C.14 Commission on Physics Education (1960)

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Officers 1994- 96: Chair: P. J. Black U.K.

Vice-chair: A. Tiberghien France

Secretary: A. M. P. de Carvalho Brazil

Members :

U. Ganiel, Israel; K. Luchner, Germany; T. Ryu Japan

F. Kaczmarek, Poland; Wei-Yin Luo. China; R. K. Wassef, Egypt

M. Kesselberg, Sweden; G. Radnai, Hungary; P. L. Lijnse, Netherlands

E. F. Redish, U.S.A.

Associate Members :

E. Lillethun, Norway; M. A. Moreira, Brazil; S. W. Raither. UNESCO

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A. Activities

The Commission'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 to sponsor during the 1994-96 term have been as follows : -

(1) The Fifth Inter-American Conference on Physics Education - held at the Texas A&M University, College Park from 17th to 22nd July 1994 - organised by the Council for Inter-American Conferences on Physics Education and jointly sponsored with the OAS, the US National Science Foundation, the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society.

(2) Teaching Modern Physics for Students non-Majoring in Physics - held in Sinai, Egypt from 23rd to 30th July 1994. About 80 participants, mainly from Arab countries took part. the proceedings are to be incorporated in a UNESCO publication

(3) Environmental Issues - Rio Follow-Up - held in Eger, Hungary from 23rd to 27th August 1994. This was a GIREP conference jointly sponsored with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste and the Hungarian Government. The 1994 meeting of C14 was held in Budapest over the two days immediately after this conference. The proceedings have been published and are available from the Department of Atomic Physics, Eotvos University, Budapest.

(4) The New Science of Materials - How Should We Now Teach ? - held in Udine, Italy from 24th to 30th August 1995. This meeting was jointly sponsored with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, GIREP, and the University of Udine. The proceedings are in preparation by the conference organiser, Professor Marisa Michelini in the department of Physics at the University of Udine.

The 1995 meeting of C-14 was held in Udine during the two days immediately preceding the conference.

(5) Microcomputers in Physics Education - held in Nairobi, Kenya from 2nd to 10th July 1995. This was organised by the Department of Physics in the University of Nairobi under the auspices of the Kenya Physical Society. Lectures here were complemented by practical workshops to help the mainly African participants explore the potential of new techniques. Ten of the participants were from developing countries and sponsored by IUPAP funds. The proceedings are in the course of publication.

(6) New Trends in Physics Teaching - held in Nanjing, China from 8th to 11th August 1995. The proceedings have been published and are available from Professor Yun-Ying, South-East University, Nanjing

(7) Undergraduate Physics Education - to be held in College Park Maryland from 31 July to 3rd August 1996 - jointly sponsored with the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society and the University of Maryland. The 1996 meeting of C14 will be held at College Park in the two days preceding this meeting.

(8) New Ways of Teaching Physics - to be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia from 21st to 27th August 1996. This will be jointly sponsored with GIREP and organised by the Slovenia Board of Education, the University of Ljubljana and the Association of Mathematicians, Physicists and Astronomers of Slovenia.

(9) Modern Physics and Technology in the Curriculum - to be held in Bangkok, Thailand from 27th to 31st December 1996.

At the time of writing, plans are also under consideration for recommending sponsorship in 1997 for meetings in Russia, in Argentina ( the Sixth Inter-American Conference on Physics Teaching ) and in Hungary.

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 1995, the medal was awarded to Professor Leonard Jossem

A.3 The Newsletter of the I.C.P.E.

This continues to be produced on a semi-annual basis and distributed free to about 1000 persons and institutions world-wide. The editorship was handed over from Professor George Marx in Budapest to Professor Ed Redish in Maryland in early 1995 : the newsletter has a new format and improved methods of distribution are under consideration.

A.4 Other Activities

The Commission has secured funding from UNESCO to support production of a book which will be a summary of research into physics education to give teachers and teacher trainers access to the results of the past few years of research relevant to physics education. About twenty leading researchers in science education are contributing. It is intended that final manuscripts can be sent for publication this summer (1996).The commission has also produced a 40 page document of notes for guidance for organisers of ICPE/IUPAP sponsored conferences. Members have been maintaining links with several regional networks concerned with physics education, and with other international organisations, notably UNESCO, where they have been providing advice on a proposed publication of a foundation undergraduate course, and taking an active part in the activities of Working Group 3 of the UNESCO Physics Action Council.

B. Development in Physics Education.

Four main trends are changing the nature of physics education. One is the progress of physics itself. It is difficult for teachers, particularly at school level, to keep pace and to ensure that school physics gives an authentic picture combining understanding of its methods and concepts with the flavour of progress and excitement which inspires physicists. A second trend is the burgeoning of research into the ways pupils learn new concepts and into the practices of pedagogy. For both of these trends, there is a need to distil and communicate new thinking in a form that policy makers and classroom teachers can grasp and put to use. The conferences that C14 sponsors all attempt to represent both of these trends in their programmes. It is also usual to have a strong element of workshops and group discussions in their programmes so that participants can work at the problems of selecting, transforming and adapting new thinking into reformed classroom work. The book sponsored by UNESCO is an alternative way to deal with the second of these trends; the possibility of further publications of this type is being considered.

A third trend is change in the way in curriculum context within which physics plays a role in the curriculum. There is a strong tendency towards teaching Science as a single subject for a part or the whole of secondary schooling, combining and co-ordinating work on the separate sciences. There are also moves to enhance the practical and everyday aspects of science, constructing curricula around everyday issues of evident importance to young people rather than around the conceptual structures of the subjects. There is a need to reflect these changes in our work, which may mean that future efforts will have a stronger interdisciplinary character, whilst aiming to ensure the salience of physics within these more complex curriculum designs.

A fourth trend is the enrichment of the means of communication made possible by the Internet. the Commission is planning to put its minutes and other documents on the Internet. Its newsletter now contains information on sites useful for physics educators on the world-wide web. Consideration is being given to the possibility of putting articles and books, which are of proven value but no longer commercially viable for marketing in print, onto the Internet so that anyone can read and download them - and perhaps at the same time making them available also - at very low cost - on diskette. It is hoped that such ventures could be of particular use in developing countries. The Commission may well seek funds to enable these developments to be taken forward on a comprehensive basis.

P. J. Black


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last updated 7/25/96