Physics didactics

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Physics education is subject didactics for the subject of physics , so the theory of teaching and learning of physical content. Since primary schools in Germany do not teach physics, but general subject teaching, physics didactics essentially deals with teaching in secondary education . There is also a university didactics in the field of physics.

Physics didactics as a research and teaching area


Physics didactics exist at all universities in Germany and Austria where specialist physics teachers are trained. A certain proportion of subject didactics (depending on the desired school type or secondary level) is provided for in the teaching qualification examination regulations of the federal states. However, professorships for physics didactics are not established everywhere.

History of physics didactics

Johann Friedrich Herbart and Johann Amos Comenius have already given some thought to teaching in general . However, a clearly differentiable subject-specific didactic did not develop until the general upswing in science teaching at the beginning of the 20th century. Georg Kerschensteiner, for example, valued the formal educational value of the natural sciences and in particular physics, which is particularly suitable for promoting the powers of observation, thinking, judgment and willpower . (see. Kircher 2007, 17) This idea is reflected today in calling down, physics education should not only in terms of Wissenschaftspropädeutik convey the technical science but also to the basic knowledge and techniques ' personal development and social responsibility " help (see. Guidelines Physics. NRW. 2001). The authors Erich Günther and Karl Hahn, who were also active in school politics, were physics didactics who were adapted to National Socialism and who contributed to the subject didactics during the National Socialist era and beyond.

Physical knowledge as a "vital benefit"

While in Europe, and especially in Germany, the humanistic basic idea formulated above in physics didactics has held up to this day and ultimately also Klafki's demand that physics must make a contribution to a contemporary general education by treating key problems typical of the epoch (Kircher. 2007, 21) lies, a much more pragmatic view of the value of scientific education has prevailed in the Anglo-Saxon language area. In Kircher (2007, 21), John Dewey is named as the most influential exponent of this pragmatic school theory, who sees the acquisition of scientific knowledge primarily as a vital benefit , i.e. an evolutionary advantage, in the human struggle for survival. This abstract basic idea is reflected in the USA in particular through a special emphasis on the social and - much more - the economic and power-political aspect of physical and scientific knowledge.

In Germany, this instrumentalistic character of physics only moved into the focus of physics didactics with the Sputnik shock in the second half of the 20th century and sparked a discussion about the weighting of humanistic and pragmatic aspects of physics didactics, which in principle also sparked the ongoing discussion to the long-lost life world regards the current physics teaching is based. (see results and implications for physics lessons )

Research and teaching areas within physics didactics

There are different orientations within physics didactics:

  • the lesson structure. To this day, this area has been shaped by the classical structure of science teaching according to Heinrich Roth . There are other similarly structured procedures.
  • the structure of the physics course. When weighing up a completely systematic canon of topics and exemplary learning, Wagenschein's position has practically completely prevailed.
  • Abstraction versus phenomenology and contextual reference. In the last decade there has been a reorientation towards the context orientation propagated by Muckenfuß. The influence of Martin Wagenschein can be clearly seen here.

A well-known physics didactic in Germany is Martin Wagenschein, who developed a concept of Socratic-genetic-exemplary teaching and learning in the field of physics, which is based on concrete phenomena and is not based on formula knowledge of physics.

Results and implications for physics teaching

The results of physics didactic research, in particular the above-mentioned reorientation towards the context orientation propagated by Muckenfuß , are of course also of importance for physics teaching in schools. Important general guidelines for physics lessons from the didactic point of view are:

  • Breaking away from the specialist subject with regard to the structure of the lesson and the criteria for choosing relevant content
  • Courage for interdisciplinarity and interdisciplinary teaching
  • Addressing the relationship between humans and natural sciences - for example using the example of the economic importance of scientific knowledge for everyday human life
  • Introduction of science- critical aspects into the classroom in the sense of a move away from non-binding knowledge transfer to a socially critical philosophy of science ( Otto, Gunter in Schlichting / Backhaus . 1981)
  • Presentation of the limits of scientific knowledge
  • Providing basic science propaedeutic education in the sense of the teaching guidelines (procedural and content-related basic knowledge, independent learning and working, ability to reflect and judge, attitudes and behavior in scientific work)
  • Genetically developing knowledge from the phenomena in the communicative process

In the following, selected aspects of physics didactics that are relevant with regard to the stated objectives and their implications for teaching will be explained in more detail.

