Sunday, 7 December 2014

Wither year 12 physics?

Most of us who encounter a lot of first year students have noticed that their preparation in physics is changing, and this reflects shifts in emphasis at secondary school level. So, what do we want from year 12 physics? Given that it is not a pre-requisite subject for engineering, should it be taught at all?  *Gasp*

Ben Kelly writes:

I suppose of prime interest to me is the state of Physics education in public high schools.  We are constantly seeing a lower and lower level of ability and understanding in students coming into our courses.  Within NSW BOSTES it has been suggested that a generic STEM project unit (either replacing or supplementing), delivered by distance could replace many HSC  physics/chemistry units as finding staff willing to teach and being competent to teach are extremely difficult. Obviously that would be a huge change, both for physics graduates (as many go into physics teaching) and would no doubt have a huge impact on the quality of physics skills in graduating high school students. It would also have a significant impact on physics in 7-10, as most likely there would be no real Physics, as essentially no staff at a high school would have physics experience and as such students would be directed in to fields their teachers studied and are competent in. With the national curriculum being phased in, many schools are struggling to create resources in areas where they are struggling with new teachers or retrained teachers. I know some of the projects are out there to address some of these issues but I do worry that state boards left of field decisions might undermined some of these initiatives. I would also echo recent comments regarding students inability to apply maths, and how that is being taught both in schools and at universities. These issues are connected.  Here are some links: The reference report which provides some interesting figures and further context, student numbers etc, but it doesn’t provide figures on how qualified staff are, or how difficult it is to find staff to teach physics at any level in schools.  The Warren centre was seeking input and provides a bit more context to the report and review on Science There is no formal STEM PBL proposal yet, that I am aware of. They are still in the consultation phase I believe. However there is significant pressure to create a STEM unit like I have described for many reasons as it solves a lot of issues from the school/board side of things.

I’m not surprised that teaching physics as a separate subject is being questioned. It appears that, as a discipline, we struggle to make a clear and compelling case to society that physics is an essential, central part of our culture. I see parallels with Latin and Greek in the 1960’s.

 There may be a way to use distance learning resources to improve the quality of physics and applied maths at all levels (including primary schools), but I agree it needs to be handled carefully to avoid losing something precious.