FORUM ON EDUCATION
Table of Contents:
Teaching by Conceptual Exploration" by Cedric Linder and Greg Hillhouse (The Physics Teacher, September 1996) describes an introductory physics course for science majors at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa that deals exclusively with the "conceptual dynamics of elementary physics." Conceptual to the authors does not mean a "no-mathematics" physics course, but rather limiting, or excluding, formula derivation and usage. Their recommendation is that this conceptual phase in the undergraduate learning experience then be followed by : a transition phase that introduces mathematical modeling and problem solving; and a mature phase that immerses students in mathematical modeling of the physical world and of abstract ideas.
In this same issue are contributions from H. Richard Crane, Albert Bartlett, and Clifford Swartz, three of the regular authors that make The Physics Teacher one of my favorite magazines. In his column "How Things Work," Crane explains the intricacies of the dial lock and even includes a photograph of a large working model of the lock that he built for the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (see Crane's article elsewhere in this newsletter). Al Bartlett's "The Exponential Function, XI: The New Flat Earth Society" is the latest in his continuing series of articles on the exponential function and its applications. (A videotape of his famous lecture on this subject, which he has given more than 1000 times, incidentally, can be obtained from the University of Colorado. I highly recommend it that it be shown to every student taking a physics course, some of whom may become government leaders in the future.) In his editorial "Fatherly Advice," Cliff Swartz offers some valuable advice to new teaching assistants. Sample: when the students walk into lab, they should meet an instructor who has the attitude, "Hey, have I got a lab for you!"
The October 4 issue of Science focuses on science and science teaching in Japan. (The February 2 issue reported on science education in Europe, as I pointed out in the last newsletter.) The lead editorial by Hiroo Imura, president of Kyoto University, points out that Japan has reached an important turning point. After World War II, the miracle of Japan's economic growth was achieved through technological innovation and a cheap, well-trained labor force. To achieve further economic development, however, Japan must develop breakthrough technologies, and that means fostering individuality and scientific creativity through science education. In order to promote science in Japan, the Science and Technology Basic Law was enacted by the Diet in 1995. This plan calls for increases in research grants from the government, increases in support staff and fellowship programs, and the renewal of research facilities.
"Guest Comment: Hope Springs Eternal--Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer in the October issue of American Journal of Physics is sobering. According to a 1990 Gallup poll, 52% of adults believe in astrology, 46% in ESP, and 19% in witches. Statistically speaking, pseudoscientific beliefs are experiencing a revival in the late 20th century. Why do people believe weird things? The answer may lie in the uncertainties we face. The only sure things, as the joke goes, are death and taxes; this may explain why some people cheat on their taxes and many more turn to spiritualism. We can help to counter this by emphasizing the positive aspects of science, not the negative aspects that seem to predominate in the media.
An editorial "Research Strategy: Teach" by chemist Roald Hoffmann, which originally appeared in American Scientist, is reprinted in the September/October issue of Journal of College Science Teaching. "A damaging misconception about modern universities is that research dominates and diminishes teaching and that the tension of balancing (unsymmetrically) the twain is unhealthy." Hoffman maintains that not only are the two inseparable, but teaching makes for better research. In the same issue of this journal, Bobbie Poole and Stanley Kidder discuss the issue of integrating laboratories and lectures in "Making Connections in the Undergraduate Laboratory." Connections should also be made between the course and other life experiences.
"Are science lectures a relic of the past?" asks Harvard's Eric Mazur in the September issue of Physics World. Since most students have an attention span of about 15 minutes, why do universities persist with hour-long lectures during which taking notes from the blackboard is the main form of activity? Mazur suggests that in the sciences, as in the humanities, the first exposure to new material should come from reading printed material. To make sure that students carry out their reading assignments, he begins every class with a 5-minute quiz on the material they should have read. Then he divides the class into 10-15 minute segments, each devoted to one of the main points of the reading. A brief lecture or demonstration experiment is followed by a conceptual question projected on a screen to which the students must choose an answer and try to convince their neighbors. The answers are recorded by a computerized voting system (but it could be done by flash cards, show of hands).
Dismal performance on doctoral oral exams is a problem of long standing, points out David Hestenes in an editorial in the December 1995 issue of American Journal of Physics ("Guest Comment: What do graduate oral exams tell us?") There is good reason to believe, he continues, that they are symptomatic of a general failure to develop student skills in qualitative modeling and analysis. If the curriculum is so ineffective at developing qualitative reasoning, how did the professor learn it? Typically, a profound transition occurs as the student plunges into research after completing the graduate exam requirements; in the struggle to define a research problem the student develops a natural fluency in the kind of qualitative descriptions and arguments that drive scientific research. Should not instruction be designed to give students comparable practice in devising, articulating, and evaluating physical arguments?
