FEd April 1998 Newsletter - Comments

April 1998



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To the Editor,

In response to your Editor's Challenge:

Change is great. Yes, the physics community will need to continue to diversify by pursuing non-traditional areas of research and non traditional job opportunities. However, do we need to change our curriculum to bring this about? I would say no.

I look around at my fellow graduate and undergraduate physics majors and I find very successful people with diverse jobs; PRL editor, NIST researcher, faculty member, academic dean, industrial physicist, etc. We all have one thing in common, we majored in Physics. Why fix something that is not broke? Yes, the world is changing and will continue to change. Isn't the physics major well suited to deal with the changing world? Let us as Physicists continue: to teach problem solving, to teach students to question, to teach classes with high expectations, and to teach students to try different solutions.

Yes, let us continue to develop new curriculum for K - 12 and for the non science majors. Let us continue to develop and change our Introductory Physics sequence. Let us continue to reach out into the community in new ways. Let us recruit more Physics majors. But let us be careful when we start changing the undergraduate and graduate physics major. Physics majors are dynamic individuals able to adapt in this ever changing world we live in.

Jeff Williams
Assistant Professor of Physics
Wheeling Jesuit University
Wheeling, WV 26003

To the Editor,

This is a response to point (1) of your "challenge" on p.3 of Fall 1997 issue of FORUM ON EDUCATION.

One simple formal change that could revitalize the graduate physics curriculum by broadening its scientific horizons is to introduce a weekly reading seminar (perhaps 2 hrs./week) focused on the journal NATURE, with brief forays into SCIENCE, etc. The success of such a venture would depend upon the active and enthusiastic (built up over time?) participation of most faculty, post-docs and graduate students in a department. I believe this exposure should be required (with credit?) for perhaps a year for each graduate student, including a personal subscription to NATURE (currently $85/yr. for graduate students). For that group it would serve as an introduction into a wide range of fields that they might encounter while job-hunting : A familiarity with terminology and current problems may look good at an interview.

I choose NATURE because I find (1) the writing style refreshing, (2)the choice of books reviewed stimulating, (3)the political coverage more global, (4) the coverage of physical science vs. biological science a bit more balanced than in SCIENCE.

Such a seminar, in which many topics might find no local experts, would be a leveling experience, in which students could find themselves able to contribute, through youthful imagination, equally with the more senior researchers, while also observing the ways in which members of the latter group approach unfamiliar topics. E.g. it could be fun to dissect the weekly brainstorming Daedalus column.

It would be desirable to cover a number of topics each week. For some topics of wide interest, but general ignorance, outside informants could be invited. At the time of Newton the regular meetings of the Royal Society dealt with a wide range of topics. I believe the idea presented here is an update of the Royal Society meetings incorporating the advantages of modern media coverage and rapid communication.

I am interested in your opinion of this idea--when and if you would like to voice one.

Sincerely yours,

Harvey Kaplan
Professor Emeritus,
Syracuse University;
Visiting Professor,
College of the City of New York.

Professor Kaplan:

Here is the opinion you asked for. I think this is a superb idea. I think it is healthy for us to remember from time to time that we are scientists, not just physicists. A passing familiarity with hot ideas in other fields can be stimulating, broadening, and informative. Just occasionally a new research idea will come from a session such as you propose, but even if not, students' thinking skills will have been stretched. And as you say, such a familiarity can only help during that job search.

The Editor

To the Editor,

I'm a retired member of APS, not reading as much literature as I once did, or as active, but I joined the Forum on Education when two Forums were available for the price of one, about a year and a half ago.

I'm a Federal/Postal Retiree, and have been for the past 20 years, with not great accomplishments to my name.

I now volunteer in a bi-lingual kindergarten and as we went to the English speaking kindergarten one day, the teacher asked the students what big people (around 6 years old) did. One said they could play ball, another tie his shoes, another eat by himself. But one little boy stunned me by saying "well, you perform an experiment."

I think if our elementary and secondary school children were given more good exposure to physics they may indeed follow it as a subject in college to major in or a career.

Good luck,

Michael C. Thuesen

Mr. Thuesen: I would say that what you are doing is a great accomplishment indeed. And I too hope that more and more of our children will look forward to being able to perform experiments.