Levi, and Paul Zitzewitz. Newly elected members of the Executive Committee this year are Vice-Chair, Ken Krane, APS/AAPT Member-at-Large, Dean Zollman, and APS Member-at-Large, Ramon Lopez. Welcome. Sam Bowen is stepping down as one of our newsletter editors and will be replaced by Ernest Malamud. You will find all of the members of the FEd Executive Committee and their e-mail addresses on our web site. Just start at and follow the instructions. Please feel free to contact me, or any member of the Committee, about how you can help the Forum or APS to make a positive contribution to education.

The Forum on Education is the vehicle for the membership of the APS to express its concerns about education in the United States. It can also be a venue to exchange information to address those concerns. Most of us are motivated in our concern by enlightened self-interest. As citizens, the health of the country depends on a well-educated population. As physicists we need citizens who have the education to appreciate the importance of our work, political and corporate leaders who will support it with funding, and bright young people who will enter our field with their vigor and insights. Currently education has risen to the top of the public agenda and thus that of both major political parties. This popularity generates both challenges and opportunities for educational improvement. Most of these education efforts are local, centered in states, cities, or single institutions. Battles are being waged over graduation standards for students in the schools, tests to assure that these standards are met, designs of curriculum that meet these standards, and teacher licensing standards. Much quieter, but no less intense, discussion accompanies the re-examination of Physics curriculum and instruction modes at universities and colleges. In many areas, companies are being asked to help make education more meaningful.

Despite our concern, physicists are busy people. For many of us, education is not our primary responsibility. Nevertheless, physicists can and do make important contributions to education. Others would like to join the effort but the initial investment in time seems high. Unlike our research fields, there is no easily accessible set of journals or "how to" books that allow us to build on the efforts of others rather than starting from ground zero. The Forum can help with that information exchange. We already sponsor sessions at APS meetings that highlight the efforts of physicists in formal settings such as schools, teacher education, and university courses as well as sessions that have emphasized informal education in museums, science fairs, demonstration shows, and journalism. Because of the highly parallel nature of APS meetings, such sessions often conflict with physics sessions of intense interest for an individual. It is also true that not all of us can attend the APS meeting. This newsletter is another way for us to communicate. I invite you to contribute short articles either expressing where you believe members should focus their efforts or examples of how to address some of these concerns.

During the coming year I hope that the Forum will become an even greater instrument for communication among members. Please send me your suggestions of how this could be accomplished. The technology of the Internet should help. We already have most of our newsletters available on our web site and conduct our elections electronically. This year we plan to try an all-electronic newsletter. Another thought is to establish a more extensive web site that will allow members to informally "publish" what they did and how it turned out when they interacted with schools, teachers, state regulations, university classes, the public, or policy makers. Such an electronic forum requires resources so it will only happen if the membership thinks it would be a valuable tool for their own actions. The APS through the FEd is a national organization that could, through its members, make a significant contribution to local educational efforts.

From the Editor

This year's spring issue is later than usual. We are undergoing a change in editors, and have decided to combine the spring and summer issues. We are sorry to lose Sam Bowen, whose many responsibilities have forced him to step down from his summer editorship. We welcome Ernie Malamud, who will be taking over the spring newsletter in 2001. I will now be responsible for the summer issue. This will allow me to write my editorials at the beach. I wish.

This issue is devoted in large part to undergraduate education. This was the topic of the Conference of Physics Department Chairs at the American Center for Physics this spring, and 3 of our articles are based on presentations made there. A major point made at this meeting was that most (70%) of our undergraduate majors do not go on to get a graduate degree in Physics. We thus are misdirecting our efforts if our undergraduate major assumes we are just preparing students for Physics graduate school.

Declining physics major enrollments should be a concern to all of us. It is not just a matter of keeping the administration off our backs. We believe, justifiably, that a degree in physics is a valuable possession, and that society needs a certain number of such persons (don't ask me for the number). The thinking skills, the problem-solving skills, and the understanding one gains of the physical world are valuable tools for persons entering the work force of the 2000's.

Physics: what physicists do--has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. Has our undergraduate curriculum changed in response? What our physics BS graduates do has also changed. Have our undergraduate courses changed in response? Our understanding of how students learn has improved significantly. Has the way we teach changed in response? As we have been told many times, we cannot treat our students as future clones of ourselves. To do so does not serve them well, and it does not serve us well. And it guarantees that we will continue to worry about declining enrollments in physics.


Pseudoscience Funding in Academia, To the Editor:
I am writing in response to Alan Scott’s article on pseudoscience funding in academia that appeared in the Fall 1999 newsletter. I think Professor Scott’s point is a valid one, but I think we must remain conscious of the fact that the line between science and pseudoscience is often blurred. Before I begin, I must tacitly state that I do not believe astrology is science. With that said, let me state that one of the most fundamental traits shared by many of the brightest scientists in history is an open mind. The realm of modern physics is loaded with concepts that defy logic and stretch the imagination. Many of these concepts have even been denounced as pseudoscientific or pure hogwash at some point in time. Einstein and Planck never fully accepted quantum physics and of course, Einstein was famous for referring to Heisenberg’s work as "playing dice" with the universe. Ironically, string theory, as well as some recent astronomical observations, could prove Einstein was more ahead of his time than previously realized.

Professor Scott includes acupuncture, albeit with a caveat, in the realm of pseudoscience despite the fact that the National Institutes of Health approved acupuncture as a legitimate medical treatment within the last five years. Just within the last few months the Radiological Society of North America acknowledged the benefits of acupuncture, though admitted not fully understanding the reasons behind its effectiveness. In light of these recent events, funding for acupuncture research at leading medical schools would seem to be an important object. However, it should be noted that to reach this point someone had to have funded the initial research to bring it into the eye of such institutions as the NIH and RSNA. This means someone had to have critically analyzed the merits of acupuncture instead of succumbing to popular belief that it was quack medicine.

Dealing with younger students (middle to high school) on a semi-regular basis, I must say that the problem, in my mind, is a glaring lack of critical thinking skills. Rather than teaching students a list of facts - e.g. astrology is pseudoscience, astronomy is science - we must teach them to use their critical thinking skills to deduce the facts and falsities inherent in each discipline. For example, Professor Scott includes a quote from the astrology seminar at UW-Stout: "Everything has a vibration and resonance and this influences or ‘imprints’ us at birth." There is a portion of truth in this statement. If string theory is correct, all subatomic particles such as quarks are merely fluctuations on some sort of cosmic string. Now, whether this has any effect on our ‘being’ other than causing us to simply exist, is certainly suspect.

But the point is, that instead of labeling disciplines (and, I claim, falsely in the case of acupuncture) as science or pseudoscience, we should concentrate on teaching students critical thinking skills which they may apply to any number of different situations. The fact is that, through the culture of the time, many students are limited in their exposure to certain things through parental guidance or other interference and are not given the opportunity to determine the validity of certain points and topics on their own. As such, we are not creating a generation capable of making important decisions but a generation ladened with often contradictory facts. Daniel Boorstein says the great obstacle to progress is the "illusion of knowledge." I say, it is the lack of critical thought. Who do we have to blame for either of these? From a curriculum standpoint, it is any system that emphasizes labeling and categorizing everything in the name of teaching facts rather than teaching the ability to determine fact from fiction. In fact, in the face of the vast amount of knowledge gained to this point in history, it is simply impractical to teach fact from fiction. There is simply too much of both.

