Physics Education

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Physics Education


the system in educational institutions of providing instruction in physics and in methods of applying physics principles to the solution of engineering and research problems. Physics education is subdivided into general physics education, which includes the study of the foundations of physical science, and specialized physics education, which provides advanced training necessary for work in production and for research and teaching, both in physics itself and in related areas of science and technology.

General physics education is offered in secondary general-education schools, specialized secondary educational institutions, and secondary vocational-technical educational institutions. It endeavors to impart to students a materialist understanding of the world, teach the practical applications of physics in life, develop creative capabilities of students, and prepare youth for work or advanced training in higher schools. Specialized physics education is offered at various higher educational institutions, such as universities and institutes. Its tasks and content depend on the subject-matter specializations of the teaching staff at a given institution, for example, physics, chemistry, mathematics, aviation, geology, geodesy, geophysics, radio physics, machine building, civil engineering, power engineering, electrical engineering, and electronics. The content of physics education changes continuously as physics develops and production requirements change.

General physics education.RUSSIA AND THE USSR. In prerevolutionary Russia, general physics education dates to the beginning of the second quarter of the 18th century, when a course in experimental physics was introduced at the Academy Gymnasium. In 1746, M. V. Lomonosov published a brief exposition of C. Wolffs Experimental Physics under the title Wolffian Experimental Physics, which in effect became the first textbook of physics. Another physics textbook widely used at the time was prepared by the academician G. V. Kraft, who also taught at the Academy Gymnasium.

After the opening of Moscow University, general physics was introduced as part of the philosophy course of study at secondary educational institutions established under the auspices of the university—the Moscow Gymnasium (1755), the Kazan Gymnasium (1758), and the boarding school for noblemen’s children (1779). Instruction in basic mechanics and physics was added to the curricula of the main public schools in the late 18th century, district schools and the newly opened Gymnasiums in the early 19th century, and the two-year primary schools and city schools in the second half of the 19th century. New textbooks for general-education institutions were written by M. E. Golovin, a student of M. V. Lomonosov, and by I. A. Dvigubskii, H. F. E. Lenz (E. Kh. Lentz), and K. D. Kraevich.

In the 18th century the general physics course consisted primarily of the description of individual physical effects and experiments and the study of the operation of physical instruments and devices. Beginning in the 19th century, increasingly more time was set aside in the physics courses of secondary educational institutions for the study of the fundamental laws of physics and general physical principles and theories. From the second half of the 19th century physics courses occupied a larger place in the curricula of the Realschule and commercial school than in the Gymnasium, and from the end of the 19th century, in various secondary technical schools as well, such as mechanical, chemical, mining, civil-engineering, railroad, and navigational academies. This was dictated by the requirements of developing capitalist production. Beginning in the 20th century physics instruction was improved in the Gymnasiums as well. In 1912 basic physics was also included in the curricula of the newly opened higher primary schools.

The revision of the content of physics education and the methods of teaching physics in secondary schools in the early 20th century were connected with the sociopedagogical activities of such physicists as N. A. Umov, O. D. Khvol’son, and F. N. Shvedov, who headed the movement of progressive scientific and pedagogical forces for the reform of physics education. The proper organization of physics education was discussed by various commissions, conferences, and congresses of scientists and teachers. The Ministry of Public Education was forced to act partly to meet the demands of everday life and partly to satisfy the scientific-pedagogical community. The subject matter and structure of the physics course of study were improved in secondary schools, practical laboratory projects were introduced, and new textbooks and teaching guides were devised. The best textbooks—A. V. Tsinger’s Elementary Physics (part 1, 1910; part 2, 1915) and A. I. Bachinskii’s Physics for Secondary Educational Institutions (fascs. 1–3, 1915–18)—were still used in Soviet schools in the early 1920’s.

After the October Socialist Revolution of 1917, general physics education contributed to the formation of a scientific, dialectic-materialist view of the world and became one of the means of polytechnical education and of relating the knowledge acquired to everyday life and the requirements of socialist production. In the 1930’s the physics curricula were revised to include the most important discoveries in physics. New branches and subject areas that elucidated the nature and mechanisms of physical phenomena, such as molecular phenomena in gases, liquids, and solids, the electrical conduction of liquids and gases, the electromagnetic nature of light, and the structure of the atom, were included in the study of general physics.

