Fall 2003


Browsing the Journals

Thomas D. Rossing

•The most exciting science in the 21st century is likely to evolve among, not within traditional disciplines, according to a Policy Forum report in the 12 September issue of Science. Most research universities have softened disciplinary boundaries by creating multi-departmental graduate programs in biomedical science, for example. However, physical science and mathematics departments are not anxious to relinquish bright students to courses and laboratories in biomedical departments. Cultural barriers are at least a great as institutional barriers. A scientific language, approach, and training style are passed from mentor to student within disciplines like a tribal culture. In some programs, shared trainees are the catalysts bringing research groups together. Because trainees are funded from non-departmental sources, barriers for mentor participation are lower.

•A comment in the September issue of Physics World deals with “Effective teaching with the Web.” Websites designed to teach physics can be useful, but they must be far better before students no longer need to rely on the help of real teachers, it is argued. “Real” teachers involve students in situations that are designed to encourage learning, so when we use the Web to teach, we need to stimulate the mind of the user and offer a visual (and sometimes audible) environment to encourage learning. It is not enough to just present information. Computer-based teaching and learning systems would automatically adapt to the users’ needs so that each user will get individual attention. Students will still need to carry out experiments, but the time spent on these will be more effective if they properly prepare for them using pre-lab computer exercises.

•“Global study of the role of the laboratory in physics education” is the title of the 2002 Millikan Award Lecture by Simon George printed in the August issue of American J. Physics. Physics education in India, Malaysia, Singapore, Great Britain, etc. is compared to the United States. The author concludes that physics education at the high school level in the United States is more than satisfactory, but that the weak link is that a mere 25 percent of students choose to take high school physics courses. A large percentage of teachers in the K-8 levels are not comfortable in teaching science to their students. From these teachers, students learn long-lasting lessons about science. We need to help our K-8 teachers to feel more confident in teaching science.

•“Make Science the ‘Fourth R’” is the title of an editorial by NSTA President John E. Penick in the October/November issue of NSTA Reports. He points out that last year, for the first time, ACT set benchmark scores to determine college readiness in science and math. Only 26 percent of 2003 high school graduates who took the ACT test earned a score of 24, which would predict a high probability of completing a first-year college science course with a grade of C or better. Even worse is the fact that only 5 percent of African American test-takers, 10 percent of Mexican American students, and 14 percent of Hispanic and American Indian students scored at this level. He feels that this is due to the emphasis on reading and mathematics and growing neglect of K-12 science teaching in classrooms across the nation. This situation is exacerbated by the No Child Left Behind Act, which will begin testing for math and reading in 2005, while science will not be tested until 2007-08, thus encouraging schools to devote available resources and time only to math and reading. “Schools and districts must bolster their science education programs and insist that science be part of students’ daily life,” he urges.

•A director of network services at a large university discusses “Mobile Computing on Campus” in the October issue of Syllabus, a journal devoted to technology for higher education. Early projects involved research with robots, wearable computers, and integrating eyepieces. Wireless devices are replacing wired keypads in classrooms. Although laptops are still the most popular mobile devices in use, PDAs are coming up in numbers as are Tablet PCs. Changes in instructional technology that have resulted from mobile technology are discussed.

•Do planetarium shows, popular lectures, and other science communication activities get people interested in science is a question discussed in a comment entitled “How to get the message across” in the October issue of Physics World. Do these public events, which rely on individual physicists who have a passion for communication as well as physics, have any effect on people’s attitudes toward physics? It is difficult to measure the success of such activities and even defining what makes an event successful is tricky. Successful science-communication events do require a good deal of organizational effort.

•Enrollment in distance education courses has nearly doubled since 1995, according to a report by the Department of Eduations’s National Center for Education Statistics. More than half of the nation’s colleges and universities offered such courses in 2000-01. Distance education courses were offered by 90 percent of public two-year institutions, 89 percent of public four-year institutions, and 40 percent of private four-year institutions. The report is available from <>.

•The High School Teachers’ summer program has grown from 9 teachers in 1998 to 40 teachers this past summer, according to an article in the October issue of CERN Courier.. In addition to teachers from CERN member states, teachers from non-member China, Mongolia, Slovenia and US took part during 2003. A “hands on” workgroup, in which participants built demonstration accelerator models for the classroom, was organized during this past summer. Another feature was the Alumni working group which brought participants from previous years back to CERN to conduct a survey among their colleagues on the usefulness of the program in teaching and related work.

•An editorial entitled “More or Less” in the October issue of The Physics Teacher discusses the popular call for “less is more” in physics instruction. We try to heed Arnold Arons’ warning against rushing through our courses so fast that students are left only with “inert” (memorized) knowledge, bu we gerally accept some reduced level of student comprehension in order to cover the minimum number of topics we’ve chosen to teach. Every year, we have to make harder and harder choices about what topics to include in our freshman physics course.

•A list of websites that refute space-related humbug, such as crop circles, the “Roswell Incident” in which an alien spacecraft purportedly crashed in New Mexico in 1947 can be found at <www,>, according to a note in the 3 October issue of Science. Teachers can transmute pseudoscientific misconceptions into lessons on critical thinking and scientific methods—if they have the straight story behind purported paranormal events.

•Why do so many u. S. Students avoid science? Part of the answer could be a deep dislike for the subject by authors of the most popular children’s books, according to an editorial note in the 10 October issue of Science. Author Sharon Creech loathed geometry, she told the Washington Post in an interview on the eve of the National Book Festival, while writer-illustrator Steven Kellogg told them that the thought of algebra “still causes me to lapse into a coma.” Of the seven writers interviewed, four named math as their worst subject in school and two fingered chemistry.

•A university science course that integrates physics, education, and community outreach is described in an article entitled “Coordinating Physics and Education Instruction” in the September/October issue of Journal of Science Teaching. The course for undergraduates who have expressed an interest in teaching is composed of three elements: physics content, theories of teaching and learning physic; and practical experience teaching physics to K-12 students.