Professor Scott is indeed right in lamenting the inability of students to determine science from pseudoscience. But he falls into the same trap by not delving into the deeper problem - that the line between science and pseudoscience is often blurred and the primary way of separating fact from fiction is through critical analysis and not merely labeling. In that sense academic funding of such things as astrology seminars might be a good thing in that it gives students an opportunity to test their critical thinking skills. Instead of asking students to state what they think science is (a debatable issue even among scientists), it might have been more helpful to ask students to attend such a seminar and critically analyze the stated ‘facts’ using the scientific method in an effort to determine their ability to effectively reason. In this way, instead of asking students to reach a conclusion on a philosophical, and still debated, issue, students would be allowed to demonstrate their inherent cognitive reasoning abilities and as such would demonstrate their level of understanding of the scientific method, which, for any scientist, is far more important than the ability to philosophize.

Ian T. Durham
Durham Research, Inc.
Send an Email | Website | Phone: (410) 562-0488

To the Editor:
I enjoyed the note by Alan Scott about Science/Pseudoscience (Fall 1999). The quote from Daniel Boorstein bears frequent repetition: "The great obstacle to progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge." What is pseudoscience? The prefix 'pseudo' derives from the Greek yeu dhs, false. The word 'science' derives from the Latin scire, to know. What is 'false knowledge'? Why do we use Greek+Latin mixtures? Because we didn't know it was a mixture?

In our university we have a Faculty of Arts and a Faculty of Science. The word 'art' derives from the Latin ars, skill in working something, physically or mentally.

Language is an Art. Departments of Languages are in Faculties of Arts. Mathematics is a Language is an Art. Mathematicians could have meaningful discussions about whether they are more suited mentally to the Faculty of Arts, but they are better funded in the Faculty of Science. Physicists, Chemists and others in Science make much use of the Language of Mathematics. But many 'Pure Mathematicians' consider themselves to be artists.

On occasion I admonish my Theoretical Physicist colleagues with "Don't confuse Mathematics with Physics!" An example? The BIG BANG Model is a composition in Mathematics that follows an assumed Act of Creation. There is little physics in it. The 3K background radiation, the H/He ratio, the clustering and stringing of galaxies, and the high angular momentum in the tips of spiral galaxies are obtainable from more esthetically pleasing models that are equally non-physics, but which contain physics. Another example? Trying to wrestle a Classical Mechanical Visualization of the behavior of Mattergy out of the Schroedinger Equation, as in the Bell Inequalities and the beautiful-language ramblings of David Mermin, is like trying to explain the structure of an electron by trying to translate a Haiku into English. Waves are waves. The square root of -1, i, has the unit 1/radian, and -i has the unit radian. You need those to visualize the Schroedinger Equation. A better question to address would be "How CAN a boson convert into two fermions?" or "How can one VISUALIZE h-bar?" When the latter question is answered, Bell's Inequalities will drop into the trivia buckets of those who haven't already dropped them there.

Does teaching BIG BANG Mathematics as Physics propagate pseudoscience? It is my observation that about half the interesting questions about what and where we are can be approached by tools of science that we hope to get. The other half of the questions need something else. Too many Physics and Chemistry Professors have the illusion that the questions they ask are enough to approach an understanding of Nature. They are handicapped by the illusion of knowledge.

I think it's a good idea to use a bit of Faculty of Arts money, tuition funds included, to sponsor discussions of Creation, Big Bang and Steady State Universe, Astrology, ESP, Religion, The Effects Of A Partially-Closed Minded Prof On Students.

I've taught about 5000 students, and listened to students in my office for many thousands of hours. I've also published over 400 articles in chemical physics. In addition to many theses in Chemistry and Physics, I've been the external examiner of a thesis in Music, and several in Engineering.

Gordon Freeman
Department of Chemistry
University of Alberta

Nontechnical Chapter in Ph.D. Thesis, To the Editor:
I was appalled, but (alas) not at all shocked, by the negative reaction of Robert F. Heeter's thesis committee to his idea for a popular style for Chapter 1 of his Ph.D. dissertation. [Letter to the Editor, Forum on Education, Fall 1999, page 4: "Nontechnical Chapter in PhD Thesis?"] It is predictable, and yet very unfortunate, that attempts by academics of any rank to connect directly with the public that supports our science will be met with resistance (and, perhaps, with envy?) by much of the remainder of the academic community. The origin of the resistance, I think, is the fear that such academic scientists' view of themselves as awesome, special, and powerful priests will be compromised if science is conveyed without jargon. Many academics are, indeed, legends in their own minds.

I view Bob Heeter's questions at the end of his letter as being strictly rhetorical. Scientists' writing and presentation skills should be of a sort such that they can be used to address virtually any audience. We should be training our graduate students to assist in public outreach and education, and in the training of teachers, and in the enhancement of public science literacy. In the April 1995 issue of Physics Today, I published a letter ["Give Grad Students a Good Talking, Too"] describing how most of these tasks could be addressed with a single policy change among physics graduate departments.

Bob Heeter's thesis committee squandered a wonderful opportunity for the scientific community to serve the public that supports us. I can only be glad that, based on the tone of his letter, Bob Heeter has retained an enthusiastic impulse toward public outreach and has not had his public-oriented spirit crushed. Fight on!

Jeffrey Marque, Ph.D.
Senior Staff Physicist
Beckman Coulter, Inc.
Palo Alto, California
Phone: 650-859-1785 | Send an Email

To the Editor:
I read with much interest the letter by Robert F. Heeter regarding the desirability of a nontechnical chapter in Ph.D. theses. This is a very interesting and creative idea and I believe deserves serious consideration by all of us educating new Ph.D.'s. It is probably arguable where exactly in a thesis such a chapter belongs, however, I think the presentation of ideas to a general audience is important and should be encouraged. Perhaps sending this letter to Physics Today would give it a somewhat broader forum. In any case, I will ask my graduate students to produce such a document from now on.

Thank you.

Ivan Schuller
Physics Department-0319
University of California-San Diego
La Jolla, Ca. 92093-0319
Phone: 619-534-2540 | Send an Email

Should we give students formula sheets, To the editor:
In a recent editorial [Are Definitions and Formulas Important?, Fall 1999, p.7], Thomas Rossing expressed a qualified vote in favor of offering formula sheets to physics students as an aid during examinations. While I appreciate Rossing’s circumspect views on this subject, I’d like to offer my own rationale against allowing formula sheets to physics students. I object to this practice for both philosophical and practical reasons.

First, the philosophy. All teachers want their students to learn and eventually know their subject, but no one these days wants to require rote memorization, which is apparently acknowledged to be some kind of mindless anachronistic torture. Physicists, compared to our colleagues in other disciplines, appear to be strangely, even pathologically, concerned to avoid any appearance of advocating rote memorization. But surely asking students to know definitions and major theorems is only asking that they have minimally learned our subject. A similar standard of knowledge is not considered to be memorization by our colleagues in math or chemistry. Rossing draws a distinction between knowing definitions versus formulas, but on reflection, this distinction reveals itself to be a false dichotomy—definitions, important theorems, and minor results are all conveniently expressed as symbolic formulas. The relevant distinction to draw is between fundamental principles or theorems (like the conservation of momentum) and minor derived results (like the formulas giving the final velocities in a one-dimensional two-particle elastic collision). I require students to know the definitions, important theorems, and know (or be able to obtain on their own) simple derived results like the expression for gravitational potential energy, but I do not require that they know or be able to come up with more complicated specialty results, like the aforementioned elastic collision formulas. This simple principle obviates any need for a formula sheet. And it sends the message that students are expected to know the main substance of the course, and not to hold it off at arm’s length with crib sheets.