Three dimensions of physics teaching

When planning, implementing and evaluating physics classes, the physics teacher must always consider the following three dimensions:

  • the technical dimension , which includes the physical / scientific teaching content.
  • the educational dimension , which includes knowledge of methods for conveying physical content.
  • the social dimension , which relativizes physics as a form of viewing and describing the world within the framework of the social world of the students and establishes and takes up mutual references.

Kircher compares these dimensions in which he and other published reference work physics education with the three glasses, which should take a physics teacher. In doing so, he underlines the outstanding position of educational glasses and thus takes up the model of subject-oriented physics didactics already outlined by Wagenschein , in which the starting point for didactic lesson planning is generally not physics but rather the learner (pupil).

The challenging task of the teacher, then, is to support through accurate, appropriate to the students coordinated lesson planning and the use of methods the students doing professional scientific knowledge from life-world contexts to out generate .

Physics lessons as a change of perspective

Already the context orientation of physics lessons called for by Muckenfuß implies that up to now this has been far too far removed from the everyday life (the living environment) of the students. The resulting disadvantages on an affective and cognitive level are obvious. Pupils only complain "to learn for school" , "never need that [physics] again anyway" and all too often resignedly decide "I don't understand physics anyway!" .

A crucial problem, which many physics teachers are not even aware of, is the incompatibility of everyday and physical perception of the world observed by Jung and other physics didactics. Things that are taken for granted in everyday life, such as the fact that a feather "naturally" slides more slowly to the ground than a stone, are apparently questioned senselessly in physics. It is even asserted and with the help of all kinds of technical devices in physics lessons "proven" that "in reality" all bodies fall at the same speed. This use of technical aids to create an artificial reality , which should then also be truer than the reality experienced by the students every day, must ultimately appear to them like paternalism. It is understandable that disbelief, indignation and resignation quickly spread.

So instead of trying undeterred to adapt the everyday ideas of the students to a physical worldview, to dissolve them to a certain extent, the physics class must recognize and take up the incommensurability of these two worldviews mentioned at the beginning by teaching physics to the students as an alternative perspective on the world. To this end, physics teachers must offer the students opportunities to actively carry out such a change of perspective and to address problems and contradictions as well as the process as such in the classroom. The aim is that the students get involved in the physical world view as a further, not a truer, view of things - or in the words of Weizsäcker, who also tried to use Schlichting, to "describe things as we do not experience them" .

Exemplary teaching

Exemplary teaching, as Wagenschein put it in 1969, seeks " the individual in the whole ". So instead of trying to "train" the canon of material prescribed by the curriculum, which many specialist didactics consider to be much too extensive, based on the model of the " Nuremberg funnel " in teacher-centered frontal teaching, the teacher should select didactically relevant content and the Support students in working out and understanding them as thoroughly as possible independently.

Wagenschein speaks in this context of " bridge piers " that then the teacher in informing instruction sections by "arches" networked. In addition to detailed factual knowledge, the students acquire knowledge about typical physical structures , working methods and procedures of physics and general physical knowledge methods that can be transferred to other areas of physics .

Ideally, the exemplary instruction succeeds so through intensive observation of individuals a much deeper understanding of physics to create that frequently encountered on the purely verbal, from memorized key sentences beyond existing knowledge structures. At the same time, by conveying the processes of physical knowledge acquisition in detail, it lays the foundation for the independent expansion of the knowledge base created in this way and thus satisfies the interdisciplinary requirement that, in view of the knowledge structures encountered today, schools must teach learning much more than convey traditional factual knowledge.

