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Editor Interview: Teaching Einsteinian Physics in Schools

Posted on: August 24, 2021

A revolutionary new school physics curriculum centered around a modern Einsteinian paradigm.

Written by a host of contributing authors and edited by two leading academics, Teaching Einsteinian Physics in Schools will help demonstrate how a radical change in the curriculum is possible with the right learning instruments and innovative instructional approaches.

The editors of this book, Magdalena Kersting and David Blair, were kind enough to spend some time answering some of the most pressing questions about the new edition of their important book.

1. Why focus on Einsteinian physics?

Einsteinian physics has enormous explanatory power. From the big bang to black holes, from the physics of climate change to the physics that underpins modern technology, our knowledge of the world is most accurately explained using the language of Einsteinian physics. However, much of physics education today still follows the paradigm of 19th-century physics. We want to change this: by introducing young learners to modern concepts that best explain our world, we hope to educate capable and science-savvy students from an early age.

Einsteinian physics also has excellent potential to promote gender equality and positive attitudes in physics. Research has shown that girls show high interest and gains in attitudes when they encounter Einsteinian physics in their classrooms. We hope that our book can contribute to advancing girls’ engagement and career choices in physics and related disciplines.

2. This book addresses a need to modernize the school curriculum, what are some of the challenges that teachers must overcome to do this? Apart from reading this book, where should they begin?

Einsteinian physics can be taught in a way that is easy and fun for teachers and students alike. Although there is a widespread perception that Einsteinian physics is too complicated for laypeople, much of the perceived difficulty stems from an unfamiliarity with modern physics concepts. Many teachers are burdened with a prior scaffold of classical concepts that must be put aside as they learn the Einsteinian language of reality. Just as with learning a foreign language, fluency in Einsteinian physics requires practise at speaking. That is why the Einstein-First team in Western Australia and many international colleagues offer teacher professional development workshops and provide classroom material and lesson plans.

In Australia, we have closely engaged with ACARA and believe that they now recognise the importance of modernising the early years curriculum. We were astonished when we discovered that the concept of atoms and molecules is not part of early learning. Children love our plays and songs that cement concepts of the atomic nature of matter and the photon nature of light. We want to familiarise teachers with the language of Einsteinian physics and show them how to facilitate productive discussions about Einsteinian physics in their classrooms.

3. Your final chapters focus on different countries. Can you talk about the different approaches here and why you have decided to include examples from these places?

Our book is the outcome of a shared vision that has been developed within the international Einsteinian Physics Education Research (EPER) collaboration. The EPER collaboration gathers physicists, educators, and teachers from Europe, Australia, Asia, and the US. Our colleagues each have pioneered different approaches to teaching and learning Einsteinian physics, and the last section in our book reflects the diversity of these international efforts. We hope that our examples from different countries allow us to learn from each other so that we can move together towards a great future of modern physics education.

4. What has been your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge has been to make our materials accessible to teachers who have been brought up in the old paradigm, We have learnt that by putting activities first, and then exploring the concepts behind the activity is easy for teachers, while in the reverse order the concept may seem frighteningly difficult. For example, rolling toy cars on curved surfaces is fun, interesting and allows students to predict and observe in true scientific style. The concept behind it, the shape of curved space then follows naturally.

5. What does the future hold for physics education?

The recent birth of gravitational wave astronomy creates a fantastic vision of physics for the future. Our book can help teachers and instructors bring this vision into science classrooms. The modern Einsteinian perspective represents a significant paradigm shift compared with the classical world view that underpins most school education today. Of course, paradigmatic changes do not happen overnight. But we hope that our book will entice readers, establish understanding, and build confidence and motivation in the emerging learning domain of Einsteinian physics. Above all, we want everyone to be able to share the astonishing story of our existence, a story that can only be told in the language of Einsteinian physics.

 

Teaching Einsteinian Physics in Schools is available now from routledge.com.