Nowadays, when low enrollment makes attracting students to the physics major seem more important than ever, it is easy to see formula sheets as a way to reduce examination anxiety, provide a more friendly physics experience, and potentially net more majors. I suggest that this strategy is all wrong, not just because of the reasoning above, but because it might be actually counter-effective. Most of our tests are problem-based, and to have a chance of solving problems correctly, students need to have practiced during homework and pre-exam study; having made a good-faith effort of this sort, students will naturally come to know the definitions and theorems they need without special attempts at memorization. If a student does not know a needed "formula", it is quite unlikely that he or she is familiar enough with that type of problem to have much chance of solving it anyway. But more insidiously, the existence of the formula sheet gives students an excuse not to study; after all, a student may reason, everything I need to know will be provided. I think it is highly plausible that this sort of wishful self- delusion reduces exam scores, although I am unaware of any systematic study proving it. In any event, when students know in advance that they will have no formula sheets, there is no handy excuse for not being prepared. So a tough but fair "no formula sheet" policy is not only a more intellectually honest statement, I believe it is a policy that actually boosts student achievement.

Thomas Moses
Department of Physics, Knox College
Galesburg, IL 61401
Phone: 309-341-7341 | Send an Email

Correction: Several paragraphs were inadvertently omitted from the article "Science Curriculum Goals at Odds with Academia Supported Pseudoscience," by Alan J. Scott, in the Fall issue of the FEd Newsletter (p. 5-6). We apologize for this error. The complete text of Professor Scott's article can be found at his website.

The National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics: Some FAQs.

Robert C. Hilborn

What is the purpose of the Task Force?

  1. To provide an overview of undergraduate physics revitalization efforts and to coordinate the efforts of physics professional organizations, individual physicists and physics departments, and funding agencies.
  2. To identify areas in which revitalization efforts are needed and to catalyze projects addressing those needs. Some of the projects will be national in scope; some local, some regional. Some will be centered in universities; some in professional societies. Some will require extensive external funding; some will leverage local resources. All these efforts will be strengthened if they can be coordinated and if those working on one activity can learn from the others.
  3. To raise the visibility of undergraduate physics revitalization by having its members speak and write about the revitalization effort and maintain communications with the entire physics community.
  4. To develop contacts with undergraduate revitalization efforts in the other scientific disciplines and to promote physics as a model for undergraduate revitalization efforts.

Who is sponsoring the Task Force? The Task Force was established in the fall of 1999 by the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Physical Society, and the American Institute of Physics. The Task Force members are appointed for two-year terms by the three physics organizations. The ExxonMobil Foundation has provided a planning grant to assist the Task Force in its first year of activity.

Who is on the Task Force?

  • J. D. Garcia, Professor of Physics, University of Arizona
  • Robert C. Hilborn, Chair, Amanda and Lisa Cross Professor of Physics, Amherst College
  • Ruth H. Howes, Deputy Chair, George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Ball State University
  • Karen Johnston, Professor of Physics, North Carolina State University
  • Kenneth S. Krane, Professor of Physics, Oregon State University
  • Laurie McNeil, Professor of Physics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Jose P. Mestre, Professor of Physics, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • Thomas L. O’Kuma, Professor of Physics, Lee College
  • Douglas D. Osheroff, Professor of Physics, Stanford University
  • Carl Wieman, Distinguished Professor of Physics, JILA, University of Colorado
  • David T. Wilkinson, Professor of Physics, Princeton University

Society Liaisons

  • James H. Stith, Director of Physics Programs, American Institute of Physics
  • Jack Hehn, Manager, Education Division, American Institute of Physics
  • Judy Franz, Executive Officer, American Physical Society
  • Fred Stein, Director of Education and Outreach Programs, American Physical Society
  • Bernard V. Khoury, Executive Officer, American Association of Physics Teachers
  • Warren Hein, Associate Executive Officer, American Association of Physics Teachers

Revitalization of Physics: What does it mean?

The revitalization of undergraduate physics focuses on providing constructive and creative responses to the challenges posed by the changes in the environment in which physics operates. These changes are probably irreversible, and the physics community, if it is to thrive, must respond to those changes.

How was the environment for Physics changed?

  1. Physics itself is changing with many new subfields that cross disciplinary boundaries (for example, materials physics, computational physics, biophysics, chemical physics, photonics), most of which are completely absent from undergraduate physics programs.
  2. The job market for physicists (and other scientifically trained workers) emphasizes the need for broader training within science and for enhanced skills in communication and the ability to work in teams.
  3. Today’s undergraduate student body is more diverse both ethnically and economically than that of twenty years ago. These students bring backgrounds and motivations substantially different from those of most current physics faculty when they were undergraduates.
  4. Physics education research has established that there is a significant gap between what physics faculty believe they are teaching and what students actually learn. At the same time, physics education research has identified a number of teaching strategies that can help close that gap.
  5. The profession as a whole faces a public perception that the most exciting scientific developments are likely to occur in fields other than physics.
  6. Physics is increasingly disconnected from societal needs and federal priorities. The result is that potential students do not see the connection between physics and their daily lives and future careers.

Why focus on undergraduate physics? Isn't K -12 in more need of attention? At the undergraduate level, physics has contact with the students who will go on to be tomorrow’s leaders in science, education, and other fields. In many ways, undergraduate physics sets the tone for physics education in the K-12 grades. Tomorrow’s K-12 teachers are today’s college and university students. Furthermore, today about 70% of American high school students go on to some form of undergraduate education. Colleges and universities are no longer just for the elite. Science education in general, and physics, in particular, must play an important role in educating a scientifically and technologically informed citizenry.

How soon should we expect to see results from the Task Force's efforts? Revitalizing undergraduate physics is a long-term program that moves the physics community toward continuing experimentation, evaluation, and improvement of undergraduate physics education. The initial stage of this effort will take five to ten years.

What is needed for undergraduate physics revitalization and how do we know what works? Over the past three years, AAPT, APS, and AIP have taken some first steps to address these issues. Undergraduate physics revitalization was addressed at the Physics Department Chairs Conferences in May 1997 and April 2000, and at the October 1998 conference "Building Undergraduate Physics Programs for the 21st Century." From these conferences and from extensive discussion with a wide spectrum of physicists, four key features of successful undergraduate physics revitalization can be identified:

  1. There is wide recognition and interest in undergraduate revitalization from all kinds of physics departments and indeed from a wide spectrum of the entire physics community. But not by all. We still need lots of persuasion and discussion both within individual departments and in the physics community at large.
  2. The fundamental element for change is the department. Real change in undergraduate physics programs demands the support of college and university administrators, but unless a significant number of the department’s faculty, including the chair, buy into the effort, any changes are likely to evaporate quickly.
  3. An undergraduate physics program is more than just the curriculum. An undergraduate physics program is not just pedagogy and courses. Physics departments also need to consider such activities as recruiting able students, mentoring physics students, providing courses appropriate for pre-service K-12 teachers, assisting with professional development for a diversity of physics careers, providing opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research, and making connections with the local industries and businesses that employ graduates.
  4. Effective change is local. Physics departments have varying missions, sizes, geographical locations and types of students. A one-size program will not fit all.

What does the Task Force plan to do?
The Task Force efforts are grouped into five categories:

  1. Raise the consciousness of the physics community about the problems facing undergraduate physics and why solving those problems is crucial to the health of the physics profession.
  2. Develop a catalog of case studies (with analyses) of departments that have successfully improved their undergraduate physics programs.
  3. Coordinate and publicize efforts by individuals, departments, and professional organizations to improve undergraduate physics.
  4. Provide advice and ideas to professional organizations, funding agencies, and the physics community about revitalizing undergraduate physics.
  5. Work with similar groups in other scientific and engineering disciplines to improve all aspects of undergraduate science, mathematics, engineering and technology education.