Genetic lessons

Genetic or, according to Wagenschein, genetic-Socratic teaching places the dialogue between teacher and student at the center of knowledge transfer. In the role of moderator, the teacher develops physical ideas and the associated terms based on the students' previous knowledge and everyday experience in conversation in everyday language .

The lessons can be structured according to logical-genetic as well as historical-genetic aspects. Where the latter make it difficult to "rediscover" (Kircher 2007) the internal structures of the learning object due to the not always logical-linear historical development of physics, the logical-genetic approach is to be preferred in any case.

Technical language and professional competence develop in parallel. In contrast to what is often found in "normal" informative lessons, physical terms are not imposed on the students, but are developed based on the understanding of the subject in everyday language. The teacher should not shy away from the intermittent use of expressions coined by pupils such as the " power consumption " of a lamp - this expression illustrates the physically relevant contrast to power consumption , which is based on the observation that the same current that flows into a consumer on the other hand comes out again, is incompatible. The fact that the terms are only used when the students have understood the concepts behind them should - so the proponents of this method argue - ensure that the corresponding physical understanding is behind conceptually correct student statements in physics lessons.

The necessity of responding to the individual prior knowledge of the students and their everyday ideas in genetic teaching and to constantly keep an eye on the individual learning status of the students requires a high degree of flexibility , careful observation and listening from the teacher in his "new" role as moderator of the learning process , as well as the patience to adjust the pace of instruction to the pace of learning of the students. In view of the curricula that are generally viewed as heavily overloaded by subject didactics, the latter can only work within the framework of predominantly exemplary teaching .

Concept formation in physics class

The formation of terms forms the basis of the vocabulary and the process of understanding in all scientific disciplines and plays a major role in physics didactics, especially in the transition from the everyday language of students to the technical language of physics (see generative teaching ). In general, concept formation is understood to mean the process of understanding and creating concepts, which is always preceded by a process of abstraction. Both in physics and in general, the term is used to distance, isolate, structure and delimit parts of perceived reality.

Simplified representation of the acquisition of knowledge according to Piaget

Due to their abstracting mode of action, the formation of physical concepts is always accompanied by a loss of clarity. It picks out those phenomena from reality, i.e. abnormalities and regularities , which are of interest in the context of physics. An active process of accommodation (adaptation) and assimilation (appropriation) takes place, which, according to Jean Piaget, forms the basis of all human learning. If this process is successful, i.e. if the term has been successfully embedded (assimilated) into the existing knowledge structure, it can be used by the learner in the future for a scientifically exact (= physical) description of anomalies and regularities in his environment, without looking to adjust to the whole.

As the prominent example of force shows, however, physical terms often stand in opposition to their colloquial equivalents. If one understands colloquially by the force of a tractor, for example, to be a characteristic property of this object, the concept of force in physics always stands for an interaction between objects. It is therefore all the more important to make the formation of physical terms transparent in physics classes and not to exclude differences between physical terms and everyday terms , but to address them specifically. (See also teaching examples from Schlichting and Backhaus, 1981 ) It is also important to point out the conventional and empirical boundary conditions of any physical concept formation to the students and thus to give them an impression that the description of the world in terms of physics is only one, but not the only true description of nature.

Basic variables in physics didactics

While the basic parameters (basic units) of the specialist science of physics are determined by the international system of units (SI, Système international d'unités) , the adoption of this man-made convention in physics didactics is neither mandatory nor does it make sense in any case on closer inspection. In a series of lessons on electric current, it would theoretically be conceivable to introduce the voltage U as the basic quantity instead of the current I defined as the basic quantity in the SI. Such a procedure could be justified, for example, in connection with the water analogy discussed in the section Analogies, if the pressure differences were placed at the center of the consideration instead of the flow concept.

