Newsletter Editors

Alliances and Associations

Forum on Engaging the Public

Dan Dahlberg and Philip W. Hammer

At its November 2010 meeting, the APS Council approved the formation of a new forum, the Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public (FOEP). The FOEP was motivated by the need to increase the public’s awareness of physics while also providing a “home” within APS for the large number of physicists currently involved in a diverse array of outreach and public engagement activities. The idea emerged from the APS Committee on Informing the Public (CIP), which had a growing sense that there is strong APS member interest in forming a new APS unit focused specifically on outreach and public engagement. The CIP felt strongly that addressing this need is important to the health of the physics community.

Physicists are increasingly involved in creative public engagement activities such as blogging, multimedia, video, pop culture, popularizations, press relations, politics, “amateur” and distributed science, science cafes, and public shows and lectures. Many do so as part of broader impact and outreach requirements of grant applications. Others do so as a core element of their professional activities. The creation of the FOEP will foster the development and dissemination of such programs, ideas, best practices, and lessons learned. Our goal is that the FOEP will encourage more APS members to engage the public as partners in the enterprise of physics. Some examples of expansion include improving our contact with members of Congress, public lectures such as the one at the March meeting last year and this year by Jim Kakalios (the author of The Physics of Superheroes discussing the materials aspects of superheroes), and the hugely successful Laser Haunted House at the 2010 USA Science and Engineering Festival.

We anticipate public engagement will be at the core of FOEP activities. This entails putting more science in the eyes of the public so they can appreciate/understand/engage with what science does and what it does for them. A big goal of the new forum could be how to connect to the average person. To accomplish this we also recognize we need to learn how to gain support from media people in TV, radio, and the internet. We also need to nurture and grow a community of physicists with a real interest in outreach to pass on programs that work, along with disseminating best practices, and promoting new ideas.

FOEP would provide an intellectual venue for like-minded APS members to share their work on engaging the public about physics. The outcomes would be an increase in the number of physicists involved in public engagement, improvements in the effectiveness of such activities, and a growth in creative new ideas for building appreciation of and support for physics.

Why “engage”? Engagement implies interacting with the public in ways that stimulate thought, activity, follow up, and lasting positive impressions. In other words, FOEP hopes to engage the public as active supporters and aficionados of, and participants in, physics. We see this as a battle for the hearts and minds (and hands) of the public as a way to maintain the relevance of, and their passion for, physics. Engagement is something different than education or a focus on particular issues; engagement is active involvement that takes advantage of the full spectrum of venues where the public can be found. Engagement is part outreach, part informing, and part communicating; but it is also more than these things combined. Engagement is an aspiration to establish a two-way connection between APS members and the general public.

To join FOEP at no cost prior to renewing your APS membership, send an email to with your request to add FOEP to your membership. Please note that if you currently belong to two or more forums, FOEP will be added at no charge for the remainder of your membership term. On your next membership renewal notice, you will see a Forum subtotal that will include $8 for every Forum membership over two.

Disclaimer—The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.

Local Physical Science Alliances Now Developing in Illinois

Dr. Carl J. Wenning, President, Illinois Section of AAPT

Illinois has a history of active local physics alliances. Illinois State Physics Project (ISPP), Quark Net, Physics Northwest, and Physics West have operated in the Chicago metropolitan area for many years. Southwestern Illinois has been active in the St. Louis Association of Physics Teachers for many years. Central Illinois had active physics alliances based in Peoria and Springfield and in years past. Statewide efforts are now taking place to renew and expand teacher alliances across the entire state of Illinois.

Recently, the Illinois Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (ISAAPT) has taken the lead in developing Local Physical Science Alliances (LPSAs) outside the Chicago metropolitan area. LPSAs are designed to involve not only teachers of physics, but of chemistry and earth & space science as well. Recent joint activities between the ISAAPT and the Illinois Association of Chemistry Teachers (IACT) in part led to this initiative. During the summer of 2010, these organizations joined with the Illinois Science Teachers Association (ISTA) to promote and develop a statewide effort involving twelve zones outside of Chicago. The ISTA provided some $2500 to support a LPSA Zone Leaders Workshop during August.