How can i contact the Task Force? Ideas, suggestions, comments, and questions can be sent via email or to the chair of the Task Force.

Robert C. Hilborn is the Amanda and Lisa Cross Professor of Physics at Amherst College. He is Chair of the NTFUP.

Calculus-Based Physics and the Engineering ABET 2000 Criteria

Alan Van Huevelen and Kathleen M. Andre

Recently the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) revised its standards for accrediting engineering programs. These changes responded in part to industrial concerns that our graduates were not adequately prepared for the 21st century workplace. The old standards consisted mainly of a list of required courses; the new criteria focus on a list of desired outcomes for the graduates, and contain both general education and discipline-specific requirements. The general requirements include "one year of college-level math and science… appropriate to the discipline." Of the 25 accredited engineering majors, only 5 specifically mention physics as a requirement or option. A calculus-based physics course is no longer a specific requirement for accreditation in most engineering disciplines.

The ABET 2000 criteria include an eleven-item list of knowledge and skills that engineering programs must demonstrate their graduates have acquired. Six of these can be included in introductory physics instruction:

  1. An ability to apply the knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering
  2. An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data
  3. An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs
  4. An ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams
  5. An ability to communicate effectively
  6. A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning

Studies and surveys by the US Department of Labor and the National Science Foundation, as well as the American Institute of Physics, also suggest changes in educational focus. The U.S. Department of Labor Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS 2000) has examined the workplace demands. In their report, What Work Requires of Schools, they identified the following workplace competencies and foundation skills needed for solid job performance:

  • Interpersonal skills (teamwork, negotiation, and interpersonal skills);
  • Information (acquires, organizes, evaluates, and interprets data and uses computers to process information);
  • Basic skills (reading, writing, mathematics, speaking, and listening); and
  • Thinking skills (the ability to learn, to reason, to think creatively, to make decisions, and to solve problems).

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has also made recommendations, requesting more inquiry (scientific investigations) in our science courses and pedagogy that helps students develop skills such as teamwork, communication, critical thinking, and life long learning. Both the Labor Department and NSF requests are subsets of the ABET 2000 skills.

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has studied physics majors, the work they do after graduating, and the skills they use in the workplace. Eighty-two percent of BS physics graduates have final careers in industry, the autonomous private sector, or the government doing work in physics, engineering, mathematics, chemistry and geosciences. Only 15 percent of undergraduate physics graduates go on to earn a Ph.D. in physics; only half of those become professors. The predominant work activities for physics bachelors include operational planning, software development, synthesizing information, and product design. Figure 1 shows the types of skills master's degree physicists use in their work. Bachelor and Ph.D. physicists indicate similar needs. These skills also appear in the ABET 2000 criteria. Interpersonal skills (teamwork), problem solving, design ability, and technical writing and communication skills are important for our physics majors when they enter the workplace and are needed by engineering students as well. In short, our undergraduate physics and engineering majors have similar educational needs. Physics knowledge is one of the least used "skills" reported in Figure 1. AIP’s Czujko explains this partially by the fact that many former physics students work in fields other than physics. Often, the problem solving they do involves subjects such as "analyzing traffic flow, climate conditions, and earthquakes." There is a gap between the subject matter of 1990s physics instruction and the subject matter presently used by physicists in their work, which will widen significantly in the new century. According to economist Lester Thurow, the economy is quickly moving away from manufacturing and toward microelectronics, computer technology, telecommunications, new man-made materials, robotics, and biotechnology.

1996-97 1997-98 1998-99 1999-2000
FCI 83% 86% 81% 80%
MBT 76% 78% N/A 76%
CSEM N/A 69% 70%


Figure 1: Skills Used by Physics Masters Students (D. Rosdil, "What are masters doing?" AIP Statistics Div., Pub. No. R-398.1, Set. 1996).

It is very difficult to include in undergraduate physics instruction the subject matter needed in the workplace for the next generation of physics majors and engineers. We must prepare students to become life-long learners who can flexibly apply the skills identified by the ABET, NSF, US Labor SCANS, and AIP studies. These skills cannot be developed in a vacuum -- there must be a knowledge base. However, the actual content of that knowledge is probably less important than using it to help students learn to think and learn, as well as acquire the other skills requested by these studies.

The six ABET skills listed earlier are learning objectives for a relatively new physics sequence at The Ohio State University designed for the Freshman Engineering Honors (FEH) program. The class consists of 3 hours of "lecture," 2 hours of recitation, and one 2-hour lab per week for each ten-week quarter. The class size has grown steadily, starting with one section of about 60 students three years ago, and anticipating 2 or 3 sections totaling almost 240 students next year.

Group work is used throughout the course, including a team problem worth 12 percent of each midterm grade. All topics begin with a conceptual foundation-building section, where students learn to reason qualitatively about physical phenomena. A mathematical section follows with the objective of helping students use math with understanding. Quantities and concepts are represented in a variety of ways—words, sketches, diagrams, graphs, data tables, and equations. Students learn to move between these representations in any direction. The third portion consists of complex problem solving. Students are exposed to real-world problems (often poorly defined), multiple-concept problems, and context-rich problems (such as those from the University of Minnesota). Many of these are structured in a way to help students see connections between the physics they are learning now and the engineering they will do in the future. Students design their own experiments in the labs.

Is this change in emphasis effective? The FEH engineering faculty feel the physics portion aids student development of the ABET skills. The majority of students also recognize non-content benefits, citing primarily the teamwork experiences and how these will prepare them for employment. As part of a 1998-99 assessment effort, students were given a list of the ABET core competencies and asked if any FEH class in engineering, math, and physics gave them opportunities to develop these skills. The areas where physics was most often designated were analytical thinking (79%), creative problem solving (62%), communication (78%), life-long learning (51%), and teamwork (79%).

Did students learn any physics? Over the past several years, the Force Concept Inventory, Mechanics Baseline Test, and Conceptual Survey of Electricity and Magnetism have been given to the FEH physics class. The post-test scores, shown in Figure 2 below, are among the highest in the country. We conclude that it is possible to teach both important workplace skills and physics content.

In summary, we think the ABET criteria are good goals for physics courses for engineers, as well as for physics majors. Physics pedagogy can be changed without too much difficulty to better achieve these outcomes. Objective tests indicate that students can learn physics at least as well this way as in traditional courses.

Figure 2, Post-test Scores for Freshman Engineering Honors Students

Figure 2, Post-test Scores for Freshman Engineering Honors Students

Alan Van Huevelen is Professor of Physics at The Ohio State University. Kathleen M. Andre is a graduate student in physics education research in that department.

Paradigms in Physics: a New Upper-division Physics Curriculum at Oregon State University

Corinne Manogue

Paradigms in Physics is a new, NSF-supported, upper-division physics curriculum designed to address several problems that were present in the traditional curriculum at Oregon State University. In 1996, our department was faced with the problem of reorganizing our curriculum to accommodate a new internship program for engineering physics majors. Once we opened the door to upgrading the curriculum, we decided to address a number of other needs and wants for our new curriculum. We wanted a new curriculum that would:

  • be flexible enough to accommodate students with a wide range of career goals in industry as well as in academia.
  • introduce quantum mechanics in the junior year to prepare students for the GRE and/or to take specialty classes in the senior year.
  • emphasize the connections between the fields of physics.
  • promote the development of problem-solving and mathematical skills.
  • accommodate the growing number of non-traditional students entering our physics and engineering physics programs.
  • incorporate modern pedagogical techniques and information gained from physics education research.

