C. 14 Commission on Physics Education (1960)


This report provides a brief review of the status of physics education and of the activities of Commission C14 during the period 1984-87.

Physics education, like physics itself has many different aspects. Like physics, it is in a constant process of evolution; but since it undertakes to inform each succeeding generation, education is also very much a perennial task. It inescapably mirrors the social and technological environments in which it occurs, and on a global scale these are many and various. It must deal with the implications for instruction - at all levels - of the introduction of new technologies, and of new insights into the questions of human learning. Needless to say, it must also explore effective ways of incorporating into curricula the changes in the conceptual structures and in the continually increasing knowledge bases which arise from physics research.

In the fulfillment of its charge to stimulate and to promote international cooperation in the cause of physics education, the Commission primarily plays the role of a catalytic agent. It is difficult objectively to assess the intangible results of its activities, although they are believed to be significant. Brief accounts of the more tangible activities of the Commission are presented below.

1. Conferences

i) International Conference on Teaching Modern Physics", CERN, Geneva, Switzerland, 24-28 September 1984.

With the generous support and assistance of CERN, this conference brought together teachers in secondary schools and universities, and research workers at the frontiers of cosmology, relativity and elementary particles, to review recent developments in these fields and to explore ways of introducing them into instructional curricula. In addition to serving as a forum for the discussion of the production of new teaching materials, the conference has served a prototype for similar conferences elsewhere.

ii) International Conference on "Communicating Physics" University of Duisburg, Duisburg, ERG, 26-30 August, 1985.

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Taking the title "Communicating Physics" in a very broad sense, this conference was concerned with both verbal and non-verbal means of communicating about physics to physics students at all levels and to the general public. Among the major topics considered were the teaching of physics in non-mother tongues, the uses of computers, communicating via newspapers, TV, museums and exhibitions, and the role of pictures, graphs and diagrams in physics instruction. The proceedings of the conference, edited by G. Born, M. Euler, and R. SexI were published in 1986.

International Conference on 'Trends in Physics Education", Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan, 24-29 August, 1986.

This conference focused on three main topics: the results of research in physics education and their application in the classroom, the impact of technology on classroom teaching, and the motivation of students toward the study of physics. A noteworthy aspect of the conference was the very large number of secondary school teachers who participated. Conference proceedings, edited by K. Shimoda and T. Ryu, have been published in both English and Japanese.

iv) International Conference on Physics Education Nanjing Institute of Technology Nanjing, PRC, 31 August-5 September, 1986.

This conference was the first IUPAP sponsored international conference on physics education to be held in the People's Republic of China. The topics of discussion included: Results of research in physics education and their implementation in the classroom, problems and methods of evaluation in the teaching and learning of physics, and implications of research and new technologies for teacher education and professional development. Proceedings or the conference have been published in English, and selected papers from the conference have been translated into Chinese.

v) International Conference on Low Cost Experiments and Demonstrations in Physics Education Cairo University, Giza, Egypt, 10-16 April, 1987.

The topics of this conference are well described by its title and are of interest throughout the international physics education community. Plenary lectures provided background material for the conference, but


the principal thrust was in the 'hands-on' workshops and in the exchange of ideas, experimental techniques, and experiences among the conference participants. Proceedings of the conference are expected to be published before the end of 1987.

vi) International Conference on "Chaos in Education.- An International Workshop on Teaching Non linear Phenomena at Universities and Schools',' Balaton, Hungary, 27 April-2 May, 1987.

Recent advances in the understanding of non-linear phenomena have made this complex subject much more susceptible to discussion at undergraduate and secondary school levels. The conference reviewed these advances and explored ways of introducing them in to the secondary school and college curricula. Proceedings of the conference are expected to be published before the end of 1987.

vii) InterAmerican Conference on Physics Education, Oaxtepec, Mexico, 17-24 July, 1987.

This conference was sponsored jointly by C14 and by C13, the Commission on Physics for Development. Its primary objective was to assist in the creation and development of international networks of individuals, organizations and agencies for the improvement of physics education. Twelve working groups of participants, each concerned with a different aspect of the conference, constituted the core of the conference and produced reports and recommendations which are included in the conference proceedings. Proceedings are expected to be published in 1987 or early 1988.

vii) Other Conferences

In addition to the conferences mentioned above, the Commission has provided informal encouragement and assistance to a conference on "Computers in Physics Education" held at the Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, 28 October- 9 November, 1985, to an international seminar on "Microcomputers in Physics Education" held at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa, Mexico City, Mexico, 20-24 January, 1986 and to the international conference on "Teaching Modern Physics: Quarks, Quasars, and Quandaries" held at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, IL, USA, 24-27 April, 1986.


This last conference, convened by the American Association of Physics Teachers, was a direct outgrowth of the 1984 CERN conference on "Teaching Modern Physics". It was notable for the provisions for post-conference activities and follow-ups for the conference participants, and it provide additional useful experience for the planning of future conferences of this type.

2. Future Conferences

i) International Conference Teaching Modern Physics - Condensed Matter", University of Munich, Munich, FRG, 12-16 September, 1988.

This Conference will follow the general plan of its predecessors at CERN and Fermi Lab. in its intention to bring together, in working sessions, scientists at the forefront of research and those active in teaching to discuss how recent developments in the field could be incorporated into secondary school and undergraduate curricula. In this case, however, the topics for discussion will be drawn from the field of condensed matter physics.

3. Publications

i) Niels Bohr: A Centenary Volume; Edited by A.P. French and P.J. Kennedy, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. - This book, published in 1985, has become a companion to "Einstein: A Centenary Volume" edited by A.P. French and published in 1979. The Commission wishes to express its appreciation to its former Chairman end Secretary for all their efforts in producing this new work.

ii) New Trends in Physics Teaching IV, Edited by E. J. Wenham, UNESCO.

The fourth in the UNESCO series of "New Trends in Physics Teaching", this volume was published in 1984. The Commission hopes to continue its cooperation with UNESCO in the publication of future volumes in this series.

iii) The Newsletter of the International Commission on Physics Education.

In 1984 Peter J. Kennedy succeeded A.P. French as Editor of the Newsletter Since that time fiscal difficulties have substantially affected the rate of publication of the Newsletter, and issues No.14 and No. 15 were published in May 1985 and October 1986 respectively.


4. The Commission Medal

The Commission Medal is awarded for distinguished contributions to physics education that have been "...major in scope and impact and which have extended over a considerable period." In 1985 it was awarded to Victor F. Weisskopf, and in 1987 to John Logan Lewis.

5. Commission Membership

The Commission records with sorrow the death of its Chairman, Roman U. SexI, on 10 July 1986 after a long illness. He brought to the Commission, as to all of his work in physics education, a rare degree of energy, imagination and effectiveness.

By action of the IUPAP Executive Council in October 1986, E. L. Jossem became Chairman, G. Born became Vice-Chairman, and J. Barojas became Secretary for the remainder of the 1984-1987 term.

The Commission wishes to acknowledge the contributions of its Associate

Members: Zhao Kaihua (Peking Univ., Beijing, PRC); S.W. Raither (UNESCO) and

P.J. Kennedy (Univ. of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK). As noted above, P.J.

Kennedy served as Editor of the Commission Newsletter during this term.

Finally, the current Chairman wishes to express his appreciation and thanks to each of the members of the Commission for all of the contributions they have made to its activities.

E. L. Jossem, Chairman C14


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last updated 7/25/96