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What is Physics Education?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Physics education is the way in which knowledge about the academic topic of physics is transferred between people. As a subject, physics can be difficult to understand both because of the counterintuitive nature of many laws of physics and because of the math and other techniques involved. There are a variety of different ideas about how to improve the learner's experience of physics education so that it may lead to continued interest in the subject. Many cultures treat knowledge of physics and other sciences as an objective good, and significant effort is put into improving physics education.

On a very simple level, physics education consists of teaching and learning about physics. Transfer of knowledge from one person to another is always fraught with misunderstandings and problems, but physics is an area in which explanatory measures often result in additional misunderstandings. For instance, teaching through analogy can lead people to misunderstand certain concepts outside the direct object of the analogy. When trying to simplify one concept, a teacher can often unknowingly suggest incorrect answers to other concepts indirectly.

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Another problem faced by physics education is the counterintuitive nature of the subject. Students often are reluctant to accept that certain facts of physics are true given the complexity of the physical world. Physics equations used in problems are often abstracted from the real world, but the answers to those problems can never be observed in the real world. In some cases, experimentation under conditions that remove a number of additional variables can be helpful.

In a crucial way, physics education depends on a certain level of knowledge of other subjects. It is very difficult to teach anything other than basic physics to students who do not understand basic mathematics. There are arguments that claim that physics can be taught without math on an observational basis, but without an understanding of math, those theories can never be applied abstractly.

One of the reasons physics education is such a priority is because math and science are treated as objective necessities in advanced cultures. It is assumed that without math and science, in particular sciences that allow for human survival and the construction of complex structures, a culture cannot prosper. Without students who are interested and highly talented in physics, there cannot be progress in the subject. While art, philosophy, and other softer disciplines still have value in a cultural sense, science is seen as having objective value to humanity. Physics and other sciences are therefore prioritized in order to ensure the survival and continued improvement of the human species.

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