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Physics for all students and teachers -- not just for an elite few

We're living in a highly technical and scientific age. Accordingly, every accredited secondary school around the world teaches physics. Unfortunately, a student may leave high school without having taken a physics course. It's also possible to earn a bachelor's degree from college without taking a course in physics.

And most unfortunately, it is possible to earn a teaching certificate and be employed as a teacher with little or no understanding of physical science.

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It is not possible to help pupils understand the implications of many technical and scientific happenings without a strong background in physics and natural science.

So the problem is compounded. Hundreds and thousands of pupils are taught day in and day out by teachers who are scientifically illiterate, and since less than one-fourth of all secondary pupils worldwide take physics, the majority of pupils continue this illiteracy.

One easy solution, and one that should be put in place immediately, is to require physics for graduation both from secondary school and from college, thus ensuring that those who would go on to teach would be literate in at least one of the physical sciences.

But what about improving schools instantly -- not waiting for another generation of teachers to come along?

The following plan would require great flexibility on the part of school administrators, and additional working time by teachers.

But one way to provide all pupils with teachers conversant with physical science is to place all teachers without this background in secondary school physics classes.

Let's assume a school system has 100 teachers, only 10 of whom have taken physics in school. That leaves 90 teachers who will need to enroll in a physics course.

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Assume, too, that the school system with the 100 teachers has five physics classes a day. Into each class, place up to four teachers, using team-teaching programs and substitutes to cover their classes while they are in the physics course.

It's possible, of course, that the teachers will find they learn more quickly than the less mature secondary school students and can get by with two or three days a week of class attendance, combining this with time in the physics lab during after-school hours.

Then, too, a great number of the colleges and universities that offer in-service training for teachers might devise some excellent college-level physics classes which combine high school-level instruction for those teachers who did not take physics while in school.

And there is every possibility that certain correspondence courses, combined with supervised laboratory work, might help fill in the scientific literacy gap.

But we lean toward teachers joining students in high school physics classes, knowing what a lift it would be for the physics teacher to have three or four adult learners mixed in with the younger ones. And what a privilege for the high-schoolers to study alongside teachers.

The recommendation this week, then, is twofold: Have every high school and college student take a course in physics as a graduation requirement; and have every teacher in a school district who has not taken physics enroll as soon as possible in the nearest high school's physics course, right alongside the regular secondary schoo l pupils. Next Week: Doing Chores


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