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Re: [Phys-l] science education goals and strategies

Physics is arguably the most challenging course a student can take because
the concepts are so counterintuitive. For example, how can anyone grasp
the idea that the floating astronauts in the orbiting space shuttle have
lots of gravity acting on them (i.e., they are not truly weightless)? This
is one of the most difficult concepts to learn, and, not surprisingly, one
of the most difficult to teach. You have to break down their preconceived
(incorrect) notions about how the universe works. And even after you try,
many still don't get it. Or they accept it but don't internalize it. Or if
asked to explain their reasoning in an essay question, their response
makes little sense.

Physics doesn't make sense the first time around. Even my brightest
students in honors physics at the private school where I teach have
difficulty with seemingly "basic" questions:

Toss a ball straight up. At its peak (v = 0), what is its acceleration?
In a tug-of-war, which team pulls with more force? (and most questions
dealing with NL)
If you cut a spring in half, what happens to the spring constant?
To topple an object, should you throw a ball that sticks or one that
If a ship sinks in a canal lock, what happens to the water level in the

Physics is difficult. Students are more distracted. They want a good
grade. They don't put in the time to study. They don't have the time to
study. Did I mention that physics is difficult? All we can do is make
physics relevant to their lives. It's an exciting field and should be
taught in an exciting way. Spiraling can only help.

Forum for Physics Educators <> writes:
But why not use IE methods to have it make sense the first time?? Once
has the students obtain the concepts from the experiments, and then has
apply these concepts, they make sense.

There are also some concepts that do not seem to make sense at an early
no matter how much you teach them. For example before age 7 students
do not accept that a heavy and a light object of the same volume that
totally sink will both cause the water to rise by the same amount.

Actually our schools do use a spiral approach, and things are taught and
re-taught, but students are still not getting it.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX

To me, it makes sense from experience. The more often you see (or
with) something, the more familiar you are with it. The more details you
see. The more you (can) understand it. (The same is true for human
relationships -- sort of!).

High school physics made a little more sense in my college physics
classes. And college physics made more sense when I was in graduate
school. No research needed for this. Anybody else with a similar (or
different) experience?

Forum for Physics Educators <> writes:

1) As several people have wisely and accurately pointed out, the
integrated "spiral" approach is obviously best for the students.

How do you know it is "best"? What evidence is there for this? Can
relevant research be cited?

Unfortunately obviously is not evidence.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX

Forum for Physics Educators

Forum for Physics Educators

Forum for Physics Educators