The result of our curriculum reform is the Paradigms in Physics program. The program consists of a junior year of nine Paradigms courses and a senior year of six Capstone courses. In an effort to encourage students to draw connections between the subdisciplines of physics, the structure of the Paradigms has been crafted to mimic the organization of expert physics knowledge. Thus, students are presented with a model of how physicists organize their understanding of physical phenomena and problem solving. Each of the courses focuses on a specific paradigm or class of physics problems, which serves as the centerpiece of each course, and on which different tools and skills are built. The nine Paradigms courses are: Static Vector Fields, Oscillations, One Dimensional Waves, Quantum Measurement and Spin, Central Forces, Energy and Entropy, Periodic Systems, Rigid Bodies, and Reference Frames. The first six paradigms form the core of the junior year and are taken by all juniors; the last three are optional. Three Paradigms are taught each quarter with each course lasting three weeks. A typical week consists of three hours of lecture and 4 hours of lab/group activity.

In the senior year, students resume a more traditional curriculum, taking Capstone courses in the traditional disciplines of Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Statistical Mechanics, Optics, and Mathematical Methods. Currently we offer three optional specialty courses: Solid State Physics, Computational Physics, and Nuclear Physics. The Capstones and specialty courses are offered in the traditional lecture style as quarter long courses with three contact hours per week.

The structure of the paradigms allows significant flexibility. Engineering physics majors involved in an internship program during the spring term are able to take all of their core courses during the fall and winter terms. Less prepared students stretch the Paradigms courses of the junior year over two years. Students from other departments can easily take one or two paradigms specific to their interests without having to take an entire year-long course covering material outside of their scope of interest. The flexibility of the Paradigms structure also allows us to introduce quantum mechanics early on, making courses more exciting for students, better preparing them for the GRE and preparing them to take more advanced specialty courses in their senior year.

In the design of the new curriculum we have incorporated and developed modern pedagogical strategies to help improve student learning. Group activities are common in Paradigms courses. These activities allow students to learn from each other and work together in constructing their understanding of physics. They also help students to stay actively engaged in the classroom. Computer resources are used frequently to help students visualize the systems they are studying. A number of the Paradigms courses also contain a vital lab component. These labs are integrated into each course in an effort to help students obtain a deeper understanding of the course material. Integrated labs in the paradigms range from single two-hour lab sessions with appropriate follow-up work, to exclusively project-based courses. Lab activities give students the opportunity to develop lab and writing skills as well as reinforce the connection between coursework and the physical world. Another advantage of integrated labs is that they allow us to incorporate inquiry based activities in the upper-division curriculum. As a result, students are excited by the opportunity to engage in discovery and experiment.

The preliminary plans for the Paradigms program received extensive consideration by an expert panel of external reviewers composed of experienced upper-division physics faculty. The reviewers agreed strongly that the Paradigms program would prepare students for careers in industry as well as graduate school in physics. Early results of the evaluation team from the first cycle of classes, completed in 1998-99, indicate that top students are learning as much as before and less prepared students are learning more. We have found that a mix of traditional lecture and modern pedagogical techniques, if smoothly integrated, is effective for most of our students. Students are significantly more comfortable with a mixture of notations and withdrawing information from a number of sources.

We are currently seeking a small number of institutions interested in testing with us the possibility of disseminating the Paradigms in Physics curriculum. We would like to test the Paradigms curriculum in a variety of different settings ranging from smaller liberal arts colleges to larger research universities. It is essential that participants in the beta testing program have strong departmental and institutional support. In order to provide financial support for evaluation and implementation of the beta testing program, we intend to seek NSF and other funding jointly with other participating institutions.

For further information, contact Corinne Manogue or see our website. This project was supported, in part, by the National

Science Foundation. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.

Corinne Manogue is Professor of Physics at Oregon State University.

The AIP has just posted a new report on its web site, "Women In Physics, 2000," authored by Ivie and Stowe, provides a detailed analysis of the representation of women in physics. The report describes the current and historic trends in both the education and employment of women in physics as well as comparative data on the representation of women in related fields.

View Report

Using the Web Effectively: Web-based and Web-enhanced Course

John A. Venables

Despite the relative novelty of the web, it is clear that it can be advantageous for many kinds of teaching and learning in higher education. In recent Forum issues, we have had 1) upbeat visions from Jack Wilson, and computer-aided instruction (CAI) described as a 600 lb. gorilla by Donald Holcomb (Spring ’99); 2) a letter on why gorillas are unattractive (Summer ’99), and 3) reference to ‘Creating a virtual Physics Department’, and ‘Just in time teaching’, as evidenced by articles in the American Journal of Physics (Fall ’99).

Let’s continue the gorilla analogy, and ask the question: is CAI one gorilla or many? Since the answer is clearly many, the next questions include clarifying whether all the gorillas now have the same weight (of course not), and asking how they are going to evolve during the 21st century. We don’t know, but one might note that biodiversity is an aim in itself. We need gorillas and their descendants, if not all of them, and not necessarily in our own back yard. Physics departments and universities are subject to the forces of selection, natural or otherwise; present concerns center largely on opportunities and threats posed by the very existence of the Web. So we should be as clear as possible as to their nature, and how we might classify them.

From my own experience over the last five years, several points are clear. First, web teaching is definitely a hot topic. Second, rather more people are talking about it than doing anything. Third, we are, or we ought to be, starting a transition from enthusiasm to organization. Following the biodiversity argument, we should not expect a uniform solution, but should be looking for specific solutions for particular situations. But have we really got our act together on the faculty, have we decided what we want and how to achieve it? Have we put academic issues first, or are we chasing money for unknown ends? Have we got over our understandably defensive and I’m too-busy reactions? Have we weighed the opportunity costs of doing nothing?

Bt before I make enemies of everyone by making them feel guilty for something they haven’t done, let me explain where I’m coming from. My particlar interest is in specialist graduate education, and the advantages of the web for learning by individual graduate students. But I have used the web for both undergraduate and graduate courses, and have obtained feedback by giving colloquia entitled Teaching and Learning using the Web.

Visit Venables

In these talks, I distinguish between web-based and web-enhanced courses. Many assume that all material has to be on the web, but there is a continuous range of possibilities. Web-enhanced courses are common, but they can evolve into web-based courses if that seems the right way to go. My own experience has been that both types of course can be advantageous, depending on student numbers, level, and the frequency of delivery. The Internet is truly a revolution, and as such, requires that we think through how we are delivering education, and what new developmental niches will be created. Following experiments in Arizona State, in Sussex and Europe, I offered my Surfaces and thin films course worldwide from 1998, using the resources built up over a four-year period. For specialist graduate courses, web-based courses have substantial advantages, as the following anecdote makes clear.

In preparing a course for EPFL in Switzerland in 1997, I uploaded the notes to a computer at ASU one day before the class, and many participants downloaded them in time, twice across the Atlantic, often ending up in the next-door office. So is the web just a complicated photocopier? No, not really! The lectures are hyper-linked to each other, and refer to other external web resources and references. Students who couldn’t attend the lecture were not excluded from profiting from it. Thus the lecture itself, an event localized in time and space, is only a part of the story: the resource so created is not localized in either dimension.

