The Challenge of Teaching Physics

I love Physics

I SOMETIMES find it annoying that whenever people know that I teach Physics 90% of the time they would give me that wow-you-are-amazing look. In my head I would ask, Have you finished high school? Did you not have physics back then? But I could not blame them because, as the website puts it, physics has a bad reputation.

I would not say that physics is easy but I also would not say that it is too difficult that anyone should fear it. I had my share of difficulty learning both the concepts and the mathematics but after seeing the beauty of this field of science, I have learned to love it. Then again, we do not see things in the same way, so I could not expect other people to feel the same way as I do about physics.

But why do people think physics is a difficult subject? What are the factors that affect how people view physics?

Teacher Factor

In our college thesis, we determined the significant difference between the academic achievements in physics of students under physics major teachers and those under non-physics major teachers. Our results showed that those students who were taught by physics major teachers had higher scores in the achievement test. This could be attributed to the specialized training that physics teachers went through.

The Trend in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) reports that in 2007, only 7% of the students in Philippines are taught by Physics majors. So, what could we expect about the learning of 93% of our high school students?

I do not underestimate the non-physics majors’ capacity to teach physics, but how can one who is not passionate about the subject motivate his students to like it? Even if I took physics as my major in my pre-service training, I still have a lot to learn about how to teach physics in a way that students would like it.

It is not enough that the teacher understands the concepts, he should also know how to effectively make the students learn those concepts. That is why the teacher should continue to explore resources that would develop and sustain the students’ interest in the subject. Employing ICT like using interactive simulations in PHET website is one. Designing various group activities and games, I think, also helps.

The government also provides scholarships to students who enroll in physics and special training in physics to in-service teachers who are non-physics majors, but with little success in improving the Filipino students’ performance in international science exams.

Insufficient School Facilities and Equipment

We are quite lucky here at the Regional Science High School that we have some laboratory equipment that students could use to verify and investigate scientific principles. Science High Schools are dubbed as islands of excellence. Despite that, we still do not have the state-of-the-art equipment that a physics laboratory should have. How much more in regular high schools?

If students have firsthand experience of physics experiments, I believe that they would appreciate the subject better. If they could perceive the concepts using their senses, instead of simply imagining them, I believe that learning physics would be a much more enjoyable experience.

Failure to Connect Physics Concepts to Real Life

Physics is supposed to make us understand all the physical phenomena we encounter in our day-to-day experiences, but if students do not see this, it would be very difficult for them to appreciate physics.

Someone complained on his Facebook wall about how useless his physics subject is. That is a clear sign that he does not see what physics is about.

It is important that before beginning with the first topics in physics, the students should be made to see the significance of studying physics. The students should appreciate how the developments in physics have influenced the way we live today, how physics could provide a solution to human problems be they small or global in scale, or how physics is necessary in careers they are planning to have in the future.

Even the presentation of the lessons the connection between the principles learned inside the classroom and real life experiences should be established in order to sustain the students’ interest in the subject.

Prejudice Against Physics

Sometimes, even if a student is above average, but because he has a preconceived notion that physics is a difficult subject, he would really find it difficult. Without trying to sound deterministic, I believe this is true.

Some students would also think that they are not good in physics and they would accept this fact as an irreversible truth — that they really do not have a chance to be good at it. So, whenever they encounter difficulty in understanding one particular concept, they would resort to thinking that it is perfectly normal for them to not understand it and would never attempt to give it a second look.

Other people who had negative experiences with their physics classes also influence others by broadcasting their negative feeling towards the subject creating a cloud of fear in anyone who hears it.

All these and more make teaching physics a challenging task. As a beginning physics teacher I will never stop improving my craft with the ultimate goal of influencing my students and others to become physics lovers and to help create a culture of science within my circle of influence.

Ariel Lalisan

Ariel Lalisan

Ariel Lalisan is a physics teacher at Alabel National Science High School. He is an advocate of constructivism approach in education. He employs active learning and independent learning in his lessons, and, of course, a lot of technology integration. His goal is to produce students who can solve problems on their own using the concepts they learn in the classroom. Ariel Lalisan is a Google Certified Innovator (Google Teachers Academy Southeast Asia 2014) and a community leader at Google Educator Group Sarangani. He is a co-founder of SoCCSKSarGen and he won the Globe Media Excellence Blogger of the Year Award in 2015.

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