We must liberate ourselves from the tyranny of textbook-centered and lecture-centered physics instruction and replace them with problem-centered teaching that is perceived as relevant by the student.
Innovations in science (physics) teaching all seem to rest on one simple premise: a better learning experience results from the active engagement of the student. Many of these innovations can be placed in the following categories: (1) microcomputer-based laboratories, (2) active engagement in lectures, (3) collaborative learning, and (4) structured problem solving. Workshop Physics by Priscilla Laws and her group at Dickinson College replaces the standard calculus-based physics course; and the web-based virtual physics experimental site, Physics 2000, are good examples of the first approach. Harvard professor of physics, Eric Mazur's Peer Instructor; and the physics education research group at the University of Minnesota have developed "rich context problems" for collaborative learning. The last approach is used by the University of Washington Physics Education Group who have developed a series of exercises, based on their research, to help students with conceptual difficulties. Finally, I would like to mention the work done by my colleague Wytze Brouwer at the University of Alberta in improving physics education. The detailed account of his collaborative approach, replacing the conventional lecture-centered teaching of large classes in first year physics, is well described in (Brouwer, 1995).
As far as textbooks are concerned, we are seeing a shift toward recognizing the importance of imbedding teaching in rich contexts, as well as paying serious attention to the research in conceptual development by science educators. This research clearly shows that students are able to solve problems on physics tests with inadequate understanding of the concepts involved. (Hestenes, 1992, Brouwer, 1995), There are also textbooks that incorporate the history of science in more effective ways than just placing entertaining vignettes in the text (Lawrence, 1996).
The work of Paul Hewitt must be mentioned. His book Conceptual Physics is a successful attempt to present the qualitative aspects of concepts in physics. This is done through visuals, demonstrations, hands-on (minds-on) activities, verbal explanations and dialogues. There is a quantitative aspect to this approach, but the presentation of "formulas" is kept to a minimum.
James Trefil and Robert Hazen's The Sciences: An Integrated Approach, tries to present the concept of physics qualitatively, as Hewitt does, but uses much more quantitative support. Laws and definitions are given verbally, graphically and pictorially first, and only then expressed symbolically. It is a nice attempt to balance the quantitative and qualitative aspects of physics, somewhere between the conventional textbook and Hewitt's book.
Cutting the umbilical chord with conventional textbook-centered teaching will be successful only when textbook writers and teachers of science (physics) have a deep understanding of the qualitative/quantitative requirements of good physics teaching and how students learn concepts in physics. However, this is only a necessary but not sufficient requirement for good science teaching. To rise above the conventional textbook-centered, lecture-centered teaching of science (physics), we need to explicitly incorporate the history and the nature of science. Our post-Kuhnian mandate then is to move beyond the role of textbooks as "pedagogic vehicles for the perpetuation of normal science" to a more inclusive approach that better serves the future scientist (physicist) as well as the future scientifically literate citizen.
Finally, the work of the physics group at Oregon State University, led by Corinne Manogue, should be mentioned. they have "rearranged the content of physics on the undergraduate level to better reflect the way professional physicists think about the field and also the use of a number of reform pedagogies which place responsibility for learning more firmly on in the hand of the students".
Stinner, A. (2007). "From Theory to Practice: Placing contextual science in the classroom", based on the "6th International Conference for the History of Science in Science Education" in 2006 in Oldenburg, Germany. In the special edition of Science & Education (in Press).
Stinner, A. and Metz, D. (2006). Thought Experiments, Einstein, and Physics Education. Physics in Canada, pp. 27-37. (Nov./Dec. 2006).
Stinner, A. (2003). Scientific Method, Imagination, and the Teaching of Science. Physics in Canada. Vol. 59, No 6, 335-346.
Stinner, A. & Metz, D. (2003). Pursuing the Ubiquitous Pendulum. The Physics Teacher, 41, January, 38-43.
Stinner, A. & Metz, D. (2002). The Ubiquitous Pendulum: New Ways of Using the Pendulum in the Physics Class Room. Physics in Canada. July/August 2002. 197-201.
Stinner, A. (2002). Calculations of the Age of the Earth and the Sun. Physics Education. July, 2002. 296-305.
Metz, D. & Stinner, A. (2002). Deep Impact: The Physics of Asteroid Collisions. The Physics Teacher . Vol. 40, November 2002, 487-492.
Stinner, A. (1998). Celebrating a Centennial - Leo Szilárd (1898-1964). The Physics Teacher, 36, April, 234-235.
Stinner, A. (1994). Providing a Contextual Base and a Theoretical Structure to Guide the Teaching of Physics. Physics Education, 29, 375-381.
Stinner, A., (1994). The Story of Force: From Aristotle to Einstein. Physics Education (2), 77-86.
132.232 (C&I) Physics