International Newsletter on Physics Education
International Commission on Physics Education
International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
Number 38
October 1999


New ICPE Newsletter 39


ICPE Chair Reports on Activities and Trends on Physics Education

New ICPE Chair Members

Turning the Challenge into Opportunities

A Physics Education Project in Africa

A Physics Problem Based on an Actual Experiment

Physics in Stamps

Physics Posters

Teaching and Learning Physics in a Cultural Context

Anamorphic Images - A Combination of Art, Physics and Mathematics

Physics Education Conferences

Physics Education Publications

Physics Websites

ICPE Chair reports on Activities and Trends on Physics Education

Professor J. Black
International Commission on Physics Eeducation Chair, 1996-1999

The ICPE's main aim is to promote the exchange of information and views amongst 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 the physical sciences at all levels. This information includes in its scope the assessment of the standards of 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.

A.1 Conferences

The promotion and support of international conferences is one of the main ways in which the commission seeks to achieve its aims. The main meetings which it has helped sponsor during the 1997-1999 term are as follows:

1. Taller Iberoamericano de Enseńanza de al Fisica Universitaria. Havana, Cuba January 20-24, 1997

2. Sixth Inter-American Conference on Physics Education. La Falda, Argentina June 30-July 4, 1997

3. Creativity in Physics Education. Sopron, Hungary. August 16-22, 1997

A published conference report is available from Professor Marx at the Eötvös University in Budapest. The 1997 ICPE meeting was held on the 24th and 25th of August in Budapest immediately after the meeting.

4. Hands-on Experiments in Physics Education. Duisburg, Germany.
August 23-28, 1998

This was a GIREP conference. A publication of the proceedings of this conference is being prepared. The 1998 ICPE meeting was held in Duisburg on the 22nd and 23rd of August, immediately after this meeting.

5. New Technologies in Physics Education. Hefei, PR China
October 12-22, 1998

6. International Conference of Physics Teachers and Educators. Guilin, PR China August 19-23, 1999

The 1999 ICPE meeting was held in Guilin on the 17th and 18th of August immediately before the international conference.

A.2 The Medal of the International Commission on Physics Education

This medal is awarded for contributions to physics education which are major in scope and impact and which have extended over a considerable period. In 1997, the medal was awarded to Professor George Marx (Budapest, Hungary). In 1998 it was awarded to Professor Dieter Nachtigall (Dortmund, Germany).

A.3 The ICPE Newsletter

This continues to be produced on a semi-annual basis and distributed free of charge to about 1000 persons and institutions worldwide. The newsletter has been edited since early 1995 by Professor Ed Redish (Maryland, USA). He also manages the Commission's website with address

A.4 Other Activities

In early 1998 the Commission published a book entitled Connecting Research in Physics Education with Teacher Education with chapters by over twenty authors who are authorities in their various fields. The book is not published in print - it is available on a website`jossem/ICPE/Books.html with no restriction on downloading. It is also available at nominal cost on diskette. Translations into French and Spanish are in preparation with a grant from the UNESCO. The Commission has also prepared a diskette about selected posters useful in physics education and in arousing interest in physics amongst students. The text of four books on undergraduate physics education produced in the 1970s and now out of print are being put on a website for free availability in collaboration with the USA project NOVA and with a grant from the UK Institute of Physics. Work is also in progress to select papers particularly useful to teachers from past conference proceedings and copy these also onto a website. Members have been maintaining links with several regional networks concerned with physics education, including the European Physical Society and GIREP, and with other international organizations, notably UNESCO.

B. Developments in Physics Education

Four main trends can be discerned in the recent development of physics education. One is the continuation and strengthening of the development impact of research into ways by which pupils learn new concepts and practices of pedagogy, including assessment. Research into human cognition is beginning to frame useful lessons about optimum routes for teaching and learning and to open up particularly challenging innovations in the use of computer based learning programmes so that participants can work at the problems of selecting, transforming and adapting new thinking into reformed classroom work. The Internet published book is an example of work to convey research lesson in a form useful to practitioners. Whilst in past years such activity has been directed mainly at school level, there is now a new focus also on teaching and learning at the undergraduate level. As the participation rate in higher education increases in all countries, professors can no longer assume that any subject expert can undertake teaching by merely 'talking the subject'. The ICPE sponsored conference in Maryland in 1996 was a milestone in this development, as is the two-volume report on this meeting published by the American Institute of Physics.

A second trend is marked by a variety of explorations in which physics educators are attempting to broaden the scope of physics as a component of education. The use of toys in physics education, the use of museums and other informal centres for learning, a new emphasis on physics in the environment and for environment protection, are all examples of moves which have two main motives. One is to make physics more attractive to young people by engaging their interest in it through themes and problems of relevance to their daily lives. Another is to develop a sense of social responsibility amongst future physicists, and to give them basis for making critical judgements about the impact of science and technology amongst all future citizens. Underlying such moves is a new realization that physics education at all but the most specialized level of tertiary education should not be directed primarily at the development of the future physics researcher, but at using the insights and skills that physics can provide to enrich and form the capable citizen. The implications of such a shift in aims are being thought through in various ways. One implication is that issues in the history, philosophy, and social context of the development of physics ought to feature more strongly in future curricula.

A third trend, related to the second, is continuing, and in some western countries particularly increasing, concern that students are not being attracted to the study of physics. So there are some renewed efforts to make physics more attractive to young people. Some of the changes mentioned under the second trend above should also serve this purpose. However, there is also a need to convey in school and undergraduate study some of the sense of wonder and excitement that fundamental research in physics continues to engender in those working in it or close to it. Thus courses of study which concentrate on 'basics' and promise to come to the exciting frontiers in future years are no longer seen as acceptable. The challenge is to develop new curricula in which some authentic vision of work at the frontiers is communicated, and in such a way that some concepts and methods of working fundamental to the understanding of physics are developed through this communication.

A fourth trend is the rapidly expanding use of the Internet in education. As can be seen from the above report of activities, the Commission is trying to explore several ways of taking full advantage of the possibilities that the new technology can open up, and in so doing, it is hoped to learn lessons about future uses. The immediate prospect is that materials, many old and some new, can be made freely available so that any teacher in any school in the world can have access to them. The issues here are to develop a label that assures quality of such material, and to find or produce material for which copyright holders are willing to give rights with no financial return. The attraction is particularly strong in the case of developing countries that have neither the channels of communication nor the resources to obtain materials by normal commercial purchase. In many such countries however, teachers cannot take advantage of Internet availability because they lack the equipment to read and download. So a second strand of the Commission's work here must be to try to establish and disseminate information about centres in such countries, where such equipment exists and where there are physics educators who are willing to download and copy, at cost, for provision to others in their immediate region.