In July, President Clinton announced an agreement with industry and
children's television advocacy groups that will require broadcasters
to air three hours of regularly scheduled, half-hour weekly programs
designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children,
according to an article in the September issue of NSTA Reports! Broadcasters
who do not voluntarily comply would have to go before the FCC to show
that they have met the requirements of the Children's Television Act
passed in 1990.
Barbara H. Butler
Formal education, nonformal education, informal education, what are the differences? Informal education and informal learning are solid concepts in the continuum of education strategies and learning theory but the very terminology may lead people astray in their understanding of what informal learning is. Informal learning can be defined as voluntary, independent, self-directed, life-long learning. Nonformal education, on the other hand, is any organized activity outside the established formal system that is intended to serve identifiable learning clienteles and objectives. In comparison with formal education, it is generally less structured, more task-and-skill oriented, more flexible in timing, and more immediate in its goals. Examples of nonformal education include non-credit short courses and other non-degree but organized classes.
Informal learning has always been a powerful influence in the intellectual, emotional, and physical development of an individual and in recent years attention has been keenly focused on this form of learning. How does this process work? How do people learn from watching a television program about scientific discoveries or a large format film about the universe? How do people learn from interacting with an exhibit with activities that replicate principles of sound, gravity, or complexity? What is the influence of the physical space in which people experience these activities? What is the influence on the learner of the social group of which they are a part when they are experiencing these activities? What is the influence of the learner's preconceptions, expectations, knowledge, and attitudes, for example, on the learning experience?
Partnerships between the designers of informal learning activities and scientists are highly desirable. Informal learning professionals are eager to work with scientists for a number of reasons, including a desire to get the content correct and to have insights into the advancements being made in scientific research. Informal education professionals can assist scientists in their desires to contribute to the general improvement of science literacy. On of the dynamic ways to improve public understanding of science is through broad dissemination of informal learning activities.
NSF's commitment to support of public understanding of science and informal learning comes primarily through its Informal Science Education (ISE) program. We have supported a broad menu of television and radio programs, films, museum exhibits, and community-based programming. Television programs supported by the ISE program include "Bill Nye, the Science Guy," "The Magic School Bus," and "Einstein." We have supported exhibits and programs at museums such as the Exploratorium and the Museum of Science and Industry, and we have supported films such as "Cosmic Voyage." We encourage all who are interested in reaching the out-of-school learner to look at our program guidelines to see if your thoughts mesh with ours. Guidelines are available through the NSF home page (www.nsf.gov) or by requesting publication NSF 95-150 from the NSF publication office at (703) 306-1128. Abstracts of funded projects can also be accessed via the NSF home page.
Barbara H. Butler is Program Director, Informal Science Education, National Science Foundation.
Most major cities in the world have at least one science museum, and they are marvelous places for children and adults to learn physics. I have been fortunate enough to visit many such museums in various countries, and have shared some of my impressions with other teachers (see The Physics Teacher, March 1979). Teachers, especially in elementary schools, frequently take their classes to such museums, and these visits have become a highlight of science studies for many young students. However, there are often logistics problems connected with arranging such visits, especially with high school students. Wouldn't it be nice if schools could incorporate mini- museums or libraries of science exhibits right into their own buildings, much as they have libraries devoted to audiovisual materials as well as to books and journals?
This can be done on a modest budget by using volunteers, preferably the students themselves. I am going to describe two such projects in which I have participated in the hopes that other physics teachers and professional physicists will become interested in starting or helping in such projects in their own local schools. One such project was The Science Place, an interactive science museum at Barrington High School, and the other is the Interactive 3-D physics Library at New Trier High School. Both of these projects were inspired by the interactive exhibits in San Francisco's Exploratorium and by the philosophy of its founder, Frank Oppenheimer.
My first introduction to interactive exhibits as teaching tools took place during the 1978 AAPT winter meeting when I joined other physics teachers at an Exploratorium open house. I'll never forget my amazement when I saw the huge hall filled with wonderful examples of physics phenomena. The Exploratorium, we learned, was an outgrowth of the library of experiments that Oppenheimer developed at the University of Colorado, most of which are still used in undergraduate physics courses.