The scientific and technological revolution necessitated the revision of the content and structure of general physics education. The changes, introduced in the 1960’s, were directed at altering the content of the physics course to meet the new level of scientific development, increasing the polytechnic orientation of general physics education, and developing the technical thinking of students.

In Soviet secondary schools, physics is taught from the sixth to tenth (eleventh) grades. Students are taught the fundamentals of mechanical, thermal, and electromagnetic phenomena and geometrical and wave optics. They are also taught the principal theses and consequences of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, the foundations of the molecular-kinetic theory, and the theory of the structure of the atom and the fundamentals of the structure of the nucleus and elementary particles. In addition, they learn the operating principles of electrical and radio devices and the physical principles underlying the operation of the most important engineering mechanisms. Moreover, students are taught how to apply their knowledge in various areas of technology, such as power engineering, transportation, communications, measuring technology, machine building, and civil engineering. The physics course of study in Soviet secondary schools also includes compulsory practical laboratory projects and experiments and natural-science and production field trips; use is also made of technical simulation. Among the scientists who have made major contributions in developing and writing Soviet textbooks and in developing methodological ideas are G. I. Faleev, A. V. Peryshkin, I. I. Sokolov, E. N. Goriahkin, P. A. Znamenskii, G. S. Landsberg, L. D. Landau, la. B. Zel’dovich, and I. K. Kikoin.

Students with a heightened interest in physics can attend elective courses, as well as study groups, various extracurricular institutions, and evening combined physics and mathematics schools at certain universities and technical higher educational institutions. There are also secondary schools and individual classes that provide more detailed instruction in physics and radio electronics. Specialized secondary technical schools provide more extensive instruction in individual areas and subjects of physics than the secondary general-education schools, and the curricula of such specialized schools depend on the subject-matter specializations of the teaching staff.

SOCIALIST AND CAPITALIST COUNTRIES. In foreign socialist countries, general physics education is based on the same scientific, methodological, organizational, and pedagogical principles as in the USSR.

In capitalist countries, physics education is offered to a certain extent at various secondary educational institutions and often may vary considerably within a single school, depending on a student’s major or ability (in many countries, students are classified according to ability as advanced, average, or slow). For example, in the British grammar school, physics is a compulsory subject for those majoring in the natural sciences or mathematics and is of lesser importance for those majoring in the humanities, while in the secondary modern school, the most widespread type of school in Great Britain, some physics is included in the general natural-science course. In US secondary schools, physics instruction is offered in greater depth in the academic program, which prepares students for entrance to the universities; the general and vocational programs provide extremely limited instruction in physics. In the French lycée, the foundations of physics are taught in greatest depth only in the natural-science and mathematics sections (the physics and mathematics section in the last two grades). In the Federal Republic of Germany, the fundamentals of physics are included in the upper grades of the public school as part of the general natural-science course; physics is taught as a separate subject in science and mathematics Gymnasiums. In Japan, extensive physics instruction is given in the natural-science and mathematics cycle of the academic program of the general-education department in upper secondary schools.

Specialized physics education. The growth of specialized physics education is connected with the development of universities, where physics originally was part of the philosophy course. Combined physics and mathematics departments first appeared in the 18th century as part of the philosophy faculties of many Western European universities; the first separate physics faculties were established on the basis of these departments in the 19th century.

RUSSIA AND THE USSR. In Russia specialized physics education dates to the beginning of the second quarter of the 18th century, when a course in experimental physics was introduced at the Academy University. Among those instrumental in the establishment of physics education at the university were L. Euler, G. V. Rikhman, G. V. Kraft, and especially (from 1742) M. V. Lomonosov, who lectured in experimental physics and physical chemistry and who was director of the university and its Gymnasium from 1758. The students had access to the physics study center, astronomical observatory, laboratories, and workshops of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. A three-year physics course was introduced in the philosophy faculty at Moscow University, founded at Lomonosov’s initiative. The teachers’ seminary of Moscow University (or baccalaureate faculty, 1779–82; the Philology School from 1782) trained teachers of mechanics and physics for the university itself and for the university’s Gymnasiums in Moscow and Kazan and its boarding schools and other private educational institutions. The St. Petersburg Main Public Academy (1783–86) and the affiliated St. Petersburg Teachers’ Seminary trained instructors of mechanics and physics for the main public academies.

Combined departments of the physical and mathematical sciences were created in the philosophy faculties of Russian universities in the 1830’s. Specialized physics education in universities included theoretical and experimental physics, pure and applied mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and mineralogy.

