As a retired college physics teacher, I found the article “The past and future of physics education reform” by Valerie Otero and David Meltzer (Physics Today, May 2017, page 50) well written and important. As a longtime member of the American Association of Physics Teachers, I have had many discussions with high school physics teachers, and I often found that their concerns are similar to those of instructors of introductory college physics.

I agree that students can learn from discoveries made in physics laboratories. However, because only a limited amount of time, often only about two hours per week, is allotted for a physics lab, we must be realistic about our goals. It is also important to remember that students have access to so much information on the internet that they can learn about an experiment and its results well before they enter the lab. And when courses have multiple sections, students can learn from those who took the lab on a previous day, which ruins the experience of discovery.

To properly revise physics courses, schools must consider more flexible scheduling instead of brief, specific blocks of time. A longer laboratory session would probably give students a more meaningful experience.

I have one further comment: Aspects of the scientific method should not be restricted to science courses. The process of theorizing and logically following implications of theories can be applied to history, political science, sociology, and other subjects. For example, instead of just teaching about the history of World War II and asking students to repeat information on tests or in term papers, we could ask them what might have happened if the US had entered the war at a different point in time or not at all and then have them consider the logical consequences of each possibility. Getting students to hypothesize and follow a logical sequence should begin well before they study physics or any other science.

Valerie K.
David E.
Physics Today