Commission on Physics Education (1960)
Report to the
2002 General Assembly for 1999-2002, Berlin, Germany October 7-12, 2002
A) MANDATE OF THE COMMISSION
The Commission's main aim is to promote the exchange of information and views
among members of the international community of physicists in the general field
of physics education. To pursue this aim, it tries to assist the communication
of information concerning education in physics at all levels. This information
includes in its scope the assessment of the standards of the physics teaching
and learning, ways in which the facilities for the study of physics might be
improved, and ways to help physics teachers incorporate current knowledge about
physics, physics pedagogy, and results of research in physics education into
their courses and curricula.
B) A GENERAL REMARK ON PHYSICS EDUCATION
Physics Education is a cross-sectional discipline connected with almost all
subjects in physics. It is a research field on its own investigating the process
of teaching and learning physics with the aim to improve them. There are two
characteristic views in this field using different scientific resources and
methods but interconnected with each other in manifold ways: one directed to the
physics subject to be taught, the other focussed on the student and his ability
to learn and understand physics. For this purpose researchers in this field have
to cooperate with scientists from other disciplines like educational theorists
and psychologists and with teachers, as well. But the main partners are
physicists from the different areas of physics. Therefore it is essential for
the development of physics education that these scientists remain willingly to
make appropriate contributions to this field and to cooperate with the science
One of the main ways to meet the mandate of the commission is the promotion of
conferences on physics education. There are several forms to do that:
- Initiating conferences on special topics in physics education and/or in
regions where there has been a lack of information distributed so far.
- Acting of commission members in advisory and programme committees and as
speakers, as well, at such conferences, in this was influencing the shape of
the conference and the quality of contributions.
- Supporting conferences on physics education which meet the issues of ICPE/IUPAP.
ICPE tries to hold its annual meeting always in connection with one of those
conferences. Here is the list of those conferences ICPE helped to sponsor
during the last term (1999-2002).
a. International Conference of Physics Teachers and Educators, Aug 19-23,
1999, in Gulin, P.R. China. The '99 meeting of ICPE went along with this
conference (Aug 17-18).
b. Interamerican Conference on Physics Education (IACPE 7): July 3-7, 2000,
in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
c. Physics Teachers Education Beyond 2000 (PHYTED 2000), a GIREP conference:
Aug 27 - Sept 1, 2000, in Barcelona, Spain. The 2000 meeting of ICPE went
along with this GIREP conference (Aug 25-26).
d. International Conference on Physics Education in Cultural Contexts (ICPEC
2001): Aug 13-17, 2001, in Cheonju, South Korea. The 2001 meeting of ICPE in
Seoul went along with this conference (Aug 11-12).
e. International Conference on Computer and Information Technology in
Physics Education: Dec 4-6, 2001, in Quezon City, Philippines.
f. International Conference "Physics in New Fields and Modern Applications,"
a GIREP conference: Aug 5-9, 2002, in Lund, Sweden. The 2002 meeting of ICPE
went along with this conference (Aug 10-11).
The commission continued with its policy of distributing information in the
field of physics education as widely as possible.
- The ICPE Newsletter is published twice a year. It is distributed for free
to more than 2000 individuals and institutions world wide, more and more as an
e-mail attachment. At the moment it is edited by Professor Vivien Talisayon
(Philippines). See also home page of ICPE: <http://ww.iupap.org/>,
click on "commissions", go to C14.
- The book "Connecting Research in Physics Education with Teacher
Education", with contributions of more than twenty authors who are authorities
in their various fields was first published in 1998. The book has been
translated into French, and like the English edition is available on the web
for free downloading:
In the first seven months of this year 2002 there have been more than 30.000
hits to this web site from individuals out of more than 70 countries world
wide. The Spanish translation is in preparation yet. The commission thinks it
necessary to update parts of the articles and to add new ones. So the initial
authors and new authors, as well, will be asked to contribute to this goal.
- The book "Physics 2000: Physics as it Enters the New Millennium" is a
compendium of reviews by 21 leading physicists representing all the
commissions of IUPAP, each of whom has written a 2000-word account of the
recent and predicted progress in his or her field of physics. It was edited by
Paul Black, Gordon Drake and Leonard Jossem and was published early in 2000.
It is available for free downloading from the IUPAP website
http://www.iupap.org/reports/http;//www.iupap.org/reports.html. In the
first seven months of this year 2002, there have been almost 1,500 downloads
from individuals from more than 60 countries.
- The commission decided to set up a network of links between groups
worldwide dedicated to physics or science education. ICPE would like to serve
as an information clearing house collecting and redistributing information
between those groups in order to increase the co-operation between them. In
this role ICPE could also give support to capacity building in physics
education, especially in developing countries.