The Science Place The Science Place was started by Glenn Leto, a biology teacher, and myself around 1981. We had already started a science club, the "Sigma Society," which was intended to be an activity-oriented club. After traveling with these students to several science museums, we decided it was time to get the students in the Sigma Society involved in creating their own exhibits and teaching science to their peers. The result was an exhibit called "For Your Eyes Only: The Need for Objectivity in Science," which was displayed in the guidance resource center at Barrington High School. The exhibit was only up for a week, but it generated a lot of enthusiasm, and the Sigma Society continued the project until we had more than 60 physics exhibits alone. What we didn't have was a permanent home, although we found a temporary home in an unused gymnasium in one of the elementary schools in our district. During this time, a large number of elementary school students visited the exhibits, which had come to be known as The Science Place.
While some exhibits in the Science Place were copies of works found in other museums, there was ample opportunity for the student builder to become part of the creative process. Due to the financial, technological, and space limitations imposed on the Science Place, even reproductions of other exhibits generally required some degree of creative problem solving on the part of the student developers.
Five in-line bowling balls formed the "Newton's cradle" exhibit. The familiar desktop toy was the inspiration for this large-scale device which provided the visitor with a means for exploring conservation of momentum and energy. Usually, without reading the directions, a visitor was enticed to displace a ball and release it to discover what would happen. After this initial experiment, even the youngest visitor began to wonder why the intervening balls remain stationary while the outermost ball springs outward. This led to further experimentation.
When viewed on the polarized light table, transparent materials presented a brilliant display of color. This exhibit provided a brief explanation of the phenomenon of double refraction and then allowed the visitor to manipulate such variables as the type of material, orientation of polarization, and the nature of the light source. Especially intriguing to younger visitors was the potential inherent in this device for producing multicolored works of art using cellophane tape.
After a visit to the Exploratorium, one of our students was so impressed with their 400-lb resonant pendulum that he became obsessed with constructing one for the Science Place. The problems inherent in building, much less supporting and transporting, such a massive device were obvious: How should we construct the massive bob? How should we support the 400-lb weight? How could the weight be transported from one site to another? The student used his creativity and imagination in solving all of these problems. He decided that the pendulum bob would consist of four cylindrical concrete discs supported by a steel core and base. To support the pendulum, he designed and constructed a wooden structure that was not only strong enough but could be dismantled for transport. The fact that this exhibit was used by approximately 10,000 visitors is a testimonial to the soundness of his creative endeavor.
An Interactive 3-D Physics Library The Interactive 3-D Physics Library at New Trier High School is a collection of interactive exhibits designed to encourage exploration, foster understanding, mitigate science anxiety, and to generate a positive attitude toward physics. It is intended to appeal to a diverse audience; since it illustrates "perceptual physics" it can be used in conjunction with the life sciences, psychology, and art. To date, my colleagues and I have constructed over 50 hands-on exhibits with a variety of uses: classroom exploratory activities and demonstrations, corridor exhibits, physics exhibitions, school open houses, display cases, and physics workshops. They are available for interdisciplinary programs and for sharing with other schools.
At this time, our library includes exhibits representing sound, light, mechanics, and visual perception. In the "voice trace" exhibit, students can observe their voice and other sounds on an oscilloscope, while "stereo sound" demonstrates the ear's amazing ability to localize sources of sound by listening through funnels while a length of tubing is tapped at various points so that the sound reaches the two ears at slightly different times. Colleague Tom Senior has created several exhibits, including the popular coupled pendulum exhibit in which Lissajous figures are drawn in the sand as the pendulum swings. Jan Leonhardt's "silver reflectors" display consists of an array of Christmas-tree ornaments, arranged so that pointing a finger at one sphere results in the reflected fingers in all other ornaments pointing directly at the chosen sphere. In the reverse mask exhibit, a concave face appears to follow you as you walk back and forth in front of the face.
Funds for construction of these exhibits have come from a variety of sources, including the Metrologic Corporation, the Polaroid Corporation, the Toyota Corporation, AAPT, the Optical Society of America, and the Acoustical Society of America. The generous support of these organizations has allowed thousands of students to experience the wonders of physics!
Christopher Chiaverina is a physics teacher at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. He formerly taught at Barrington High School in Illinois.
H. Richard Crane
Your newsletter editor has asked me for some comments on my experiences with "hands-on" museums. I got into doing volunteer work with the one in Ann Arbor about 15 years ago. Several events conspired to get me hooked: the museum was just starting, I had very recently retired from teaching, I had a well-equipped home shop, and I had a lifelong hobby of gadgeteering. The infant museum badly needed exhibits, so I built a number of them in my home shop. I've continued to dream up and build an exhibit every now and then, sometimes with a double payoff, using it as a subject for my "How Things Work" series in The Physics Teacher (see the September 1996 issue, for example).
