by dave trapp


Over the years I have come to relish and appreciate both fine sensual and and intellectual experiences, most real but also a growing number of virtual ones.  Recently I was invited to contribute to the COMPADRE efforts to develop physics instructional materials and to critique several of my colleague's submissions.  That brought me to ponder just what I consider most valuable.  I reflected back on my library of resources I have found most useful over my career, and to seek what characteristics made them have value.  Reflecting on many, I mention three that seem to epitomize an ideal: George Sartons volumes of the History of Greek Science, Eric Rogers Physics for the Inquiring Mind, and Richard Feynman's Lectures on Physics presenting his Introductory Physics course at Caltech.  They remind me of full, multi-course meals, providing a complete evening of sensual experiences.  While that is their format, I often have used them as references to particular topics.

I have been extremely lucky in my life to have met many of the country's top science educators who have devoted much of their lives to develop pieces needed for effective science instruction.  At risk of slighting some, I list a few who have had strong influence on me: Gerald Holton, James Rutherford and Fletcher Watson of Project Physics, Art Campbell and George Pimentel of CHEM Study, Uri Haber-Schaim from PSSC and IPS, Marjorie Gardner, Truman Schwartz, Jerry Bell and Glenn Crosby with the DivChemEd, Patricia Laws, Lillian McDermott and a number of more recent friends.  But in contrast to those in the first paragraph, these people have largely worked on smaller pieces rather than the broad picture.  They remind me of my wife, who is a superb cook, when she brings be a spoon full of her latest creation to taste.  Those tastes are small but crucial parts of a complete dining experience.

Based on the ideas and work of the great educators listed above, I've just formulated a list of components which I currently view as key for any complete science instructional package.  I should note that very few of my existing efforts include all of these.  So it also provides for me goals towards which to work:
  1. A historical introduction of where the idea or concept originated.  I'd like to know what was the previous idea or observation which motivated the scientist to spend his or her efforts to make the discovery or advancement.  I believe it helps to develop my own understanding to know the actual historical cause.  (That is not to claim that there MIGHT not be other, even better routes for understanding a concept, but that we know historically what DID succeed in successfully developing the concept.  That is, it seems superior to use a method known to historically develop the concept than risk misconception.)

  2. A visual presentation of the concept with diagrams, video, simulations, or other devices.

  3. The mathematics of the concept, to the level of the presentation.  For an introduction, this will often omit all but the most basic algebraic formulas.

  4. In some cases it may be of value to include a discussion of common misconceptions.  This might include evidence about why they are misconceptions as well as pointers to what distinguishes a superior understanding from a deficient one.

  5. Directions for the reader to do some real world investigation of at least key parts of the concept.  In the many cases where equipment or instrumentation is required, this generally will provide access to real data so the learner can repeat some of the underlying analysis for themselves to develop a more concrete understanding of the concept.  This is recognition of the long recognized, but still fuzzily understood value of laboratory work and repeating the experiment for one's self.

  6. Some sort of evaluation, perhaps as a self check, to verify that the understanding is not deficient.  This might be used for establishing academic credit or assigning a grade, but should primarily be designed to provide feedback to the learner.

  7. Finally such instructional packages need an easy, convenient means of access.  Typically this is done both by broad general topic as well as chronologic development.  But as Feynman illustrated, there is much room for creative organization.


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created 26 July 2007
last revised 26 July 2007
by D Trapp
Mac made