Physics teaching can and should help address pressing social issues. We need to improve the discussion of science in the public sphere by emphasizing the importance of evaluating the evidence behind claims. We need to redress racial discrimination within our own discipline. And of course, we also need to teach physics. Doing all three at once is a challenge, but sometimes it is possible. One thing I have done in my conceptual optics course is to explicitly connect our study of the foundational ideas of optics to the breakthrough work of the largely forgotten non-European founder of modern geometric optics, combining hands-on activities replicating some of his experiments with short readings of his opus magnus and discussions of how we know what we know in science.

Ibn al-Haytham (a.k.a. Alhazen) was a medieval Arab polymath whose greatest impact was in optics. Born around 965 in what is now Basra, Iraq,...

Supplementary Material

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.