Links to other laboratories and research work elsewhere can give web-notes a dynamism which the printed page lacks. This questions the relationship of such notes to a specialist book. More recently, I decided to convert my web-notes into a book; capitulation to old ways you may think, or am I just hedging my bets? What is this relationship going to be in future, and can one get the best of both worlds? My own solution is to keep the book open to the future via a Web-based Appendix. This contains pointers to selected research groups, references and images; this resource is available for past and future students. Some other examples, and discussion points for web-based education, are at /appedu1.html

Why go to this trouble? My underlying reason was this: professors are under pressure to teach undergraduates, preferably in large numbers. In larger departments, specialist graduate courses have typically been given every two years, but it could easily, and often does, slip to a lower frequency. When this happens the necessarily small graduate classes become completely useless. We are in effect saying to our students ‘we will give you a course in your specialist area, but it may take place while you are writing your thesis.’ Smaller departments don’t have even this option. Use of the web turns these arguments upside down. If there is a one-line message for faculty, it is to use an infrequent event to create a continuously available resource.

Most departments now have basic course information on the web. Many professors are linking course material to such web pages to supplement their face-to-face teaching, thereby giving a web-enhanced course. If everyone is doing it, what is there to say? First, the extent and quality of the web-offerings are variable. Second, there is an understandable faculty reaction that whatever is needed is extra, and no one has suggested extra pay. But, third, this is a (generational) question with implications for future organization. Some departments, but not yet that many, have hired professionals to provide and encourage development of web-based education, and there is substantial growth in off-campus (extended education) offerings, as for example ASUonline. Apart from the impressive large scale efforts by the UK’s Open University, we don’t know whether such efforts will be cost effective, medium term. Almost all efforts to date have been based on individual enthusiasm, with or without student helpers and/or projects.

Meanwhile, my own medium-term recipe is turn projects into resources. My assigned teaching is Quantum Physics at ASU; Edward Hernández and I have just given Quantum Mechanical Models of Solids at Sussex. There is some saving, or synergy, in having courses with overlapping interests for different groups. What is background material for one student can be a challenging project for another, and the web encourages one to think in terms of individual students in this way. But we all need to think about these issues carefully: e.g. who is doing the web-stuff, how fancy are our offerings going to be, and are we going to collaborate between Universities, with or without cross charging? Plus: who is calling the shots in the transition from enthusiasm to organization? Comments welcome, both in Forum letters and/or by email.

John A. Venables is professor of Physics at Arizona State University, and Honorary Professor of Physics at the University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.


Members and friends of the Forum on Education are reminded that APS policy requires that they select the forum or forums they wish to join (or renew) with each membership renewal. Do not forget to check off the Forum on Education, to maintain your membership and support its activities. The first two forum memberships are free.

QuarkNet Pulls Teachers into Research

Andria Erzberger

Large International Collaborations Reach Out to High School Students
Imagine a scenario just a few years from now. The discovery of the Higgs boson is exciting the physics world, especially QuarkNet teachers and their students. In addition there are tantalizing hints for new space dimensions. QuarkNet teachers tell their students about their experiences building parts of the detectors and carrying out beam tests at Fermilab (Illinois) and at CERN (Switzerland). The students are impressed to learn that they are analyzing new data from the very experiments their teachers helped build.

Possibly, these students are even playing a role in this important discovery; the odds are small but the potential is enormous. As part of the QuarkNet program, hundreds of teachers are having their students analyze experimental data sets. These are small data sets, filtered to be appropriate for students, but the students are excited, because no one else has analyzed these data yet. And they are learning basic physics. Furthermore, they are communicating with students in other classrooms around the world, comparing notes about their findings, and viewing the happenings at CERN and Fermilab live via the Web. In fact, QuarkNet is bringing a small number of students to the labs to report back to other students about the excitement and happenings of the physics runs.

Pete Bruecken and Jeff Dilks, physics teachers from Iowa, were among 24 teachers who joined QuarkNet in 1999. After a week at Fermilab in June learning about particle physics, they participated in seven weeks of research funded by QuarkNet. Together with Professor John Hauptman at Iowa State University, Bruecken and Dilks constructed an incredibly fast detector, essentially collecting energy and spatial information at the speed of light and then emptying the calorimeter of signals in one nanosecond. Hauptman says, "The amazing thing about this module is that it was largely built on zero funds..., and QuarkNet was essential for its success."

The local newspaper reported "Just imagine it: Area high school students watching cutting-edge particle physics experiments, analyzing data, and collaborating with scientists. How's that for science homework?"

Introductory physics is present in much of high-energy physics. Concepts such as conservation of momentum and energy are ubiquitous. Particle physicists use these concepts as they study the fundamentals of nature. Teachers all know that students are motivated by the new and unexplained, so why not let students explore classical physics through the lens of particle physics?

QuarkNet seeks to create such a lens. The project's primary goal is to involve high school students and teachers at the CDF and D0 experiments at Fermilab and the ATLAS and CMS experiments CERN at Switzerland. Two years ago Keith Baker (Hampton University), Marge Bardeen (Fermilab), Michael Barnett (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and Randy Ruchti (University of Notre Dame) organized the project. To carry out the program, QuarkNet hired four teacher-educators, Tom Jordan (Fermilab), Ken Cecire (Hampton University), Pat Mooney (Notre Dame), and Andria Erzberger (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory). They run the summer orientation activities, assist physicists in developing programs for local teachers at their universities and labs, and help monitor the success of the project. QuarkNet is supported by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Energy and the participating universities and laboratories. While QuarkNet began in the United States, there have been expressions of strong interest at CERN and in European countries.

Teachers in Research and in Classrooms
QuarkNet invites teachers to join groups of particle physics experimenters (their "mentors") for eight-week summer research assignments. This immersion in research gives the teachers an identity with the experiments and provides an overview of particle physics. Physicists from a university or lab recruit two teachers from nearby schools. The institution's needs and the teacher's skills determine the research assignment. QuarkNet provides stipends for these teachers, and living expenses for those away from home for extended periods of time.

Teachers participate in a one-week orientation institute at Fermilab as preparation for the summer research assignments. During this week, teachers attend talks on everything from accelerators to theory to cosmology and enjoy tours of the CDF and D0 detectors and the Tevatron accelerator. They work with hand-held cosmic ray detectors brought from Notre Dame and engage in computer activities using Fermilab data, computer simulations, and material from the World Wide Web. The workshop features time for teachers to pose questions to Principal Investigators Randy Ruchti and Michael Barnett and other physicists and to synthesize a deeper understanding of physical phenomena. In addition, teachers research various topics and analyze data. The workshop models for teachers how their students can also learn physics in the way that research is actually done.

During the academic year, teachers bring their students into the project by integrating some aspect of their summer work into their physics curriculum. This does not mean that students must study the Standard Model; students could study the conservation of momentum via analysis of data from a collider event. They could also discover the vital role of computers in modern science by examining thousands of events, a task impossible to do by hand. They may consider protons moving through the Tevatron as they investigate the force that magnetic fields exert upon moving, charged particles. Teachers and QuarkNet staff will develop these and many other curriculum ideas as the program matures.

QuarkNet centers
The summer after their research summer QuarkNet teachers invite about 8-10 teachers from their area into the project. These associate teachers participate in a two-three week institute planned and hosted by the QuarkNet teachers and their local physicist-mentors. Here they explore particle physics research and the classroom application of classical physics topics to the world of particle physics.

