Anyone involved in physics education will agree that experiments – or experimentation – play a major role both in physics per se and in learning physics. Nevertheless, studies show that experiments are actually playing a diminishing role in physics lessons, make no significant contribution to learning the laws of physics, and can do little to alter the unpopularity of physics as a subject.
Prof. Udo Backhaus and his research group are attempting to help overcome this situation with Lofex (“Laboratory for Open Experimentation”) for physics teachers and trainee teachers in physics. Teachers and students are encouraged to take part in open experimentation to help them appreciate the central role experiments play in the process of learning and understanding physics, and in research methods in physics.
Assistant Professor Markus Peschel’s special field of research is physics in primary education. It is taught at German schools as part of social studies and science in years one to four. Markus Peschel’s studies have produced some fascinating results: physics-related topics make up around eight per cent of social studies and science lessons, a figure that is virtually irrespective of the role played by physics in the teachers’ academic training. More than half of those questioned said that they did not feel sufficiently competent to deal with physics topics in the lessons. Increasing the perceived level of competence could be a good starting point when it comes to further training of teaching staff for natural sciences.
The problems of science education were highlighted by comparative large-scale assessments at international level, which clearly indicated the need for a better understanding of how classroom teaching of science subjects should be organised to correspond to the learning process. The goals developed as a result are the subject of work by the NWU-Essen Research Group in conjunction with Prof. Hans E. Fischer’s working group. In relation to physics instruction, ten projects of the group will examine the conditions of the school system and organisation of individual schools, conditions and forms of lesson structure, the effect of further education for teachers, and individual learning conditions. The first step in the process is to conduct more descriptive research on science, and especially physics instruction, to help clarify the problems and the conditions surrounding them. In parallel, the findings are translated into interventions, mostly as studies using a pre/post design with control groups, and tested empirically. Implementation of the acquired insights under scientific monitoring and evaluation is scheduled to follow. So far, there is empirical evidence on many features of the quality of physics lessons, student learning processes and teaching strategies, as well as on how to present certain subject matter. One specific result refers to lesson organisation and proves that extending physics lessons from 45 to at least 60 minutes will increase students’ learning outcome.