Tag Archives: 21st-century

Going Beyond the Physics Textbook

I have the honor of being invited by Discovery Education to attend their second “Beyond the Textbook” forum to be held this Wednesday and Thursday at their headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The event is spearheaded by Steve Dembo and, in exchange for travel expenses, he gets to pick my brain about digital textbooks, resources, and curriculum. There will be 18 other outstanding educators as well, including my edu-heroes  Christopher DanielsonMichael DoyleKarl Fisch, and Tom Woodward.

In preparation for the event, I’m updating/remixing an old blog post I wrote called “My Vision for a Physics iBook” ….


I keep thinking about what a physics iBook would look like. Not a book for consumption, as with a traditional text, but rather a book to enable exploration. So what would a student see when they first opened such a book?

It’s blank.

No content. No classical references like Feynman’s Lectures on Physics. No integration with Khan Academy’s video library.  Nothing.


Students should be learning to do science, not simply learning about science. They should be making observations, posing questions, conducting experiments, finding patterns, analyzing data, and sharing their conclusions.

In this sense, the iBook would function more like an electronic lab notebook. As with curricula like Modeling Instruction and ISLE, students would create the physics content from their own investigations and evidence, rather than deferring to authority.

Actually, the iBook wouldn’t be completely blank. While it would initially be empty of content, it would be chock-full of tools to help students collect and analyze experimental data. Software like Tracker for video analysis, VPython and GlowScript for computation and visualization, LoggerPro for graphing and electronic data collection, along with PhET simulations and Direct Measurement Physics Videos for conducting virtual experiments.

In the realm of traditional physics textbooks, only a few make it a priority to incorporate experiments into their storylines. Three that come to mind are:

The Manga Guide to Physics


Understanding Physics

FIGURE P-2  Electronic temperature sensors reveal that if equal amounts of hot and cold water mix the final temperature is the average of the initial temperatures.

and PSSC Physics.

Eugenia Etkina‘s upcoming College Physics text gets a step closer to my iBook vision. The text incorporates her work with video experiments in her ISLE and Physics Union Mathematics curriculula. In the text, there are QR codes which link to videos of the experiments to be analyzed.

For example, here’s a video of a momentum experiment, followed by the corresponding section of the text.


But, as you can see, the text does the analysis for the student. In my opinion, this would make a good reference only after the student has completed a similar activity on their own. Fortunately, her text also comes with a workbook that asks students to do this sort of scientific reasoning on their own:


Also taking the “experiments first” approach is Live Photo Physics Interactive Video Vignettes, a collaborative project by well-known physics education researchers Robert Teese, Priscilla Laws, and David Jackson. During a vignette, students are asked to make predictions and do video analysis on-the-fly. Here’s a preview:

Science is never done in isolation, however, so the iBook would come equipped with tools for sharing data, content, photos, videos, and resources among students and between teacher-student.

For me, going beyond the textbook means giving students a toolbox rather than an instruction manual.

What’s your vision for the future of textbooks?

You can follow along with us at the Beyond the Textbook forum this week by searching for the Twitter hashtag #BeyondTextbooks.

Bonus: 5 reasons why iPads won’t replace textbooks in science class.


My Vision for a Physics iBook

UPDATE 1/22/2012: Now with links and Apple’s iBook video!

Warning: This post is a brain dump of all thoughts and conversations I’ve been having about next generation textbooks since Apple’s iBook textbook announcement. Sorry this isn’t polished.

I keep thinking about what a physics iBook would look like. Not a book for consumption (like a traditional text) but rather a book to enable exploration. More like a text-journal-workbook-lab notebook combo, where students would create content from investigations (also pooling created content/data from classmates, etc) and also have reference text for afterwards in the same vein as the Minds-On-Physics text, the first edition of M&I, and the Physics by Inquiry texts.

Stuck on a problem? An intelligent tutor would be able to re-direct you back to a video or animation or even your own data from an exploration where you initially encountered the concept.

There would be these components:

It’d be like an electronic version of the PSSC/Modeling/ISLE /PUM curricula on steroids. And I see this more as the teacher having these tools to deploy to the students, rather than the students following a linear path through text and activities. The class actually builds the text together, and each year the text is different.