I should explain that a "hands-on" exhibit, in its original form, is a contraption that demonstrates a single phenomenon, of tabletop size or less. Completely armored, usually in a Plexiglas case, only push buttons, switches, knobs, cranks, or levers are accessible to the visitor. It has written instructions and explanations (which kids never read) and a timer that turns it off after a short time (which kids would never do). One might ask if a better term would be "hands-off" exhibits. More lately, bigger, more elaborate exhibits are appearing, some with the hands-on part forgotten.
Since Frank Oppenheimer opened the Exploratorium in San Francisco in 1969, the hands-on museum business has exploded. In the United States there are about four hundred; many more around the world. While the early ones were volunteer do-it-yourself, now many start with millions of dollars in support and hire their exhibits made. It has become big business.
As art museums have long known, the permanent exhibits will not keep the same people coming forever. Frequent traveling shows of exhibits are needed. These are 20 or more exhibits on a theme, enough to fill a gallery or more. Most are created by museums, supported by grants from NSF or other sources, and circulated by the originators or the organization to which museums belong. There are now 30 or 40 in circulation. Stiff rental fees are charged, but the museums get their money's worth; crowds of people come.
I should say a word about the most important part of our museum, the visitors. We might say we run two kinds of museum. Mornings during the school year, the big yellow busses full of kids arrive, two or more per morning. Each group is given limited time, typically two hours. There are 200 exhibits to see. Teachers come with the kids, and museum "explainers" are on the floor, but still you can imagine how the kids go on the run from one exhibit to another, sometimes pushing the button and not waiting to see what happens. How much learning takes place is your guess.
The afternoons are different: no busses, no time limits. Adults bring kids or grand-kids, and learning takes place. The adults read and have to explain to the kids. Both learn. Some of the kids will come repeatedly and get to be experts, often explaining to others. That's where the reward is, for people like me. We like to think that some of these kids gain an interest in science that is new to them and that lasts. I believe that, or I wouldn't keep working at it!
H. Richard Crane, a professor of physics at the University of Michigan for 43 years, has received many awards, including AAPT's Oersted medal, APS's Davison-Germer prize, and the National Medal of Science. He chaired the AIP Board of Governors and served as president of AAPT in 1965.
In a couple of weeks the Reuben Fleet Science Center will premiere our latest interactive exhibition, "Signals: Of Semaphores and Cyberspace," the culmination of a 4-year effort, funded by a million-dollar grant from NSF matched from other sources. Here in San Diego, we expect the 45 exhibits in this exhibition to be viewed and manipulated by 600,000 people per year, including 150,000 school children on field trips. An additional half million people will interact with the version of Signals that will travel nationally, starting next year. Given these numbers, the potential impact of such a physics-based exhibition is enormous. What these facts don't disclose, however, is the deep sense of satisfaction that comes with each step in the process of putting together such an exhibition.
The process of developing an exhibition such as Signals can be compared to developing a laboratory course. The theme of the exhibition, signal processing, is broken down into 45 discrete modules or activities, much like a semester-long lab course is broken into weekly sessions. One exhibit allows the viewer to compare the travel times of signals carried by a pneumatically driven ball, a pulse of sound, and a pulse of light. A group of exhibits deals with the fundamentals of wave motion, from periodic motion to Fourier analysis. Another group deals with modulation and the kinds of encoding that are used for transmission and storage; yet another group deals with the why and how of digitizing. Each exhibit is like an experiment: It offers visitors variables, parameters that can be changed, so that "what if?" question can be asked ("What if I change this and put it here? What will happen?") and answered ("Oh, it moves the other way. I didn't expect that").
There are two big differences between a laboratory and an exhibit hall. First, the exhibit hall has all the experiments available to the user at the same time; no schedules or time limits are imposed. Users become self-directed learners as they browse through the available activities and become engaged with the ones that are meaningful to them. Second, in the exhibit hall there is no instructor; the exhibits are stand-along learning tools. They must be attractive (so they will hold the visitors' attention), engaging (so the visitors will use them), safe (so no one will get hurt), and robust (so that not even vandals will break them). In addition, they must be usable at different depths of understanding by people of different ages and with different backgrounds. This is quite a list of requirements!
Creating an exhibition can be seen as a process of research and development. Going from a concept or idea to an exhibition that can be sold to the public and/or to other museums requires the building of a prototype. The prototype is field-tested in the exhibit hall, modified according to the results of the testing, and evaluated again. A successful exhibit requires a user-friendly interface. Often, a simple change in the appearance or the placement of a knob or switch makes a big difference in how an exhibit will be used. There is much interesting research to be done in this field of design (sometimes called "cognitive engineering") to turn it into more of a science.