Each LPSA serves as an informal professional science education society operating within a small geographic area. Zone leaders were successfully recruited from 10 of 12 academic centers around the state. Small zone sizes allow for teachers to attend after school meetings without having to travel more than 45 minutes.

LPSAs are being created to help achieve the ends for which the ISAAPT, IACT, and ISTA were organized. Once fully developed, the memberships of LPSAs will meet four times per academic year to forge and sustain links between elementary school, middle school, high school, community college, and university faculty members who teach physical science. Attendees will share ideas, develop learning-teaching modules, learn from one another, gain a sense of empowerment, and have a good time. Physical science teachers at all levels will increase their effectiveness by participating in these local alliances, but especially when they spend time promoting and developing horizontal and vertical relationships with other teachers.

The four draft Physical Science (PS) core ideas from the preliminary framework of the new science education standards (NRC, 2010) are being considered as the basis of the four school year meetings of LPSAs. These include the broad content themes of matter, forces, energy, and waves.

Not only will content themes serve as organizing elements for various LPSA meetings, but so will vertical and horizontal relationships. During the inaugural year, the meetings – each locally planned and based on the needs of participating teachers – will bring together physical science teaches from high schools, community colleges, and universities. They will pilot LPSA activities and improve them for utilization during the second year. During this second year, physical science teachers at the middle and elementary school will be invited to participate in these twice-per-semester meetings.

Ideally LPSA meetings will focus on inquiry-oriented teaching – especially the development of “inquiry sequences” based on the author’s article, “Levels of inquiry: Hierarchies of pedagogical practices and inquiry processes” (Wenning, 2005). No longer should inquiry teaching be treated as an amalgam of interrelated activities. Rather, inquiry teaching will be seen as incorporated a set of activities based on a philosophically developed inquiry spectrum. The inquiry spectrum includes discovery learning, interactive demonstrations, inquiry lessons, and inquiry labs. Teachers at all levels will work cooperatively to create various inquiry sequences for physical science lessons from a single topic area as a professional development activity that they can immediately transport into their classrooms.

While teachers at the elementary and middle school levels might not implement certain inquiry lessons and labs, they certainly will want to participate in them during LPSA meetings to develop a better understanding of the concepts. Teachers at the high school level and above can learn from elementary and middle school teachers about conceptual difficulties that students at these levels seem to share. The goal is for teachers to teach teachers so that we can improve the quality and amount of science learning with which children of Illinois struggle each year.

Readers can learn more about this initiative by visiting the LPSA website which is currently under development, or by email at


National Research Council (2010). A Framework for Science Education: Preliminary Public Draft., retrieved 7/16/2010.

Wenning, C. J. (2005). Levels of inquiry: Hierarchies of pedagogical practices and inquiry processes. Journal of Physics Teacher Education Online, 2(3), 3-11.

Carl Wenning is the immediate past president of the Illinois Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He is a semi-retired member of the Illinois State University Physics Department, and continues to work part-time in teacher education. He was director of the Department’s physics teacher education program from 1994-2008.

Physics Education in Malaysian Schools

Fathaiyah Abdullah and A Rahman Omar

In Malaysia, the teaching of physics as a subject begins at the upper secondary level known as Form Four or year 10 of the school system. Prior to that, physics is taught as part of the science subject.

The level of physics taught at upper secondary level (Form Four and Five) is that of the ‘O’- levels of the British System. Through the mid seventies, the medium of instruction was English, and the textbooks used were those used in the British Commonwealth such as Physics by Abbot. For the ‘A’-levels the standard text was that of Nelkon and Parker.

From the mid-seventies until recently, the medium of instruction has been Malay. Subsequently textbooks were written in Malay and some English books were translated. Over the years, the curriculum has changed in order to be at par with ‘O’-level. One thing that remained relatively unchanged was the laboratory. Same experiments using same set of apparatus were carried out over the past thirty years. To illustrate a few, ticker tapes were still used to analyze motion; wooden trolleys (the wheels of which have friction) were used to verify conservation of momentum; and rubber bands, trolleys and inclined plane were used to verify Newton’s laws of motion.