The capabilities and content for this iBook already exist. No one has put them together in one package yet. I think it could even be web/cloud-based and platform independent if done with the proper tools.

What am I missing? What’s your vision?

Physics Teaching 2.Uh-Oh

My first talk! Given at the STANYS 2011 Physics Breakfast on November 8th, 2011 in Rochester, New York

Links to resources mentioned in the talk:

A huge thank you to Gene Gordon for inviting me to speak at the breakfast. It was great to share my passions and meet my virtual colleagues face-to-face!

I’d love any feedback you have, positive and negative. Thanks!

Khan Academy and the Effectiveness of Science Videos

This must-watch video is from our friend Derek Muller, physics educator and science video blogger.


Derek writes:

It is a common view that “if only someone could break this down and explain it clearly enough, more students would understand.” Khan Academy is a great example of this approach with its clear, concise videos on science. However it is debatable whether they really work. Research has shown that these types of videos may be positively received by students. They feel like they are learning and become more confident in their answers, but tests reveal they haven’t learned anything. [ed. note: textbook definition of pseudoteaching]

The apparent reason for the discrepancy is misconceptions. Students have existing ideas about scientific phenomena before viewing a video. If the video presents scientific concepts in a clear, well illustrated way, students believe they are learning but they do not engage with the media on a deep enough level to realize that what was is presented differs from their prior knowledge.

There is hope, however. Presenting students’ common misconceptions in a video alongside the scientific concepts has been shown to increase learning by increasing the amount of mental effort students expend while watching it.


My Ph.D. thesis, which includes the content from the publications below, can be downloaded here: Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education

2008 Muller, D. A., Sharma, M. D. and Reimann, P.,
Raising cognitive load with linear multimedia to promote conceptual changeScience Education92(2), 278-296

2008 Muller, D. A., Bewes, J., Sharma, M. D. and Reimann, P.
Saying the wrong thing: Improving learning with multimedia by including misconceptionsJournal of Computer Assisted Learning,24(2), 144-155

2008 Muller, D. A., Lee, K. J. and Sharma, M. D.
Coherence or interest: Which is most important in online multimedia learning?Australasian Journal of Educational Technology,24(2), 211-221

 2007 Muller, D. A., Sharma, M. D., Eklund, J. and Reimann, P.
Conceptual change through vicarious learning in an authentic physics settingInstructional Science35(6), 519-533

The implication of Derek’s research, both for online science videos and for in-the-classroom science lessons, are obvious. Derek discussed his PhD research in more detail in his previous post “What Puts the Pseudo in Pseudoteaching?” You can find more of Derek’s videos at Veritasium.com or on the Veritasium YouTube Channel. Follow him at @veritasium on Twitter.

Science for 21st-Century Students

Today, I read the following article in our school newspaper about a new English course for juniors, which left me asking: How can we do this with science classes?

(c) The John Jay Focus

PDF version: 21-11 Course

In a recent post about the wall of physics, John Burk shares his thoughts about a physics class taught by Richard Muller at Berkeley:

[The Physics for Future Presidents] lectures are amazing, a must listen for every physics teacher or just people who would like to know some really interesting things about the role physics cool questions like, why can’t you build a spy satellite capable of reading a newspaper.

This has me thinking about the need to reform at the intro physics course we teach, and possibly even the honors course. Why do we need to make kids run the math gauntlet to get to tackle really big questions…

Student in Muller’s physics class aren’t solving “block on an incline” problems.  They are learning about the science behind global warming, alternative energies, terrorism, and cosmology. Physics for Future Presidents addresses the important physics needed to be an informed citizen of the 21st century.

However, my big fear in a course like this (at least the way Muller conducts the class at Berkeley) is that students are simply learning only about the products of science and not experiencing the process of science for themselves. How can we successfully incorporate the immediate relevance of Muller’s 21st-century science with inquiry and scientific experimentation?

In addition, I wonder how much of the underlying physics involved is taught with hand-waving explanations and plug-and-chug calculations. How can we successfully engage students in Muller’s 21st-century science while building conceptual models for how nature works?

I am anxiously awaiting my copy of Muller’s text Physics and Technology for Future Presidents. In the meantime, how do you, dear readers, incorporate 21st-century science into your classes?