The creation of Signals involved several physicists who conceptualized individual exhibits, developed software and electronics, and built the prototypes. Some of the evaluators are graduate students, with master's degrees in physics, in a novel doctoral program in science education offered jointly by San Diego State University and the University of California. The breadth of expertise that is needed to produce a major exhibition is such that few museums can afford to have it in house. Consultants are essential, and knowledgeable professionals who are willing to contribute are much needed. If there is an interactive museum near you, give them a call. If you have students willing to enter a non-traditional field, have them consider this kind of work. It may not pay as well as working in industry, but it is extremely rewarding in other ways.
Elsa Feher is a professor of physics at San Diego State University and Director of the Reuben Fleet Science Center in San Diego. Her e-mail address is: email@example.com.
Alan J. Friedman
Informal science learning is a billion dollar industry. In North America alone there are over a thousand science museums, natural history museums, zoos, aquaria, children's museums, and botanical gardens. Science, medicine, and natural history programs on television have crossed the boundary between non-commercial and commercial channels. You can get a scout merit badge in astronomy or ecology or geography. Family Science is offered in community centers around the United States.
How effective is the informal science education enterprise? Do the people who create and operate this enterprise know what they are doing? Do they have a theoretical base, or at least an agenda on the table, for examining what they are doing and why? Is there some training program for people in the field so that they start with a basic knowledge of what the field is, what it knows, and what it needs to learn?
The answers to all these questions are "we don't know," or "we are not sure," or simply "no." These are all issues which, in a field like physics or formal school-based education, would be handled by the academy. University programs have professors, post-docs, undergraduate and graduate students, books, peer-reviewed journals, research seminars, and dissertations. These mechanisms make sure that research and evaluation, theory, study agendas, vigorous debate, and a common base of knowledge are pursued by an ongoing community with shared knowledge.
Although there are a few dozen university faculty members who are attempting to provide some of the components of a research establishment, there is no academic home for informal science education, at least in North America, and the lack of a research center is hold back the entire field. In response to funding organizations, such as NSF, institutions may hire consultants to do a brief study at the end of a project, but the contract is generally too casual to establish a habit of reflection or rigorous self-questioning.
A recent publication1 provides the best possible summary of studies on the impact of individual informal science learning experiences. Yes, people do learn science from some of their experiences within museums, films, and community activities, and we know how to improve the effectiveness of those experiences. The situations for summative evaluation and generalizable results are much shakier, however. Even when the numbers of subjects are large, as in the audience for a television show or an exhibition, informal science education practitioners have been faced with the same problems of evaluation that bother formal education: the treatment experienced is not identical for every individual; the control audience can rarely be matched satisfactorily with the experimental audience; and in practice we measure only a tiny part of the potential impacts, cognitive and affective, of a program. Do participants in informal science learning become more effective and happier citizens, workers, and parents? We don't know.
Devising a research agenda of sufficient scope is not going to be easy. There is the fear of failure, and the subsequent drying up of funding, not only for research but for the informal leaning enterprise itself. There is the lack of research infrastructure--it is hard to sustain a research program without an academic center for such research, with its tireless graduate students, refereed journal, and provocative seminar series. But we cannot continue to sell informal science education to foundations and the public if we do not try. Our competitors who place entertainment first and education a distant second, like Disney and most of the mass media, have a long head start on us in understanding how to sell sizzle with the merest promise of nutritional benefit as an added bonus.
1Valerie Crane, ed. "Informal science learning/What the research says about television, science museums, and community-based projects." (Research Communications, Dedham, MA, 1994).
Alan J. Friedman is director of the New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th St., Flushing Meadows Corona Park, New York 11368. This article is excerpted from an article in Curator 38, 214-220 (1995).
At its May 1996 meeting in Indianapolis, the Executive Committee considered the budget and membership. Although forum membership is now a check-off item on the APS membership renewal form and costs $6 (beyond the first 2), our membership appears to be holding up quite well (about 4100 members).
The FEd voted to form a new subcommittee called the High School Interaction Committee (HIC) to assist the College-High School Interaction Committee (CHIC) with tasks such as organizing high school teacher days at APS meetings and publishing the popular CHIC newsletter online.
The Mass Media Fellows Program proposed by FEd has been adopted by APS and advertising will begin in September.
Howard Georgi was designated to act as liason between FEd and the Board of Physics and Astronomy (BPA) of the National Research Council to recommend that education be included as a separate section in the third decennial Physics Survey to be completed in 1999.
At its October 1996 meeting in Cambridge, the Executive Committee set up a committee to oversee the web page and other electronic communications of FEd. Jay Pasachoff chairs the subcommittee and Ken Lyons is the home page administrator.
The FEd Program Committee, chaired by Rush Holt, will organize sessions at both the March and April APS meetings. We are also looking ahead to the Centenary celebration in 1999, and Charles Holbrow will serve as our liason with the Centenary Committee.