Until recently, a practical examination, in which students carried out assigned experiments, was part of the examination. The experiments were not made known until the day of the exam. Students have to be prepared with the skill and knowledge of the experiment. This kind of evaluation was replaced by giving grade to experiments carried out by students at a point where the students are proficient. Teachers were somehow pressured to give good grade to their students. Good marks from the practical somehow diluted the quality of achievement of the students. We strongly believe that this was the case because of the skills the students attained when they enter university were declining. There are talks about reinstating the practical examination.

In 2002, the Government of Malaysia took two major decisions: English was to be used as medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics and ICT-based education is to be implemented. The process of reverting to English as medium of instruction would be done in stages, starting in 2003 and by 2008 it will be in full swing. All 9,533 government schools will be provided with laptops, LCD projectors, screens, trolleys and printers. New computer labs were to be constructed too.

Since for more than two decades sciences have been taught in Malay, there is a need for retraining of science teachers. Few programs were carried out. District English language coordinators were appointed, and they are responsible for the improvement of command of English among teachers. Every science and mathematics teacher was given a notebook so that ICT-based education can be implemented.

In 1996 a brainstorming session at the Ministry of Education resulted in the conception of Smart School Initiatives. Parts of the objectives of establishing such schools were to democratize education so as to provide every child with equal access to learning and to produce workforce that is ICT literate. Initially few schools were chosen. Telekom Smart School (TSS), a private entity, was chosen to spearhead the initiatives. TSS and partners have developed courseware for the smart schools. With the policy change on medium of instruction, TSS has to redo the courseware in English. The efforts have paid dividend since many countries will adopt curriculum developed by TSS. What was developed in the courseware has been the subject matter. No laboratory activities were developed as yet. We have presented to TSS the need for an active-learning environment using microcomputer-based laboratories (MBL) and interactive lecture demonstrations (ILD). The next stage of implementation of Smart School Initiative could be the deployment of MBL and ILD. Recently our prime minister has decided that all schools in Malaysia are to be made Smart Schools.

In response to the need of teacher to be proficient in English, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) has decided that all science and mathematics subjects at the university are to be taught in English. The effort has started since academic calendar 2003/2004.

Fathaiyah Abdullah and A Rahman Omar are at the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris 35900 Tanjong Malim, Perak, Malaysia

Physics Education in Pakistan

Aziz Fatima Hasnain

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is situated in the northwest of South Asia. About 180 million people live on a land of 796,000 sq. km having US $450 per capita income. Pakistan’s economy is based on agriculture and agricultural products. The port of Karachi also plays a major role in supporting its economy. In Pakistan one may find Islamic values finely mixed with 5000 years of cultural heritage.

Many of the economic development programs cannot achieve their goals because of the 2.9% annual population growth. Education and health sectors are the ones badly affected by this growth rate.

Education in Pakistan
The Ministry of Education is responsible for formal and informal education in Pakistan. Education departments in the provinces control the administration of primary to college level education, while the Higher Education Commission takes up matters related to higher education at the universities. Universities have their own curricula and examination system. For technical education there are separate district offices and boards of examination in the provinces.

To bring its society into consonance with the changes taking place in the world, the Pakistani Government has initiated many development programs to enhance scientific and technological capabilities in every field. Computer education has been introduced at the grass roots level. Computer labs with Internet connectivity have been set up in schools and colleges to make the computer technology accessible to each and every student. With the development of IT in Pakistan, demand for expenditure on higher education and research has increased.

There are about 32 universities and 9 degree awarding institutes in the public sector, and 18 universities and 9 degree awarding institutes in the private sector. There are about 475,000 students in the universities. Most of the private universities offer business or computer education to students. Out of five medical universities there are three private universities, and one out of four engineering universities belong to the private sector.

