Where’s the Fun in Physics?
“In science there is only physics – the rest is just stamp collecting” Lord Kelvin
It is an interesting concept, “fun physics”. After all, physics has a reputation for hard math, a complexity of equations, extensive analysis of a hypothesis and typically a crazy haired teacher scribbling on a blackboard!
Despite teacher’s efforts to shake off this stereotype, making efforts to present lesson material in an interesting and exciting way, the majority of students are likely to leave their schooling years with very little grasp at all of physics. Even the handful of dedicated students who continue with physics into higher education, still appear to struggle to engage fully with the subject.
Maybe presenting physics as “fun”, doesn’t give justice to the depth of this challenging subject? Or perhaps, can it be considered that “struggling” really is part of the process with learning and teaching physics?
More STEM Students Needed
The White House announced that STEM subjects are what will drive the US forward and help
“win the future”.
There has already been an increase in the interest in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. In this decade, STEM jobs in the US are anticipated to grow 17%, compared to 10% in other professions.
So how can the physics teachers of the 21st century help achieve this goal by enriching the students of tomorrow with an interest in physics?
Using Technology for Physics Teaching
Technology often does a better job of explaining physics than trying to just talk about a theory. For example, topics like motion and force are not wholly straightforward and can be better understood through practical demonstration.
SciPlay, a research centre launched by the New York Hall of Science, realised the importance of integrating technology with science, particularly for middle-school learning. After all, students find it hard to be parted from their mobile devices during lesson time so why not try to marry it up with education, rather than divorce it.
Sciplay uses iPads, iPhones and carefully designed apps alongside everyday activities to communicate physics, and math, to students. Take throwing a ball for example; technology films and monitors movement during natural playtime that can later be analyzed in the classroom using high-level software to show hidden concepts of physics.
The US Department of Education issued a grant for further development of this product and for many other similar initiatives, all in the effort to make physics “fun” and encourage learning.
Using technology can, however, alienate those in under-served communities, who have had less exposure to use physics outside of the educational environment. The key for teachers working with high-tech resources is to make science accessible to all students.
Connecting Physics With Everyday Life
“It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid” - Albert Einstein
Physics is everywhere. In every task we do and every move we make we can apply physics and math.
Technology is a practical way of assisting physics teachers with their lessons although what makes students learn and get excited for the subject could go far deeper than this.
Take physics in isolation and it really is just a whole lot of complex problems to solve. However, if students can understand the relationship physics has to life, to nature, to our future and be presented with “big questions” to challenge their thoughts, rather than just facts and formulas to learn, perhaps this is where the fun begins?
By understanding the relevance of physics to life and applying the laws of physics, connects the student to the subject and compels learning.
“The point is that physics is a story and the universe is its stage. And physics has to be taught and learned that way” - Swetam Gunagh – STEM Ambassador
Physics students with a lack of appreciation for physics can’t be wholly blamed. However, if teachers can unravel and communicate physics in terms of the mystery, suspense, challenges, inspiration and most importantly, the reason, then there is hope for future generations of STEM students to continue into exciting careers.
Teachers should be encouraged to be spontaneous with their lessons – tell stories, use technology, ask thought provoking questions.
Students should be encouraged to think deeply about the reality of physics by linking it to this crazy universe we find ourselves in.
What are your thoughts on how we can instil a passion for physics in our students?