Teach More Modern Physics?

In my research, I find that a goodly number of folks have little to no physics class before coming to college, and in many of the cases where physics is taught it isn’t taught well or in a way that makes for deep understanding. Showing a collection of equations and say “memorize this” won’t endear students to leaning the subject, let alone figuring out what those equations mean.

But even if taught well, are we teaching enough physics? After all, high school usually only goes up through Newtonian mechanics with forces, energy, and momentum. A lot of interesting stuff is missed. And that is nicely (and literally) illustrated in this video:

One sticking point I can think of that would limit the quality of teaching these modern subjects is that many of the teachers may not feel adequately prepared for it. Relativity is counter-intuitive enough, but to have it taught by someone whose grasp is limited cannot be a boon to the curriculum. And it can be rather difficult to do any labs or demonstrations of objects at relativistic speeds. So, two things seem necessary if we wanted to teach modern physics in the classroom: people that understand the subject matter and a well-built curriculum that would teach it correctly and in an interesting way. I don’t know if the latter exists for the high school, but I don’t know and I’d love to see examples of it.

So, do you think we need more modern physics in the high school classroom? How much can we appreciate, say, quantum mechanics and relativity without math? Do you know of any good curricula that teach these subjects to high schoolers?

(Thanks to Minute Physics for the thought-provoking idea.)


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