In the first half of the 19th century, physics teachers were trained at the three-year pedagogical institutes, first opened in 1804, of several universities, such as Moscow University and the universities of Kazan and Kharkov, at the St. Petersburg Pedagogical Institute (1804–16), at the physics and mathematics department of the Chief Pedagogical Institute in St. Petersburg, and at pedagogical courses of the educational districts (until 1863), attended by university graduates. The first separate combined physics and mathematics faculties were established in the second half of the 19th century at Moscow University, St. Petersburg University, the universities of Kazan, Kharkov, Kiev, and Dorpat (now Tartu), Novorossiia University (now the University of Odessa), and the universities of Vil’na (now Vil’nius) and Tomsk. The content of specialized physics education expanded and acquired a pronounced professional orientation with respect to training of researchers in physics and allied sciences, engineers, and physics teachers for higher and secondary educational institutions. The combined physics and mathematics faculties began devoting more time to mechanics and other branches of physics and to such fields as geodesy, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and minerology. By 1917, all of the country’s 11 universities had separate combined physics and mathematics faculties. Moscow University, St. Petersburg University (Petrograd University in 1914–24; now Leningrad University), the University of Kiev, and the University of Kazan were the leading centers of physics education.

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, the study of physics became increasingly more a part of the training of engineering specialists at the various higher technical educational institutions, such as polytechnic institutes (for example, in St. Petersburg and Kiev), technical institutes (St. Petersburg, Kharkov, and Tomsk), schools of railroad transport engineers (St. Petersburg, Moscow), civil engineers (St. Petersburg), electrical engineers (St. Petersburg), and mining engineers (St. Petersburg), and the Moscow Technical School (now the N. E. Bauman Moscow Higher Technical School). Such outstanding physicists as N. A. Umov, A. S. Popov, A. G. Stoletov, and P. N. Lebedev, the founders of new areas and directions in physics, contributed to the development of physics education.

Graduates of the combined physics and mathematics faculties of universities were generally appointed physics teachers and instructors in secondary and higher educational institutions from the second half of the 19th century. Physics teachers for two-year primary schools, city schools, and higher primary schools were trained at teachers’ institutes, the combined physics and mathematics faculties of higher women’s courses, and the combined physics and mathematics faculty of the Women’s Pedagogical Institute in St. Petersburg (from 1903). Graduates of various higher educational institutions were versed in pedagogy, psychology, and teaching methods (including the instruction of physics) at the Pedagogical Academy in St. Petersburg and the P. G. Shelaputin Pedagogical Institute in Moscow. With P. N. Lebedev’s arrival at the A. I. Shaniavskii People’s University in 1911, the university became a center of physics education. The first four volumes of O. D. Kvol’son’s Physics Course were published between 1892 and 1915 (the fifth and sixth volumes were published in the period 1920–26). This work became the principle textbook in the higher schools; it was also used in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

After the October Socialist Revolution of 1917, the development of socialist production necessitated the expansion of the practical applications of physics, enhancement of the role of specialized physics education, and improvement of the training of researchers, teachers, and physicist-engineers. Beginning in the mid-1930’s, more attention was given to specialized physics education at all higher technical educational institutions, separate physics departments were created at most Soviet universities, and new subdepartments were established in individual areas of physics.

The organization of the entire learning process was made to conform to the new tasks of developing science and production. Extensive courses in various branches of experimental physics, such as mechanics, heat, molecular physics, electricity, and optics, were included in specialized physics education, as well as courses in various branches of theoretical physics, such as theoretical mechanics, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, and atomic theory. Advanced mathematical training, comparable to the level taught at mathematics faculties and enabling physicists to master the apparatus and techniques of mathematical analysis, higher algebra, analytic and differential geometry, the theory of differential equations, and mathematical physics, became a necessary part of physics education. The entire physics curriculum, including general and specialized courses in physics, laboratory and practical work, seminars, and diploma projects (generally of an independent theoretical and experimental nature), raised the level of training of specialists. The extensive study of philosophical and methodological disciplines, introduced at higher educational institutions, created the foundation for a materialist understanding of the physical picture of the world and interpretation of new scientific achievements. Physics education thus came to be differentiated, and general physics and mathematics training was augmented by more specialized training. Specialized physics education became more differentiated, both with respect to research methods (theoretical and experimental physics) and to the branches of physics, such as solid-state physics, molecular physics, optics, magnetism, radio physics, and atomic physics.

