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Physics education: Wikis


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Physics education refers both to the methods currently used to teach physics and to an area of pedagogical research that seeks to improve those methods. Historically, physics has been taught at the high school and college level primarily by the lecture method together with laboratory exercises aimed at verifying concepts taught in the lectures.

Unfortunately, owing to the abstract and counterintuitive nature of many of the elementary concepts in physics, together with the fact that teaching through analogies can lead to didaskalogenic confusions, the lecture method often fails to help students overcome the many misconceptions about the physical world that they have developed before undertaking formal instruction in the subject. In most introductory physics courses mechanics usually is the first area of physics that is discussed. Newton's laws of motion, which describe how massive objects respond to forces, are central to the study of mechanics. Newton arrived at his three laws of motion from an extensive study of empirical data including many astronomical observations.

However, students frequently have preconceptions about the world around them that makes it difficult for them to accept Newton's Laws of Motion. As an example Newton's First Law, also known as the law of inertia, states that, in an inertial frame, a body at rest will remain at rest and that a body moving at constant velocity will continue to move with the same velocity unless a net force acts on the body. Many students hold the misconception that a net force is required to keep a body moving at constant velocity. They know that to slide a book across a table a "push" has to be exerted on the book. However, they fail to take into account that there is more than one force acting on the book when it is being pushed across the table at constant velocity. In addition to the "push" being exerted, there also is a frictional force in the opposite direction acting on the book from the tabletop. When the book moves at constant velocity those two forces balance out (add vectorially) to produce a net force of zero.

In an active learning environment students might experiment with objects in an environment that has almost no friction, for example a block moving on an almost frictionless air table. There they would find that if they start the block moving at constant speed, it continues to move at constant speed without the need for a constant "push". It is hoped that exercises of this nature will help students to overcome their preconceived ideas about motion.


Physics education in American high schools

Physics is taught in high schools, college and graduate schools. In the US, it has traditionally not been introduced until junior or senior year (i.e. 12th grade), and then only as an elective or optional science course, which the majority of American high school students have not taken. Recently in the past years, many students have been taking it their sophomore year.

Physics First is a popular and relatively new movement in American high schools. In schools with this curriculum 9th grade students take a course with introductory physics education. This is meant to enrich students understanding of physics, and allow for more detail to be taught in subsequent high school biology, and chemistry classes; it also aims to increase the number of students who go on to take 12th grade physics or AP Physics (both of which are generally electives in American high schools.)

Goals of physics education research

The primary goal of physics education research is to develop pedagogical techniques and strategies that will help students learn physics more effectively. Research often focuses on learning more about the common misconceptions (see Scientific misconceptions) that students bring to the physics classroom, so that techniques can be devised to help students overcome these misconceptions. A variety of interactive learning methods (sometimes also called active learning methods) and laboratory experiences have been developed with this aim. The recognition of the value of interactive engagement over more passive lecturing strategies has been promoted in large measure through studies initially using the Force Concept Inventory. see Concept inventory.

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