E) ICPE MEDAL
The ICPE medal is awarded for contributions to physics education which are major
in scope and impact and which have extended over a considerable time. In 2000
the medal was awarded to Professor Paul Black (London, UK). In 2002 the
commission had two excellent nominees and decided that as an extraordinary
exception this year the medal is awarded to both of them: Professor Tae Ryu
(Tokyo, Japan) and Professor Lillian McDermott (Seattle, USA).
F) WORLD YEAR OF PHYSICS 2005
At its last meeting ICPE discussed possible contributions from the commission to
the World Year of Physics 2005. It was suggested that every IUPAP conference in
2005 should include one session or at least one contribution focussing on
problems of physics education connected with the special subject of the
conference. ICPE offer its help to set up an appropriate program and to look for
G) LONG-TERM PRIORITIES FOR ICPE
The Commission feels that it would be helpful to form a long term view of
activities that it particularly wishes to encourage. Having discussed the
problems and issues that the Commission feels are likely to be central to
Physics Education over the next five or so years, the Commission would be
particularly pleased to support activities that address these problems and
issues. The Commission has identified a number of changes to which physics
educators need to respond, and hopes that activities will be developed which
address these needs and possible responses to them.
- Change in Physics as a subject
Physics is increasingly developing interdisciplinary fields in which physics
plays an essential role in relation to other sciences. Various developments in
Biophysics are one obvious example amongst many. Physics is also deeply
involved in fundamental work related to various technologies. Opto-electronics
is just one example, as is quantum computing. Techniques have also changed,
notably in the wide use of computer power in designing and running
experiments, and the growth in the use of visualization and image processing
in presenting data.
Yet these developments are barely reflected in high school and introductory
physics courses, so that students do not see the richness and diversity of
possible careers and interests that could develop out of choosing to study
physics. Evidently such courses have to cover a range of topics that are
fundamental in the sense that they are needed for almost any later work in
physics or physics-related topics. But students also need to get a reasonably
faithful picture of the variety that physics can offer, and a chance to become
interested in one or more possibility. Physics education thus needs to respond
to these changes in the subject itself, and in how it is done. There is
important scope for sharing ideas about how to bring these new aspects of
physics into physics classrooms.
- Change in interest in studying physics
Worldwide, with few exceptions, there has been a decline in the number or
proportion of students wanting to study physics. For many of the general
public, it seems that Biology occupies 'center stage' in the sciences, dealing
with exciting new possibilities and raising new moral and social challenges.
This shift of interest also affects funding. Actions to attract more students
to physics must be a high priority for the immediate future. Actions to
attract more high quality teachers to Physics are essential to this goal.
Meetings reporting on possible strategies and identifying crucial factors
needing to be addressed would be particularly valuable.
- Change in the goals of Physics Education
World wide, with the rapid increase in secondary and tertiary education,
Physics needs to be taught to larger and larger proportions of the school and
college or university level population. Physics has to be 'for everyone', not
just for the minority who will become physicists. An urgent matter for
discussion is the extent to which these two goals are or are not compatible,
and whether and if so at what stage Physics courses need to offer more diverse
provision for different kinds of people.
In particular the possible conflicts between the need to teach future
physicists something of the mathematical and experimental rigor involved in
the subject, and the need to interest a much wider population in the ideas of
physics, need extensive and careful consideration.
- Change in the research base for Science Education
Research in Physics Education has developed and is developing. We now as a
result have a much better understanding of students' thinking and have a range
of research-based resources for improving the effectiveness of courses.
Discussion is needed to identify where there is a good consensus on results,
and to identify further issues for research.
However, it remains the case that the majority of physics courses are designed
and taught without reference to the findings of previous research, or to the
tools which that research has provided for improving and measuring their
effectiveness. This points to the need for efforts to establish much better
communication between physicists and those involved in physics education
research. In doing so it has to be recognized that the interests and concerns
of these two groups are often very different, making fruitful dialogue
difficult. At the same time, such efforts are timely, in that the decline in
popularity of physics presents an opportunity, as physicists become concerned
for the future of their subject.
- The pace of change
That the world is changing is nothing new. But the nature and intensity of
current change, particularly as information technology transforms economies,
means that the future is more than usually unpredictable. It is against this
background that the ICPE has chosen to group its concerns under the broad
heading of 'Responding to change'. Thinking ahead about the shape of Physics
Education to come should be an important focus of international activity in
Berlin, August 2002 Juergen Sahm Chair of C14