Physics education at both school and university has a vital role to play in developing any society today in that we need populations who understand the main ideas of physics and can see its important place in any modern society. The only place where the whole population can be educated in the key underpinning ideas of physics is the secondary school (ages 12-18). Where this is successful, university physics departments can attract quality applicants who have enthusiasm and sound knowledge on to which the higher levels of physics understandings c an be built.
Unlike many countries, physics has been extremely popular at the upper levels of secondary education in Scotland for four decades. In a major recent study, only three factors were found to be important in developing positive attitudes towards physics from ages 10 to 20: the quality of the curricula; the quality of the teacher; the perceived value of physics in career terms. This study revealed much of what made a high quality curriculum and what characteristics marked out the high quality teacher.
In 1962 in Scotland, a new schools syllabus for secondary education was launched. It was incredibly successful in terms of the popularity of physics at school level. However, pupils did not find it easy as the syllabus laid emphasis on understanding and applications rather than the recal l of knowledge or algorithmic procedures. Research very quickly identified the areas of greatest difficulty and, after many years work, the common reason behind these difficulties started to become apparent. In every case, difficult topics involve the learners in having to hold many ideas at the same time in order to gain understanding. Several other areas of research were being developed in the area of psychology and these offered a clear understanding of the reasons why this is so difficult. These ideas were based on extensive research evidence and look at learning in terms of the flow of information into and through the brain. Many studies have shown that overloading the working memory more or less causes learning to cease. This is th e fundamental source of difficulties in learning physics which, by its very nature, is highly conceptual.
It is possible to redesign the physics curriculum to minimise the demands on working memory. It is equally possible to re-structure the teaching of physics to minimise the demands on working memory. When this is done, learning increases and positive attitudes grow. The physics is the same, the way it is developed is changed. This
In order to make physics more accessible to a wider population at school level as well as lay the foundations for the generation of a future population of leaders in physics, research indicates:
• Conceptual physics should not be taught to young learners too early; aspalpha
The presentation aims to show the research evidence and how it might be used to developed physics education for the future.