FEd Fall 2001 Newsletter - Browsing the Journals

Fall 2001



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Browsing the Journals

Thomas D. Rossing

  • Alarmed by declining student interest in science and the superior test scores of some of its neighbors in East Asia, Japan is planning to reform the way science is taught in its schools, according to a news note in the 6 September issue of Nature. The plan will start next year with the establishment of 20 "super-science high schools," each of which will receive special funding to buy equipment and teaching assistance from university researchers. In addition, the plan will provide equipment grants to 1500 other schools.
  • George Soros is giving $250 million to endow Central European University, a graduate institution in Budapest and Warsaw that he helped to found in 1991, according to a story in the October 14 issue of the New York Times. His gift will be the largest single gift to a European university. The endowment is part of Soros's commitment to give away his fortune while he is alive. Last year his network of foundations gave out nearly $500 million for education, public health, and the development of open societies in Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and elsewhere. Founded in Prague, the main campus of the university is now in Budapest, where it offers graduate instruction, mostly in humanities and the social sciences to 858 students from 40 countries.
  • "Lessons Learned from Arnold Arons" is the title of a column in the November issue of The Physics Teacher intended for new teachers. The authors identifies 5 lessons:
    1. Pay attention to underpinnings (gaps in students' backgrounds)
    2. Pay careful attention to how you say things (the "linguistic elements")
    3. Develop the idea first and give it a name afterwards
    4. Provide multiple representations
    5. Establish a classroom climate of active engagement.

    Cookbook labs provide activity but rarely do they require active engagement. Likewise, working problems by plugging numbers into prescribed equations doesn't force learners to identify why the equation fits the situation.

  • Telescopes in Education, a project that makes a 24-inch research-quality robotic telescope at the Mt. Wilson observatory in California available to students all over the world, is described in an article in the May issue of Physics Education. Observing sessions generally last an hour or two and are booked in advance. Two telephone lines are kept open during a run: a voice line to communicate with the dome and a data line for the telescope. The telescope is equipped with a CCD camera, and by taking photographs through red, green and blue filters, separate black-and-white photographs can be combined into color images.

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  • Teachers in the United States earn less relative to national income than their counterparts in other industrial countries, yet they spend far more hours in front of the classroom, according to a new international study summarized in the NYTimes of June 13. money.gif (1505 bytes)The salary differentials are part of a pattern of relatively low public investment in education in the United States according to the report compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. Total government spending on educational institutions in the United States slipped to 4.8 percent of gross domestic product, falling under the international average of 5 percent for the first. In addition to the teacher pay gap, the report shows the other countries have begun to catch up with the United States in higher education. For the first time, the college graduation rate in the U.S., now 33%, is not the world? highest. Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Britain now surpass it. The U.S. is also producing fewer mathematics and science graduates than most other member states. The average salary for a high school teacher with 15 years of experience is less than 60 percent of the average in Switzerland, and teachers in the U.S. have a heavier classroom load, teaching almost a third more hours than their counterpart abroad.
  • Copernicus.jpg (1519 bytes)The claim that Copernicus "ethroned" earth from its "privileged" central position in the universe is a clichi that is unwarranted and should be discarded, according to a paper in the October issue of American J. Physics. The great Copernican clichi is premised upon an uncritical equation of geocentrism with anthrocentrism, the author argues.
  • There is growing evidence that one of the difficulties that students have in understanding and applying physics concepts is a lack of appreciation of the purposes and structure of physics knowledge, according to a paper in the March issue of Physics World entitled "Making physics common sense." Teaching students about the true purpose of models, laws, and theories can help them understand the subject.
  • MIT, along with its principal partner Stanford University, has launched THE Open Knowledge Initiative (OKI), an ambitious project to develop a modular Web-based teaching environment for assembling, delivering, and accessing educational resources and activities, according to an article in the June issue of Syllabus. Information about OKI, which is based on an open source-licensing model, is available at http://web.mit.edu/oki. Another recently announced MIT project, the Open Course Ware Initiative, which will make content from MIT courses available on the Web for free, is described at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/2001/ocw-facts.html.
  • A 1.jpg (12245 bytes)new "general" physics major at Rutgers University, with a less demanding curriculum for students who do not intend to pursue a research career in physics, is described in a guest editorial by Peter Lindenfeld in the October issue of J. College Science Teaching. Two new full-year courses to follow the introductory physics course have been added. One is Advanced General Physics, which includes parts of the normal junior and senior courses, but at a reduced level of intensity and mathematical sophistication. The other is a laboratory course with a substantial amount of computer use. The new major, which compliments the "professional" physics major, also requires two further semesters in physics, which can be chosen from the regular advanced courses or can also be special courses (Physics of Sound, Physics of Modern Devices), which are less rigorous and problem-oriented.
  • An article by columnist Alfie Kohn in the Aug. 22 issue of USA Today attacks the standardized reading and math tests proposed by President Bush. "Given that time and energy are limited, what is being sacrificed when schools are forced to focus on test results? The answers are increasingly clear-and disturbing-as evidence accumulates from across the USA: Science and social studies have been severely trimmed in states that do not include those subjects on standardized tests." Many science teachers in schools with poor and minority children are required by their principals to suspend the teaching of science for weeks or moths in order to devote science class time to drill and practice.
  • A Phoenix astrology school was recently given accredited status, and its students can now pursue federal education grants and loans, according to a news bulletin in the October/November NSTA Reports. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology accredited The Astrology Institute of Scottsdale, largely because the school demonstrated its teachers are qualified and that students find paying jobs, according to the head of ACCSCT. Graduates of the school set up private practice or work in health spas or on board cruise ships.
  • In a letter to the editor in the May issue of The Physics Teacher, teachers were asked to comment on their experiences teaching algebra-based physics courses online. Three such letters appeared in the November issue of that journal, and no doubt more will appear in succeeding issues. Most of the experiences were positive (see "Teaching on the Web" in this newsletter issue).

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  • "What do the athlete Jonathan Edwards, the rock star Brian May, and the film director Paul Verhoeven have in common?" begins an article on career options for physicists in the October issue of Physics World. The answer is that they all have degrees in physics, as do many other famous businessmen, entertainers, and government leaders, including Mike Judge (creator of "Beavis and Butt-head", Lindsay Nicholson (editor of Good Housekeeping), and many others. Perhaps a catalogue of famous persons who have physics degrees would help to improve the fading image of physics among young people, the article suggests.

Thomas D. Rossing is Professor of Physics at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL. He has been an editor of the Forum Newsletter for six years.