This group of about 12 teachers and at least two physicist mentors comprise a QuarkNet center. During the summer of 1999, QuarkNet established 12 centers at universities and laboratories from California to Massachusetts to Florida and in many places in between. Twelve more sites will begin their participation in summer 2000. Over five years all 60 U.S. universities and labs in the ATLAS and CMS experiments are expected to join the project. Ultimately QuarkNet will reach 720 teachers and over 100,000 students.

Teachers Doing Science
During their summer research the teachers take on varied and challenging projects. In 1999 Larry Wray and Rosemary Bradley of Langston University in Oklahoma, working under mentor Tim McMahon, worked on a project related to the "Powers of Ten." Ulrich Heintz at Boston University involved Rick Dower in using LabView to write interface and data collection software to measure characteristics of a silicon tracker wafer to be used in DZero. He did this and then repeated his measurements in a neutron beam generated by the low energy (~4 MeV) proton accelerator at the University of Massachusetts to test the effect of radiation on the wafer.

Kevin McFarland of the University of Rochester had Susen Clark and Paul Pavone test the long-term stability of scintillating crystals to be used as reference standards for CMS; these two teachers also built a "muon telescope" cosmic ray detector for classroom demonstrations. Joe Serpico at Fermilab was part of a team of four that was involved in the refurbishment of the central calorimeter at CDF. His mentor said, "This was NOT a fill job, their work IS critical to the success of the experiment."

The work of the Iowa Center in CMS was explained well by John Hauptman of Iowa State University:

"Nural Akchurin in Iowa City and I in Ames had a lot of good work to do, and Jeff [Dilks] and Peter [Bruecken] were right in the middle of it. Peter analyzed radiation damage data, designed and built mechanical mounts for a new calorimeter, and took data in the LEP injector beam at CERN. Jeff was responsible for designing and building a new calorimeter in Ames, testing it at CERN last summer, and analyzing data from it."

At Notre Dame, LeRoy Castle and Dale Wiand worked with Randy Ruchti to design Optical Decoder Units (ODUs) for CMS. Both teachers became involved in negotiation with other CMS production sites to find satisfactory solutions to questions about how to best place the ODUs in the detector structure. Notre Dame has found funding for additional teachers and students to continue the work this summer.

Students Doing Science
How does this experience influence teaching and learning? Physics students in Ames, Iowa were performing an experiment with dominos. Students had divided up the parameter space of a data set so that they could save class time but still cover the necessary measurement parameters. Jeff Dilks had his students share their measurements by writing their data on the white board. A quick plot of the measurements showed absolutely nothing! Over the weekend Dilks considered his options. In the past he probably would have moved on to the next topic (as many teachers would). But, reflecting on his summer research, he realized that scientists did not just ignore messy measurements.

Monday he started class by informing the students their work truly modeled what goes on in the "real world" of science. The results that they had shared on Friday were nonsense and indicated that new and more precise measurements were in order. The class discussed what changes could be made, assigned parameters, and performed their measurements once again. This time a quick plot of those measurements showed some interesting results. Dilks’ research experience affected his teaching, even for a classical physics topic.

Andria Erzberger is an educational specialist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and a member of the QuarkNet staff.

Browsing Through the Journals

Thomas D. Rossing

  • At most research universities, it is argued that "good research makes good teaching." However, a forum comment by Kenneth Krane in the January issue of Physics World questions this and argues that good undergraduate teaching facilitates and enhances research. Krane observes that courses by leading researchers are as likely to be dreadful as they are to be inspiring. In effect, the research enterprise is invisible to the typical undergraduate. According to the 1998 report of the Boyer commission on educating undergraduates, "research universities have too often failed, and continue to fail, their undergraduate populations." Research accomplishment is generally the primary factor when academic staff are evaluated or considered for promotion. We often speak of teaching "loads" but of research "opportunities."

  • Teaching thermal and statistical physics is the subject of a special theme issue of American Journal of Physics (December 1999) edited by Harvey Gould and Jan Tobochnik. In light of the many important applications in materials (high temperature superconductors, porous media, liquid crystals, polymers, biological membranes, granular matter, and surface layers) and in societal issues (global warming, pollution, and electrical power production), the editors point out that statistical physics and thermodynamics should have a prominent place in the undergraduate physics curriculum. The articles in this special issue cover topics on several levels from introductory to advanced.

  • The University of Illinois is one of several universities that reserves dormitory floors for women majoring in science, mathematics, or engineering, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune, February 28. Students in the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering Program–dubbed WIMSE–get personal tutors on the floor, specialized computer labs and study lounges, study buddy arrangements, and catered dinners with faculty members who act as mentors. Although too soon to gauge WIMSE’s effectiveness at Illinois, evaluation of a similar program at the University of Michigan showed that participants were far more likely to graduate with degrees in math and science than were control groups of men and other women majoring in math and science.

  • A guest comment by Sheila Tobias entitled "From innovation to change: Forging a physics education reform agenda for the 21st century" appears in the February issue of American Journal of Physics. She reminds us that exogenous variables often get in the way of real reform in physics teaching. These include AP (advanced placement) physics, standardized testing, departmental rankings, requirements for college admission, arrangements with engineering and biology communities, class size, and employment prospects for physics majors.

  • More and more P.d. students in France are abandoning scientific research after they receive their doctorates, according to a note in the February issue of Physics World. A recent study showed that only 20% of P.d. students went on to obtain a permanent job in higher education or public research in 1998, compared with 26% in 1994. The number taking short-term posts has risen from 17% to 21% over the same period, while the number of jobless had doubled to 7%. The problem, according to the note, is that French industry favors engineers over physicists.

  • Nine major Chicago museums, in collaboration with the Chicago Public Schools, recently launched an initiative called Museums and Public Schools: A New Direction for Teaching Chicago’s Children (MAPS), according to the February issue of the Department of Education Community Update. Several of the museums, including the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, The Shedd Aquarium, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, focus on science. More than 2800 teachers participated in the kickoff event in the Field Museum at which they learned how to incorporate museum resources into the classroom and received free one-year memberships to each of the nine museums.

  • Not one of the widely used science textbooks for middle school was rated satisfactory in Project 2061's recent evaluation, according to the Autumn/Winter issue of AAAS Update. The study found that most textbooks cover too many topics and don’t develop any of them well. All texts include many classroom activities that either are irrelevant to learning key science ideas or don’t help students relate what they are doing to the underlying ideas. "This study confirms our worst fears about the materials used to educate our children in the critical middle grades," George Nelson, Director of Project 2061, is quoted as saying.

  • "Advancing Physics" is the title of a new program intended to "bring physics teaching firmly into the twenty-first century, using relevant and up-to-date examples of physics from everyday life," according to an article in the 16 December issue of Nature. The course uses a range of teaching approaches, including a CD-ROM with activities that use the computer for doing physics.

  • Practical hints for classy demonstration experiments are included in a book, "The Resourceful Physics Teacher: 600 Ideas for Creative Teaching," by Keith Gibbs, reviewed in the January issue of Physics World. The book is a "must" for new teachers, according to the reviewer.

  • With backing from scientific, professional, and educational societies, Representative Vern Ehlers introduced three bills to improve science and math education in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, according to a note in the April 21 issue of Science. The proposals would create several programs at the National Science Foundation and provide tax breaks and incentives for teachers to join and remain in the profession. The legislation tackles problems that Ehlers identified in his 1998 report on the state of U. S. science (see Fall 1998 issue of FEd newsletter).

    The centerpiece of the reforms is the National Science Education Act (H.R.4271) which directs NSF to create a variety of programs, including grants for schools to hire master teachers in math, science and technology education, professional development in new technologies, and scholarships for teachers to carry out collaborative research. Companion bills (H.R. 4272 and H.R. 4273) would give a 10-year, $1000-a-year tuition tax credit to science and math teachers and beef up in-service and summer training institutes.

