Browsing the journals
- “The future of physics education
research: Intellectual challenges and practical concerns” is the title of a guest
editorial in the May issue of American
Journal of Physics. The authors posit
that during the past century more progress has been made in understanding the physical
world than understanding student learning of our discipline, possibly because learning is
more complex than most physical processes.
Systematic studies of student learning have revealed a wide gap between the objectives of
most physics instructors and the actual level of conceptual understanding attained by most
of their students. Physics education
research has led to the development of instructional materials and methods that have been
subjected to repeated testing, evaluation, and redesign.
- Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman advises new
teachers to “minimize your mistakes by learning from those of others” in an article in
the April issue of The Physics Teacher. Other ideas include: “Student beliefs are
crucial for learning”; “Listen to your students”; “Make your students your active
partners in the learning process;” “Focus on reasoning and discourse;” and Be
flexible.” “Remember that teaching is
like politics. There will always be a few
vocal students who dislike both you and physics no matter what you do and other students
who love you.”
graduate school” is the title of an article in the February issue of Physics World.
The path to a Ph.D. involves an educational phase transition: you are no longer
instructed by others, but instead you teach yourself.
Among the bits of advice in this article are the following: ‘Never’ means
three months” (be prepared for changing demands and revised expectations). “Build your apparatus in the center of the room”
(regardless of the direction in which you start, you rarely know where you'll end up).
“Don't make it better than necessary” (the best scientific apparatus is one that
falls apart the day after you finish using it). “Over-extend
yourself” (if you really know what you are doing you shouldn't be doing it).
- “Quantum physics explains Newton's
laws of motion” is the title of a feature article in the January issue of Physics Education.
Newton was obliged to give his laws of motion as fundamental axioms, but today we
know that the quantum world is fundamental and Newton's laws can be seen as consequences
of fundamental quantum laws. Fermat's
principle is the source of the key quantum idea. Just
as light “explores all possible paths between emission and reception, Nature commands
objects such as molecules and footballs to explore all paths.
- Instructors can use interactive Java
applets to present science in a concrete and meaningful manner to nonscience majors, an
article in the May/June issue of Journal of College
Science Teaching reminds us. Although
most science teachers argue that learning best occurs when students are engaged in active
manipulation of their environment and have an accompanying laboratory for that purpose, a
lab for nonscience majors may not always be practical.
Java applets may be an alternative way of presenting online demonstration
experiments to large classes of nonscience majors. A
Java applet is a “little application” developed by a programmer. In addition to using applets for classroom
demonstrations, interactive homework assignments can incorporate applets. For example an applet allows students to
manipulate the mass, length, and amplitude of a pendulum and observe its response. Applets are especially attractive for distance
- The violin playing of Albert Einstein
is explored in an article in the May issue of The
Physics Teacher. He was given violin
lessons at an early age, but he became really interested in music at age 13 when he made
the acquaintance of the Mozart sonatas. In
Berlin he met musical greats such as Fritz Kreisler and Artur Schnabel. One of his chamber music partners was
Hungarian-born Nicholas Harsanyi, who taught at the Westminster Choir School in Princeton. At one point he asked Einstein to serve as
vice-president of the Princeton Symphony. Einstein
demurred, saying, “What would happen if the president died?” Later, Einstein agreed and served in the job from
1952 until his death.
What kind of a fiddler was Einstein? Harsanyi
described Einstein's tone as “accurate but not sensuous.” Einstein valued the Wednesday night chamber music
sessions at his house on Mercer Street, and would go to extremes with his calendar to keep
that night free for music.
- A new twist on Young's classical
double-slit experiment is reported in the April issue of Physics World.
Using slits in a metal screen, scientists in Amsterdam found extra effects due to
the excitation of surface waves running along the screen (Phys. Rev. Lett. 94, 053901).
This causes the overall intensity of the interference pattern to vary periodically
with the wavelength of the incident light. The
cause of the effect apparently lies at the entrance of the slits rather than at the exit. To avoid the effects of surface waves, light can
be polarized so that the plane of polarization is parallel to the slits. In this arrangement no surface plasmon waves
can be excited and no intensity modulation will occur.
- Brief biographies of four recipients of
the AAPT Citations for Distinguished Service appear in the June issue of American Journal of Physics. Recipients are Patricia Allen (Appalachian State
University), George Amann (F.D.Roosevelt High School in Rhinebeck, NY), David Maloney
Indiana University-Purdue University, Ft. Wayne), and Robert Romer (Amherst College).
- Scientists who teach have a unique
opportunity and an ethical obligation to ensure that the scientific and technical basis
for analyzing natural and man-made threats is communicated to citizens, a thoughtful
editorial in the March/April issue of Journal of
College Science Teaching argues. Whether
it is a tsunami, an earthquake, a chemical plant disaster (such as the one in Bhopal,
India) or a nuclear disaster (such as the one in Chernobyl, Ukraine), we can help the
international community prepare more adequate disaster warning capabilities and response
Thomas Rossing is Distinguished Professor
Emeritus of Physics at Northern Illinois University. He is a Fellow of ASA, AAAS, and IEEE
as well as APS and edits the fall issue of the Forum on Education newsletter.