As physics teachers, we possess many items (e.g., demonstrations, online exercises, and even stories) in our pedagogical toolkits. In this paper, I propose and explore one such item that I have found particularly useful and pedagogically significant—the integrated vocabulary boost. In what follows, I will address what I mean by such boosts and then provide some examples. However, let me begin by explaining how I came to use vocabulary boosts.

I did a quick literature search on teaching general vocabulary in science courses and was not successful. As expected, there is significant research focused on teaching technical vocabulary in science courses. For instance, see
, “
‘Force,’ ontology, and language
Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res.
I typically have 10 or so vocabulary boosts for a semester course as well as have students furnish additional words for extra credit. Words that I have used beyond the seven considered here include metaphysics, cosmology, rationalism, determinism, reductionism, deductive, and inductive. I also talk about the meaning of philosophy of science as an area of investigation. I use vocabulary boosts in upper-division physics courses as well as introductory courses.
The BBC series In Our Time is a weekly program that began in 1998 and has archived over 700 episodes ranging over culture, history, philosophy, religion, and science. It is a wonderful resource for teachers and students.
In addition, this BBC podcast highlights that Newton spent more time on theological and alchemical investigations than on scientific investigations. Furthermore, Newton’s theistic views are surprisingly related to his theory of absolute space—necessary for distinguishing the true motions from the apparent motions (or as we might say today, distinguishing inertial from non-inertial reference frames). For Newton, absolute space—everywhere present but immaterial—is in some sense the “sensorium” of God. Such a discussion on Newton challenges simplistic views about the relations, both historical and philosophical, between science and religion. Over the years, students have remarked on being intrigued by this BBC discussion of Newton and theism.
These definitions of scientific realism and instrumentalism are in large measure taken from
, “Philosophy of Science” in
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy
Cambridge University Press
Cambridge, U.K.
), pp.
AAPT members receive access to The Physics Teacher and the American Journal of Physics as a member benefit. To learn more about this member benefit and becoming an AAPT member, visit the Joining AAPT page.