Physics: Frightful, but fun' 3 November 2004 - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Physics: Frightful, but fun' 3 November 2004


explore how pupils, teachers and university students perceive physics as a subject ... 'When we have (...) two or three formulas that have a connection between them, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Physics: Frightful, but fun' 3 November 2004

Physics Frightful, but fun. 3 November
2004 Working seminar CSSME, University of Leeds
Carl Angell
Physics Frightful, but fun. Pupils' and
teachers' views of physics and physics
teaching Carl Angell3 November 2004
The aims of the project
  • explore the factors that influence young
    people's choice to study (or not to study)
    physics in upper secondary school and university
  • explore how pupils, teachers and university
    students perceive physics as a subject
  • explore how pupils, teachers and university
    students experience physics instruction

  • Questionnaires to the following respondent
  • Grade 12 physics pupils 1 141 responses
  • Grade 13 physics pupils 1 051 responses
  • Physics teachers 342 responses
  • 1st year physics students 196 responses
  • 4th year students 49 responses

Example Closed question
Example Open questions
Focus group interviews
  • 8 focus group sessions with 54 pupils
  • Groups were segmented according to gender
  • 4 groups were held with grade 12 pupils and 4
    with grade 13 pupils
  • (Also focus group interviews with teachers)

Physics Hard, but interesting
The subject is (very) difficult The subject is
(very) interesting Instruction is (very) good The
amount of work is (very) big The speed of
instructionis (very) high
In physics understanding is essential. That might
be problematic, but has also positive
aspects Boy, gr. 13 I hate just accepting too
much, such as in maths (...) pure rote learning,
as I said. (...) But in physics it is OK, right?
Most of it is understanding.
Girls have higher expectations regarding their
understanding than the boys Girl, gr. 13 I
think maybe boys have an advantage (. . .) girls
have to understand things, right? Because girls
get hooked on it, whereas boys can kind of accept
it more, and then they get on since they just let
it lie
What is (very) important in school physics?
Doing calculations from basic laws Understanding
everyday phenomena Learning to use measurement
equipment Understanding everyday
technology Experiencing exciting
experiments Getting to know history of
science Forming opinions Understanding the
The social element of physics knowledge appeared
especially important for the girls
  • Girl is quite fun, that theory of
    relativity. I got quite fascinated.
  • Girl I have explained relativity theory to
    several people, but then they all gave me stupid
    looks when I ...
  • Girl (laughing) Yeah, right!

What is problematic in physics?
Mathematics in Physics A Problem?
  • simple and uncomplicated calculations,
  • everyone knows enough maths to do calculations
    in physics.
  • If there are (..) teachers who complain that we
    do not know the maths, then at least they should
    show us
  • When we have (...) two or three formulas that
    have a connection between them, and then we had
    to do some calculations on them and do some
    changes and such. We are not so good at that

Mathematics in Physics A Problem?
  • It seems that it is the "translation" from a
    physical situation to a mathematical expression
    that causes trouble.

What I see as most characteristic of physics as a
subject is
  • Boy I lost some interest in grade 12 when it was
    emphasised that this is only a model and reality
    isn't like that.
  • Girl Physics is reality in another way, you
    might say
  • Girl You don't discuss reality as it is, but in
    a way what lies behind

Perception of physics instruction
1 - never 2 - seldom 3 - sometimes 4 - often 5 -
very often
Std. error lt 0.06
The Teacher
  • In one of the focus groups, pupils from two
    separate classes with different teachers
    discussed the instruction. It appeared that the
    two teachers used very different methods, but
    both groups of pupils were satisfied with their
    own teacher and maintained that he gave the best
    instruction. This reinforces the impression that
    pupils adapt strongly to the teaching they
    actually do receive.

Closed system
  • The picture that emerges of Norwegian physics
    pupils and their teachers is that they represent
    a "closed system" where both parties seem to get
    the subject they want. Pupils appear quite
    conservative, they are satisfied with the subject
    and the instruction and have few wishes for
    change. The teachers on their side get interested
    and motivated pupils who are very much like

  • What do you see as most characteristic of physics
    as a subject?
  • A lot of knowledge we probably never will use in
    our daily life
  • Always something to neglect in order that the
    formula should remain valid
  • Difficult topics, explained in a even more
    difficult way, with a lot of confusing formulas
  • Learn about things that are obvious, that the sky
    is blue and that bodies fall to the ground
  • Little philosophy. We never discuss whether
    people perceive things as they really are
  • Explanations of things that I didn't think needed
    any explanation, - but turned out to be

The road ahead
  • Make the subject less demanding and
  • Emphasise science knowledge in context?
  • By appearing more "person-oriented" to attract
  • Use more qualitative/conceptual discussions and
  • Make the role of experiments more clear?
  • Integrate mathematics in the physics course?
  • Provide more variation in teaching methods?

  • How would such changes be received by the
    teachers and pupils who are presently pursuing
    school physics?
  • Will changes in physics curricula and instruction
    styles be enough to change the current trend for
    young people to turn away from the subject?
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