Can Science Survive Constraint on Growth
Universities are both the intellectual and the economic entrepreneurs of science. Universities go out and borrow money to build laboratory buildings and buy the latest state-of-the-art equipment, then invest huge amounts hiring tenured professors to fill those laboratories. When they do that they are making a business decision and, although universities are not businesses, they must in some sense be run as businesses because somebody has to pay the bills. They are making business decisions that assume that those professors are going to bring in enough money in grants and contracts in the future to pay for the investment in the laboratories, buildings, and the professors.
In the era of exponential growth, that was a winning business strategy. Today, it is a disastrous business strategy. Either the universities will learn to stop building those laboratories or they will go belly up. Either way, we will not have the entrepreneurs in our next generation to build the next generation of scientific laboratories and instruments.
The bottom-line issue is whether science can survive constraint or not. In the past, science was a competition against nature: Could we be clever enough to overcome nature, to find out her secrets by doing successful science? That is no longer the case. Science today is a competition for resources, which makes it an economic, rather than an intellectual, competition. There is no guarantee at all that science will flourish or even survive under these circumstances.
The marketplace, people say, will take care of everything, and, in truth, the marketplace does work its wonders. The marketplace, after all, is responsible in some sense for the fact that we stopped producing exponentially increasing numbers of Ph.D.'s in physics after 1970. But the marketplace does not care about individuals and does not care at all whether science survives.
Most people in the academic world who have heard of my arguments (a remarkably large number) assume that I am arguing for some sort of "inflexible birth control," meaning to stop the production of Ph.D.'s. I do not believe and I cannot believe that the solution to this problem is less education. I do believe that the solution to this problem is more education in science, but it has to be of a different nature.
I do not know whether or not there is an excess of people with Ph.D.'s trained to do research, but, at any rate, these people are very clever and tend to get jobs somewhere even if not doing research. They tend not to be unemployed (even though some undoubtedly are). In contrast, there are 20,000 high schools in the United States that do not have a single trained physics teacher. It seems to me that we have not a surplus of scientifically trained people in this country, but a severe shortage of such people.
The problem is that those who have trained in science have been given the wrong expectations. Either that, or perhaps we have arranged society so badly that people who are willing to put themselves through the long period of time it takes to get a scientific education are then unwilling to become high-school teachers. Can you imagine a society in which teaching in high school were a respected, prestigious-enough occupation that people would be willing to undergo a long, serious training in science in order to teach in high school? If you can imagine that, you are imagining the solution to all of the problems that I have been talking about.
David Goodstein is vice-provost and professor of physics and applied physics at the California Institute of Technology. These remarks are excerpted from a talk to the George C. Marshall Institute round table on science and public policy in Washington.
As my year as Chair of the Forum enters its final months, I would like to use this column to put a spotlight on the Decadal Survey of Physics by the National Research Council's Board on Physics and Astronomy, and the formation of a Forum on Education in the European Physical Society. At the same time I want to share my enthusiasm about the variety of education-related activities underway in physics, thanks to the efforts of many of you.
I am excited that education in its broadest form is attracting increasing attention in the physics research community. The 'learners' of interest range from school children to professors and from policymakers to the public. Through education we have a chance to spread physics understanding, thereby improving scientific literacy, attracting majors whose physics degrees will open doors to both innovative and traditional careers, enlightening nonmajors, and optimizing the funding for our field. In the past few months several noteworthy events and programs have occurred: The American Physical Society's Campaign for Physics and Teacher-Scientist Alliance are very active. The first New Faculty Conference-a professional development conference for new faculty at research universities-was held in College Park. Several initiatives for innovative introductory physics courses are being pursued around the country. The APS and other professional scientific societies are working together to tackle broader questions about the need for (and successful models for) widespread reform of the undergraduate curriculum. Formal and informal ways to involve undergraduates (and even students from high school and below) in research are being explored with considerable success. The NSF-sponsored program providing summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) has sites around the country that welcome applicants. Check it out at <http://www.nsf.gov/ftp/MPS/letters/reulist.txt>. [Editor's note: see also the Database of Undergraduate Research Opportunities, a project of the Fed.] Increasingly I see individuals and groups of physicists struggling with formulating descriptions of their research specialities and the questions at their frontiers in a way that interests and informs nonscientists. This list could go on if space allowed. I invite champions of these and similar efforts to submit articles or letters about their activities for upcoming issues of the Forum Newsletter, because they are indeed exciting, promising, and worthy of broad discussion and publicity.
