Tag archives: education
By Matin Durrani
I don’t know about you, but I look back rather nostalgically on the practical exams that I took as an 18 year old as part of my A-levels in physics and chemistry. At the time, I wasn’t looking forward to them at all – they lasted three hours each and there was always the very large possibility of completely mucking up your experiment and/or dropping all your samples on the floor.
Although I’ve forgotten everything about my physics practical exam, the chemistry practical still sticks out in my mind. I remember making some needle-like crystals that, through amazing good fortune, turned out really well – certainly far better than the watery mush I’d created in my mock exams. So when I walked over to the other side of the lab to measure the temperature at which the crystals melted, they did so over a really narrow range – and presumably at the “correct” temperature too.
By James Dacey
I’ve written a few times recently about the rise of massive open online courses, or “MOOCs” for short. If this trend in education has so far passed you by, MOOCs are online courses generally offered free of charge by some of the leading universities in the world. For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers courses in classical mechanics and electricity & magnetism, and the University of Edinburgh has recently launched a course about the discovery of the Higgs boson.
MOOCs tend to combine video lectures with assignments such as problem sets and extended projects. In many ways, the course formats mirror or complement traditional classroom-based education, incorporating features such as forums where students can discuss the course content amongst themselves. Some of the science courses even include online “practicals” by way of virtual laboratories. But despite the proliferation of MOOCs in the past few years, very little research has been carried out on the way that students are actually engaging with the courses.
Now, a group of researchers in the US has done the first relatively detailed study of student behaviour in the MOOCosphere. The study is described in a paper published on the arXiv preprint server with lead author Ashton Anderson, a computer scientist at Stanford University. Anderson and his team examined the behaviour of the student population in courses offered by Stanford through Coursera, one of the major MOOC providers. The courses were on the topics of machine learning and probabilistic graphical models. After reading the study, it seems to me that the “take away” message is that MOOC students have many different motivations for taking these courses and as a result they behave in an assortment of ways, distinct from classrooms in the real world.
By Matin Durrani
“Ever heard a child say ‘Yeah, I get it!’? Well, if you do, they’re lying. They’re only saying those words because you’re boring them and they don’t want to listen any more.”
That’s not me telling you – it’s Fran Scott, a BBC science presenter who has spent the last nine years involved in informal children’s science education, most recently working for Children’s BBC and BBC Learning.
By Matin Durrani
With all the talk yesterday of evidence for inflation and signs of primoridal gravitational waves imprinted on the cosmic microwave background, many non-physicists (and probably quite a few physicists too) might have been left scratching their heads at the implications of the findings obtained by the BICEP2 experiment at the South Pole.
Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the fact that many concepts in physics are hard and that cutting-edge experiments are incredible feats of technical endeavour. We can, though, all take solace from the fact that physicists at the frontiers of research have often spent decades living and breathing their subjects, which means they know the basics of their own field far better than anyone else.
By Matin Durrani
If there’s one thing that unites pretty much all of us who like physics, it’s that we’ve all sat through physics classes at some point in our lives. We all know teachers and lecturers who’ve been brilliant and inspired us, but equally we’ve all sat through classes that have quite frankly bored us out of our pants.
In the March 2014 issue of Physics World – a PDF copy of which you can download free of charge – we offer a snapshot of just some of the many innovative ideas that exist for learning and teaching physics. It’s not an exhaustive selection, but includes topics that we felt were interesting or novel.
So, download the issue to find out about the huge growth of “massive open online courses”, or MOOCs, in which universities make their lectures freely available in video form on the Internet, and discover Philip Moriarty’s behind-the-scenes experiences as one of the stars of the Sixty Symbols series of YouTube science videos.
Elsewhere, check out the great feature by BBC science presenter Fran Scott, who reveals her four golden rules for engaging children with science, and discover the importance of helping children develop computer-programming skills from an early age. Don’t miss out either on Eugenia Etkina and Gorazd Planinšič’s article on the implications for teachers of the fact that learning involves physical changes in the brain.
By Matin Durrani and Louise Mayor
Commissioned by Physics World for the March 2014 education special issue, which examines new ways to teach and learn physics, this colourful image is based on a lecture by Richard Feynman called “The Great Conservation Principles”. It is one of seven Messenger Lectures that the great physicist gave at Cornell University in the US exactly 50 years ago, a video of which can be watched here or in the digital version of Physics World.
The drawing’s creator is professional “science doodler” Perrin Ireland – science communications specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in the US – who describes herself as “a learner who needs to visualize concepts in order to understand them”. For people like Ireland, thinking visually or in a story-like way helps them to recall facts and explanations, which can come in very useful when trying to learn something new.
So to find out what science doodling could bring to physics, we invited Ireland to watch Feynman’s 1964 lecture and create a drawing for us – the picture above being the result. Half a century after his lecture, Feynman remains an iconic figure in physics and although we’ll never know what he would have made of Ireland’s doodle, our bet is he would have been amused.
By Hamish Johnston
There’s definitely an educational vibe to this week’s picks from the Red Folder, which begins with Tanner Higgin’s selection of “Five apps that test your physics skills“. Writing on Mind/Shift, a website based in California and dedicated to learning, Higgin highlights Crayon Physics Deluxe, which allows users to draw physical objects and then let gravity and other physical effects take over. Also featured is Amazing Alex, which allows users to combine more than 30 different household objects to create fantastical Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg contraptions.
By Tushna Commissariat
This week, the Red Folder seemed filled to bursting with amusing and captivating news stories from around the web about physics. To start off, this rather hilarious and candid account of the Apollo 7 mission on the Discovery News website. I will not give too much away and let you read the story yourself, but suffice to say that having a rather bad cold while in space sounds dreadful and is bound to make the best of us quite grumpy – and I am sure the Apollo 7 crew would agree with me!
By James Dacey
The story goes that on the morning of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics announcement, Peter Higgs had popped out for a leisurely lunch at a local pub without telling his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh. It meant that the Nobel prize committee in Stockholm was left scrabbling around trying to contact Higgs on several numbers, to no avail. We heard from François Englert in the slightly awkward phone conversation that customarily follows the prize announcement. But there was still no sign of the elusive Prof. Higgs.
Well fear not, because we will finally get to hear from the man behind the boson about his crowning achievement, via a free online course offered by the University of Edinburgh. The Discovery of the Higgs Boson is a seven-week course “about developments at the Large Hadron Collider, particle physics and understanding the universe”. Registration is already open for the massive open online course (MOOC), which starts on 10 February. It will feature interviews with Higgs himself and filmed lectures by a team of particle physicists at the University of Edinburgh, along with additional material including notes and further videos for more advanced students.
By Matin Durrani
The Institute of Physics (IOP), which publishes Physics World, launched its first-ever fundraising campaign at a dinner at the Institute’s headquarters in London last night. The aim of the campaign, called Opportunity Physics, is to raise £10m over five years to let the Institute “significantly scale up” its work over the coming decades. The evening was hosted by Manchester University particle physicist Brian Cox, who is on the fundraising campaign’s board and is a familiar face as presenter of TV shows such as the BBC’s Wonders of the Solar System.
The Institute says it has identified a number of existing IOP projects that can be enhanced if further funding were available. Those projects are all centred on inspiring young people into physics, showing them what careers physics can lead to, helping physicists to flourish – whether they work in teaching, research or industry – and underlining how physics is central to a healthy, technology-led economy. With 52,000 members, the Institute already does a lot of good work, but it believes it can do even more with additional cash.