The developing scientific and technological revolution necessitated the inclusion in specialized physics education of the study of new branches of physics and mathematics, such as the theory of the nucleus and elementary particles, nonlinear optics, magnetohydrodynamics, and computer technology. It also necessitated still greater differentiation and the creation of new specializations in physics education in related areas of physics, such as chemical physics, biophysics, geophysics, physical oceanography, atmospheric physics, and astrophysics.

In 1976 there were separate physics institutes at 46 of the 65 country’s universities, and combined physics and mathematics departments at 16. The universities of Gorky, Yerevan, Kiev, and Kharkov have, in addition to the physics departments, radio-physics departments, the University of Dnepropetrovsk has a physicotechnical department, the University of Tomsk has a radio-physics department and a physicotechnical department, and the Mordovian University has a department of electronics and automation and a department of lighting engineering and lighting sources. There is a physicotechnical department at the University of Tartu.

In addition to the universities, the Moscow Physical Engineering Institute and the Moscow Physicotechnical Institute are also leading centers of specialized physics education. The study of physics has become basic to the training of specialists at various higher technical education institutions—polytechnical, industrial, power-engineering, electrical-engineering, radio-engineering, machine-building, and instrument-making institutes, as well as at shipbuilding, aviation, geological, mining, petroleum, metallurgical, chemical-engineering, civil engineering, geodetic, transportation and communications, and hydrometeorological educational institutions. Many higher military educational institutions emphasize the study of physics. Still further advanced training in physics is provided by graduate schools.

The development of specialized physics eduation and the creation of new physics courses have been connected with the scientific and pedagogical activities of the most prominent Soviet scientists, including L. A. Artismovich, N. N. Bogoliubov, D. I. Blokhintsev, B. A. Vvedenskii, S. I. Vavilov, A. F. Ioffe, L. D. Landau, M. A. Leontovich, L. I. Mandel’shtam, D. V. Skobel’tsyn, I. E. Tamm, I. M. Frank, and S. E. Frish. New achievements in physics are discussed in specialized physics journals, which help maintain the high level of physics instruction in higher schools.

Physics teachers for secondary general-education schools and specialized secondary educational institutions are trained at the combined physics and mathematics departments of pedagogical institutes (of which there were 188 in 1976), where students receive instruction not only in the general scientific and specialized physics and mathematical disciplines but also in pedagogy, psychology, and the methodology of physics and mathematics instruction. The journal Fizika v shkole (Physics in the School) is published for physics teachers. The physics and combined physics and mathematics departments of universities and pedagogical institutes provide continuous guidance to physics teachers and instructors of secondary educational institutions in improving the subject-matter content and methods of instruction by organizing advanced training courses and by working with institutes for the advanced training of teachers.

Soviet scientists are active in the work of UNESCO’s commission on physics education. The Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University trains physics specialists for developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. There is also a large engineering department at the university.

SOCIALIST AND CAPITALIST COUNTRIES. The largest centers for specialized physics education in socialist countries are the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, the University of Budapest in Hungary, the universities of Berlin and Rostock in the German Democratic Republic, Warsaw University and the universities of Wrocław, Łódź, Lublin, and Poznan in Poland, the University of Bucharest and Cluj University in Rumania, the University of Prague in Czechoslovakia, the universities of Zagreb and Ljubljana in Yugoslavia, and the technical universities in Budapest (Hungary), Dresden (German Democratic Republic), Gdansk and Kraków (Poland), Bucharest and Cluj (Rumania), and Brno, Prague, and Kosice (Czechoslovakia).

In capitalist countries, specialized physics education satisfies industry’s demand for scientific and management personnel. The leading centers are Harvard University, the University of California, Columbia University, and Cornell University in the United States, Cambridge University, Oxford University, and the University of Strathclyde in Great Britain; the universities of Bologna, Naples, and Rome in Italy; the University of Paris and the University of Lyon-1 in France; the universities of Munich and Stuttgart in the Federal Republic of Germany; and Tokyo University, Kyoto University, Nagoya University, and Osaka University in Japan.

The leading higher technical educational institutions are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, the polytechnical institutes in Turin and Milan in Italy, and the higher technical schools in Aachen, Darmstadt, and Karlsruhe and the technical universities in Hanover and Munich in the Federal Republic of Germany.


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