Decadal Physics Survey Len Jossem of Ohio State University and I participated in the meeting of the National Research Council's (NRC) Board on Physics and Astronomy held November 2 and 3, 1996. Chaired by David Schramm (University of Chicago), the Board is in the midst of its decadal survey of physics. As a result of contacts by the APS, AAPT, and AIP and recognition by many of its members of the importance of education, the Board sought input on how it should address education in the survey. Already the topical volumes discuss discipline-specific education issues, and the plans for the Overview volume include extensive coverage.
For several reasons, however, the Board resolved to go further: to recommend that NRC form a Program Initiation Committee on Physics Education. The purpose of this committee would be to recommend whether it is appropriate and timely to undertake a study of physics education, and if so to provide advice on the scope and nature of the study. This is the first step toward a possible dedicated volume on Physics Education in the Decadal Survey. In January the Presidents of the NRC member Academies will decide whether the Program Initiation Committee should be formed. The Board on Physics and Astronomy invites readers of the FEd Newsletter to provide input before the end of the year to them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Especially useful would be information on relevant issues and special aspects of physics education that would warrant a study and a dedicated volume at this time.
European Physical Society Forum on Education The newly formed Forum on Education of the European Physical Society (EPS) made its first "public" appearance at the EPS symposium "Trends in Physics" held in Sevilla, Spain in September. I was invited to participate to offer perspectives and suggestions from our experiences with the APS Forum on Education. The focus of the EPS forum is precollege physics education, as there are other groups targeting university physics education and student mobility. The aim of the EPS Forum is to encourage interest and activities at the precollege level among the 37 national physics societies that comprise EPS. As an initial activity, the Forum has surveyed the societies about their involvement and specific interests in school physics in their countries. From the answers, it was clear that activities varied substantially among the societies. Next the EPS Forum will undertake a survey of European physics curricula, and it plans to coordinate and sponsor teacher-exchange programs among European countries.
At the Sevilla meeting, the Forum sponsored an invited session devoted to education. Over 30 papers were contributed to an associated poster session-by far the largest poster session at the meeting. Discussions were lively, and there is considerable interest in interaction with U.S. physicists involved in precollege education. A more extensive report on the EPS Forum on Education can be found in Europhysics News, Volume 27, page 7 (March/April 1996). FEd Newsletter readers interested in making connections with this effort should contact Professor Gunnar Tibell (email@example.com) from Upsalla, Sweden, who chairs the EPS Forum. I look forward to seeing you at 1997 Annual FEd business meeting to be held in association with the April APS/AAPT Joint Meeting (with the Canadian and Mexican Physical Societies) in Washington DC .
Kenneth C. Hass
Since 1984, scientists at Ford Motor Company's Scientific Research Laboratories in Dearborn, Michigan have provided educational enrichment opportunities for high school students and teachers. The Ford High School Science and Technology Program was recently recognized by the Industrial Research Institute as one of 11 "winning" pre-college education programs nationwide. Its two main components are: (1) a series of 6-10 Saturday morning sessions (e.g., "Physics in the Auto Industry"), each of which consists of a lecture and related laboratory/plant tours, demonstrations, and hands-on activities; and (2) four-week summer internships for selected juniors and seniors. Last year, the program reached over 600 different students and teachers from over 100 area high schools, provided 30 summer internships, and made use of approximately 150 employee volunteers!
As a long-time contributor to this program, including a three-year stint as a co-director, I have often reflected on what general lessons the Ford experience might provide to others involved in K-12 outreach. Here are some thoughts: 1. Have well-defined goals that play to your strengths. There is certainly no shortage of needs in the area of K-12 science education. It is also clear that not every institution can address every need. The most effective use of limited resources is therefore to restrict your focus to something that you can conveniently, and perhaps uniquely, provide to satisfy a need in your community. The lack of such a focus often results in a dilution of effort and loss of effectiveness. Our program at Ford suffered a bit in this respect after its initial growth. By re-focusing on our strengths (diverse, multi-disciplinary volunteer base, state-of-the-art facilities, and demonstrable success in applying science and math to technological and environmental problems), we clarified our formal program objective: To increase awareness of technical careers and the importance of science and math in industry. This, in turn, has improved the quality of our efforts through a more effective alignment and concentration of resources.
Ken Hass, a member of the Physics Department at Ford since 1987, is a theoretical solid state physicist. In his "real job," he does computational research on a variety of materials and problems in catalysis and other areas.
Informal science education happens through channels that include television, newspapers, advocacy organizations, museums, and science centers. Each of these channels reaches a different audience and presents a different kind of information. Informal science education plays a significant role in shaping public awareness of science and technology. Science centers have been recognized as important players in this arena.