  • A new "constructivist" approach to learning mathematics in one of New York’s school districts has met with parental rebellion, according to a story in the New York Times, April 27. This approach preaches that it is more important for children to construct their own solutions to mathematical problems than to learn the standard rules–from multiplication tables to the value of pi–handed down through the centuries. The constructivist movement has led to the widespread rejection of textbooks, in favor of exercises using blocks, beans and other materials. One popular program suggests that students count a million grains of birdseed to get a feeling for the size of a million. Another teaches sixth graders to add fractions by folding paper strips into segments representing halves or fourths instead of by converting to common denominators. Advocates of the new math believe that they can reach more children, especially low-achieving minority students , by dropping standard rules in favor of exercises that allow students to discover the principles of math on their own.

  • "Winds of Change" is the title of a guest comment by Ruth Howes and Robert Hilborn in the May issue of American Journal of Physics. While physicists see a lot of excitement in the field, the educated public perceives the frontiers of science to be in the life sciences. Industrial labs, which focus more and more on product development, need physics graduates with "soft" skills such as the ability to work in groups with chemists, engineers, and even marketing staff. Although the total number of undergraduates has more than doubled since 1957, the number of undergraduate physics majors has declined to below pre-Sputnik levels. AAPT, APS and AIP have tried to respond to the changes in the scientific and social environment, by focusing on undergraduate physics and organizing conferences devoted to that theme. They have organized a National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics. This task force seeks input from members of the academic and the research communities.

  • The recruitment of physics teachers in the UK appears to have broken down, according to a report published by the Institute of Physics and reported in the March issue of Physics World. The report shows that the number of trainee teachers dropped by 35% last year, and concludes that low pay is turning physics graduates away from teaching. About a quarter of all physics teachers will retire in the next decade, since physics has a higher proportion of teachers over 50 than most other subjects. Many schools are replacing them with teachers with biology degrees.

  • A proposal to reduce the number of NSF graduate research fellowships while greatly expanding the number of graduate teaching fellowships has drawn criticism from a number of university educators, according to a story in the 21 April issue of Science. The graduate teaching fellows (GK-12) spend 10 to 15 hours a week in school, aiding teachers and supplementing class lessons. The program, according to NSF Director Rita Colwell, is designed to "broaden graduate education and boost the science, engineering, and technology content in K-12 classrooms." Some critics fear that many professors might regard the teaching fellowships as just another way to get additional lab help. Others question expansion of the GK-12 program before adequate evaluation has been carried out.

  • "The Graying of Science Faculty in U. S. Colleges and Universities" is the title of a column in the May issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching. The vast majority of current college science teachers began their careers in the 1960s at a time when student enrollments were increasing dramatically. In the late 1970s and 1980s, college enrollments leveled off, and few new science teachers were added to the teaching faculty. Now these faculty are near retirement age at the same time student enrollments are expected to rise by 10 percent in the next decade. One survey indicated that almost all four-year colleges and universities intend to replace retirees with tenure-track positions, but that many community colleges aimed to replace full-time faculty with less expensive, non-tenured adjuncts or part-timers.

AJP - Looking for a New Editor, to Start July 1, 2001

A search committee has been appointed to seek a new editor for the American Journal of Physics, to begin his or her duties on July 1, 2001. The new editor will succeed Robert H. Romer, who has served as editor since 1988.

The search committee welcomes inquiries, suggestions, nominations, and applications. A more complete description of the search procedures were published in the March issue of the American Journal of Physics and on the AJP website.

Applications should include: (1) a cover letter explaining the candidate's views on the role of the American Journal of Physics and how it might be improved to serve the physics community better; (2) a curriculum vitae; (3) a letter of recommendation from the candidate's department chair (or equivalent), indicating, among other things, the willingness of the department and institution to support the presence of the AJP editorial office; and (4) two additional letters of recommendation. Applications should be complete by July 5, 2000 but will be accepted until the position is filled. Address correspondence to Professor Peter J. Collings, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA 19081.

The committee is chaired by Peter J. Collings of Swarthmore College. The other members of the committee are David J. Griffiths (Reed College); Donald F. Holcomb (Cornell University); Karen L. Johnston (North Carolina State University); Bernard V. Khoury (American Association of Physics Teachers, ex officio); Richard W. Peterson (Bethel College, St. Paul); and Robert H. Romer (American Journal of Physics and Amherst College, ex officio).

Executive Committee of the Forum on Education

Kenneth J. Heller
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Phone: (612) 624-7314
Term: 4/02

Jack M. Wilson
Dean of Faculty/Provost
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy Bldg
Troy, NY 12180
Phone: (518) 276-4853
Term: 4/03

Kenneth S. Krane
Department of Physics
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331-6507
Phone: (541) 737-1692
Term: 4/04

Morton R. Kagan
784 St. Albans Dr.
Boca Raton, FL 33486
Phone: (561) 393-1700
Term: 4/02

Past Chair
Andrea P.T. Palounek
LANL, mail stop H846
Los Alamos, NM 87545
Phone: (505) 665-2574
Term: 4/01

Forum Councillor 
James Wynne
IBM/T.J. Watson Research Center
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Phone: (914) 945-1575
Term: 4/03

APS Members-at-Large:
Andrew Post Zwicker
Science Education Program
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
PO Box 451
Princeton, NJ 08543
Phone: (609) 243-2150
Term: 4/01

Ramon E. Lopez
University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, TX 79968
Phone: (915) 747-7528
Term: 4/03

Ernest I. Malamud
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
P. O. Box 500
Batavia, IL 60510
Phone: (630) 840-4833
Term: 4/02

APS/AAPT Members-At-Large 
Gay B. Stewart
Department of Physics
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Phone: (501) 575­2408
Term: 4/02

Dean A. Zollman
Department of Physics
Kansas State University
Cardwell Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-2601
Phone: (785) 532-1619
Term: 4/03

Non-voting Members of the FEd Executive Committee

Ken Lyons, Homepage Administrator
AT&T Labs Research
180 Park Avenue
Florham Park, NJ 07932
Phone: (973) 360-8663

Ruth Howes, AAPT Representative
Department of Physics & Astronomy
Ball State University
Muncie, IN 47306
Phone: (765) 285-8868

Kenneth C. Hass, COE Chair
Ford Motor Company
SRL Mail Drop 3028
Dearborn, MI 48121-2053
Phone: (313) 322-0098

Fredrick M. Stein, APS Director of Education
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740
Phone: (301) 209-3263

Newsletter Editors

Spring Issue:
Deadline for Contributions: February 1
Ernest I. Malamud
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
P. O. Box 500
Batavia, IL 60510
Phone: (630) 840-4833 | Fax: (630) 840-8752

Summer Issue:
Deadline for Contributions: June 1
Stan Jones
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Box 870324
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0324
Phone: (205) 348-5050 | Fax: (205) 348-5051

Fall Issue:
Deadline for Contributions: October 1
Thomas Rossing
Department of Physics
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115-2854
Phone: (815) 753-6493 | Fax: (815) 753-8565

This Newsletter, a publication of the American Physical Society Forum on Education, presents news of the Forum and articles on issues of physics education at all levels. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the APS or of the Forum. Due to limitations of space, notices of events will be restricted to those considered by the editors to be national in scope. Contributed articles, commentary, and letters are subject to editing; notice will be given the author if major editing is required. Contributions should be sent to any of the editors.