Back to school with IOP Publishing’s Education Week

28 Sep 2015Bristol, UK



To celebrate students returning to schools, colleges and universities around the world, IOP Publishing has collated some of the best research into physics education from across all its journals. From Monday 28th September to Saturday 3rd October, we’ll highlight all kinds of content from our journals European Journal of Physics and Physics Education, covering a new area each day.

“It’s important that teachers have access to high quality physics education research to help them make decisions about how best to teach the subject in their own situations.” Charles Tracy, Head of Education at the Institute of Physics (IOP), explains.

“This is a very helpful initiative by IOP Publishing (IOPP) towards that end.”

Research into physics education is particularly important to IOPP as part our role supporting the IOP’s wider mission:

“Everyone will have the opportunity to choose to study physics, and those that do will have access to high-quality education and well-informed choices about future careers.”

New content will be added each day on this page.

Saturday 3rd: New media in teaching

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” – Bill Gates

Our Education Week concludes with a round-up of papers that have looked at how technology has been used in the classroom. We cover science with Google Earth, a simple programming language adopted for primary and secondary students, an online development environment for physics data analyses used to teach data analyses and interpretation, and how smartphones and tablets can be used to revisit traditional experiments.

“For physics lessons to be interesting to young students, physics teaching should partly use available new media technologies” adds Michael Vollmer. “Imagine that not just the teacher in front but all students in a classroom use their smartphones to measure sound levels, acceleration or magnetic field strengths…”

Friday 2nd: Optics and Photonics

“There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.” – Isaac Asimov

As 2015 is the International Year of Light and Light-based Technology, today we introduce a collection of articles discussing the teaching of optics and photonics. These consider a non-standard way of teaching diffraction, using the freeware ‘Tracker’ to teach about optical phenomena, and a series of experiments that provide students with experiences needed for construction and comprehension of optical phenomena.

“It may well be that the 21st century will later be called the century of light and photonics” says Michael Vollmer.

Thursday 1st: Physics Education Research

“It’s still magic, even if you know how it’s done…” – Sir Terry Pratchett

As how we develop theories and perform experiments changes with time, so do considerations of how we educate the next generation of physicists. Todays selected articles consider some of the latest physics education research, including: the impact of question structure on the performance of first-year physics undergraduates at the University of Cambridge, teaching physics on global courses, transient learning challenges in undergraduates, and how a group of ‘pre-service’ physics teachers approached a classical problem.

“If we want physics teaching and learning to progress as a whole, then we need the physics education research community to be an integral part of the physics teaching community” adds Gary Williams.

Wednesday 30th: Student Research as a learning/teaching method

“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

Physics research is increasingly driven by large collaborative efforts, but can the same be true for student-led learning? Today’s highlighted articles consider an open-inquiry based teaching/learning experience in Italy, team-based learning for 1st year university students, a framework for laboratory pre-work, and a context-based method to introduce secondary school students to the optical properties of materials.

We must always remember the old saying: hear and forget, see and remember, but do and understand!” explains Michael Vollmer, Professor of Experiment Physics, University of Applied Sciences, Brandenburg, Germany. “Student research belongs to the last category.”

Tuesday 29th: Teaching Hard Concepts

“My physics students don't understand…that is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.” ― Richard Feynman

We’re told that science is full of ‘hard’ concepts – but teaching and learning methods help break down these preconceptions. Today, we highlight two articles, from Physics Education and the European Journal of Physics, which consider how rituals in teaching practice can make physical theories seem inconsistent, even absurd, and how online pre-learning helped university physics students improve conceptual understanding.

“We all remember coming across concepts that were difficult to understand in our physics studies. Some of these are personal to us as individuals, but some are just tough!” says Gary Williams. “Collaboration and sharing ideas is the key to crack the tougher nuts – when the going gets tough, share the load!”

Monday 28th September: Evaluating Teaching Sequences

“Great minds discuss ideas” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Evaluation forms a key part of any research, and to kick off Education Week we’ve collated four papers evaluating teaching practices. There’s a teaching sequence based on experiments and simulations, using the predict-observe-explain sequence in teaching buoyant force, an inquiry driven path for a problem set to engineering undergraduates, and an approach to teaching quantum physics.

“Teachers always aim to teach physics concepts in what to them would be a logical progression” adds Gary Williams, National Coordinator for the Institute of Physics Teachers Network. “But we know that students don't always see the same logical progression, so being able to evaluate teaching sequences and deconstruct them is a valuable tool.”