In the past several decades, people all over the world have been starting science centers. There are now about 300 of these new-style museums, two-thirds of them in North America. Science centers have visitations of over 60 million people annually nationwide. Their emphasis is on presenting subject matter in a non-threatening, friendly, exploratory, fun manner.
Science centers provide access to science, they improve our comfort level with technical ideas, artifacts and numbers, and they enable us to obtain first-hand experience with phenomena. The essence of a science center is interactive exploration of scientific phenomena. A typical science center offers exhibits on mechanics, electricity, optics, perception, health, and transportation that can appeal to children as well as their parents. On weekdays during the school year, hundreds of elementary school children visit the center with their teachers and chaperones. In addition, as individuals they participate in workshops, camp-ins, and more structured programs using the rich resource of the center's exhibits.
A word about SciTech SciTech is patterned on the philosophy of San Francisco's Exploratorium where I worked for a few months in 1982. SciTech has grown from an all-volunteer effort in 1989 and a budget that year of $20,000, to an organization currently employing 20 FTE plus an additional half a dozen scientists, engineers and other professionals paid by other organizations, or "high-tech grass-roots" volunteers. The 1994 operating budget is about $600,000. We are currently serving 100,000 people per year and still growing.
Building Blocks of the Universe The Building Blocks of the Universe exhibition seeks to bring everyone at least to the gateway of a world which otherwise exists only in a guide book written in mathematics. Present-day physics, which seeks to explore the Big Bang, the top quark, the Higgs boson, and other building blocks seemed too complex to explain and describe in terms that an eleven year old could understand, not to mention the non-physicist adult. However, through all the calculus, perturbation theory, and QCD, we must make every effort to find simple analogs and solutions.
The Building Blocks of the Universe project officially began with a grant from the National Science Foundation in June 1990. The project was a collaboration between SciTech and COSI, Ohio's Center of Science & Industry in Columbus. The partnership drew on the years of experience of the COSI staff. COSI is one of the leaders in interactive science exhibit development. It also took advantage of the wealth of talent amassed around our newly-formed SciTech, drawn from nearby scientific institutions and industries, including Fermilab, Argonne, AT&T Bell Labs, and Amoco Research Center. In both SciTech and COSI, we attempt with these interactive exhibits to convey to a wide audience some of the fascination of the world of the very small.
Is there a role for scientists in a science center? Despite the remarkable progress in the past decades in understanding our universe, we physicists have failed to communicate the wonder, excitement, and beauty of these discoveries to the general public. I am sure all agree that there is a need, if our support from public funds is to continue at anywhere approximating the present level, for us collectively to educate and inform the general public of what we are doing and why.
Informal science education, and especially science and technology centers, can play an important role in efforts to raise public awareness of physics in particular and basic research in general. Science centers are a natural milieu where physicists can communicate with and gain support from the general public.
Physicists can make a difference by volunteering at their local science center. Science centers do great 19th century physics, but they need help with the 20th century. And we can probably help with 19th century physics too. This education effort is not just reserved for the retired or almost retired!
The most promising area of growth for science centers is in their relationship to teachers and schools. Because centers are outside the school bureaucracy, because they are entrepreneurial, and because they have accumulated resources for science teaching, they are well-positioned to deliver innovative programming. There is much recent emphasis on teacher training. And a great deal of effort in science centers is going into diversifying both the audience and the staff. This evolution of the role of science centers provides many opportunities for physicists to get involved and help.
I urge physicists to visit your local science center, wander around with a notebook, spot errors or obscurity in labels. I have discovered examples, some in large science centers, where some basic physics concept is explained incorrectly. Or supposed that you see a set of wonderful exhibits on angular momentum but then remember that last year in your freshman class you did this neat demonstration that might be turned into a robust, hands-on exhibit.
Meet with the science center director and offer to help. Commit to a half-day a week for a few months. Be helpful. Write signs. Build prototype exhibits in your shop or in your basement. Become a part of the science center team as a regular volunteer. At first, the staff might not understand how you can help or that they need you. But they will soon see that you can help them present more accurate science to their visitors. You may even find that they will ask you to become a member of their regular staff. (Attention graduate students: in this shrinking job market, science centers are a growth industry.) Gain their confidence. You will have a lot of fun and you will get a lot of very positive feedback. Then start discussing bringing modern physics into the center. Offer suggestions on a hands-on atom where the visitor can excite it to different levels, for example, or some models of isotopes and signs that connect to real-life concerns.
I am more than happy to serve as a "marriage broker" and help form such partnerships. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ernest Malamud is a particle physicist at Fermilab who took a leave of absence to serve as founder and director of the SciTech science center in Aurora, Illinois.
The current Executive Committee List is available.