A student starts learning science in the primary schools, including introductory knowledge of concepts from biology, chemistry, and physics. Science is compulsory up to class eight. After class eight, students have the option to continue education in four major groups: 1) science group; 2) gneral science or humanities group; 3) home economics group; 4) computer science group. A student, after completing 10 years of secondary education in any of the groups at the age of 15, may continue a 2-year course of higher secondary education in the same group. At this stage, another option, a commerce group, is offered to students. After passing the higher secondary examination, students join professional colleges or universities.

Physics Education
Physics as a subject is introduced in class 9 and 10, and it is compulsory for science students. Physics is taught every year up through class 18 (masters level). A rather traditional style of teaching is followed at all levels. It is a common practice to concentrate the teaching/learning process around the prescribed syllabus. Teachers avoid demonstration of physical concepts because of the nonavailability of equipment. There are certain constraints in the system, which do not let the teacher develop her/his skills of teaching. Teaching based on textbooks and examination is the major source of inhibiting the individual’s capabilities. Verylittle attention is paid to developing problem solving skills and concept building among students. There are teachier training programs for school and college teachers, but these program do not play an effective role in changing the teaching/learning pattern.

Research in Physics
Quaid-e-Azam University has contributed a lot in producing PhDs in Pakistan. So far it has produced near about 100 PhDs in physics QAU has laboratories facilitated with sophisticated equipment for research. The statistics about PhDs produced from other universities is significantly low. The reason for small number of students opting research for higher degree is that universities abroad attract them.

Apart from universities, there are research institutes in Pakistan where students perform research. The Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and its affiliated institutions, the Centre for Solid-state Physics, and the A.Q Khan research Laboratories are the premier research institutes.

Recently Higher Education Commission has established a list of supervisors who are involved in research activity and offer PhD program for students. The website is at this website one may also find updated list of students who are involved in research program especially the website of Quaid-e-Azam University.

Strategies For Development
The Higher Education Commission has now become a controlling authority for tertiary education. The first task of HEC is to implement a “Model University Plan.” In its model university plan, HEC has given a new dimension to administrative and academic structure of state universities as well as to private universities. HEC has formulated advisory groups at the national level for the promotion of basic sciences. An advisory group for physics, which consists of physicists from universities and research organizations, has been constituted. The function of this group is to bring forth problems related to physics and prepare proposals for the improvement of physics education in Pakistan. A four year BSc course, proposed and designed by National Centre for Physics has been submitted to HEC. A research program in nano physics, submitted by advisory group was approved by HEC. Presently three groups are involved in nano physics project according to available facilities in the institutions. Two groups are working at QAU and PAEC at Islamabad and the third group is working at Karachi University.

The major obstacle is that our authorities have not yet convinced that good physics education play an important role in the development of country. It is hard to expect good physics education from least motivated and nonqualified teachers of physics at secondary schools. Poorly managed teaching laboratories at colleges and universities have affected the performance of students.

Centre for Physics Education
Under the patronship of Dr. Abdus Salam, some dedicated physics teachers belonging to university, colleges and schools established a Centre for Physics Education, Karachi in 1991 to promote conceptual understanding of physics at all level and to serve it as a resource centre for physics teachers where they could upgrade their knowledge of physics. Ever since these teachers organized their first workshop on teaching of physics in 1985, they have become the pioneers of setting new trends in teaching of physics. These teachers have been successful in developing CPE into a resource center for physics in which one may find books, periodicals and other instructional material including many costly software programs of physics. CPE is proud of establishing Computer Based Physics Laboratory at APWA Govt College in 1995.

The Centre for Physics Education is very well recognized at international forum of physics education, especially in Asian region. From the CPE platform we have organized workshops, seminars and training programs at local as well as international level. Recently in 2003, 2nd International Conference on Physics Teaching was successfully organized, in collaboration with the Physics Department, University of Karachi. In that conference we had speakers from Italy, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippine, Sudan and USA. This activity was sponsored by UNESCO Jakarta, Abdus Salam Centre for Theoretical Physics Italy, Phillip Industries of Pakistan and the National Centre for Physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

Aziz Fatima Hasnain is Secretary General of the Centre for Physics Education in Karachi. Her email address is