With a view to the lifeworld importance of the natural sciences as "help in coping with the world" ( Bleichroth, 1961 ), the adoption of the SI system of units prescribed in the teaching guidelines makes sense. In any case, more important for physics didactics than the actual selection of the basic units is the knowledge of the existence of a choice that should also be explicitly addressed in the classroom. One of the goals of physics classes is to bring physics closer to the students as a possible perspective on the world . It is therefore important to convey to the students that instead of the usual basic units of length, mass, time, amperage, thermodynamic. Temperature, amount of substance, light intensity could also be used any other size system that forms a basis for all types of sizes . In principle, it can be assumed that a higher number of basic quantities allows a more direct reference to everyday experience, but at the same time carries the risk of becoming so confusing that relationships between the quantities, i.e. the actual physical relationships, are hidden. Limiting the number of basic sizes based on the following didactically relevant criteria therefore makes sense:

Basic parameters for physics lessons should ...

  • clearly be
  • Have relevance to the world of life for the students
  • be interdisciplinary relevant (e.g. energy in physics, biology, chemistry)
  • Have properties
  • offer the possibility of a uniform description of many different phenomena
  • only in the classroom cumbersome or not derived from other variables to be

With regard to the aim of creating an awareness of the connection between empiricism and convention in the choice of basic parameters, the process of concept formation (see previous section), which inevitably goes hand in hand with the definition of a basic unit, should be as transparent as possible in the classroom and become understandable. This transparency can be promoted, for example, through the three steps chosen by Schlichting / Backhaus of equality, multiplicity and unity . After the students recognized and accepted the need to introduce a new variable to describe the identified abnormalities and regularities at the beginning of the concept formation through observations on the phenomenon and modeling, the first step is to determine on a qualitative level when a property is the same for two objects is strong ( equality ). The different degrees of expression are then examined in a semi-quantitative comparison ( multiplicity ) in order to finally establish the term by assigning a base unit as a base value by defining a scale ( unit ) . The fact that the students take this three-step act themselves should not only build a deeper understanding of the basic size itself, but also promote the awareness mentioned above for the arbitrariness in determining basic sizes - especially in the last of the three steps. This goes hand in hand with a relativization of the physical description of the world in the sense of a science-critical didactics which, as Wagenschein demands, understands physics as an aspect of understanding the world .

Methods of teaching physics

From a didactic perspective, the efficiency of physics teaching depends in particular on the teaching techniques used, i.e. the methods of imparting knowledge.

Analogies in physics class

Analogies have always played a central role in the human cognitive process, as they facilitate access to new, previously unknown knowledge by looking at the familiar . Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz is said to have once said: "Naturam cognosci per analogiam" , which means something like "nature is only understood through analogy". In physics lessons, the common goal of which should be to convey that understanding of nature, analogy is a correspondingly important, if not undisputed, means of imparting knowledge.

In physics lessons, analogies can be used wherever a new topic or object is in

  • Appearance (square / round, red / yellow, ...)
  • Object properties (liquid / gas, hard / soft ...) or
  • Structure and / or function

to match. Of these three forms of possible correspondence between primary and secondary learning areas, the latter, the structural / functional analogy, proves to be by far the most productive in physics lessons.

Typical analogies in physics lessons are:

  • the atomic models (planetary model according to Bohr, raisin cake model according to Thomson, ...)
  • Gravitational force and electrostatic attraction
  • Electricity / water cycle
    Electricity-water analogy according to Schwedes

The use of analogies in lessons will now be explained and discussed below using the example of the electricity / water cycle analogy (according to H. Schwedes), with which generations of students have already been introduced to the functionality of simple electrical circuits.

Kircher formulates on the basis of the above. 3 levels of the following dimensions of analogy relevant for physics didactics:

  • O = object level (water hose ~ electrical line, water tap ~ switch, ...)
  • M = conceptual level (water flow J ~ electrical current I, water pressure difference Δp ~ electrical voltage)
  • E = experimental level (the greater the pressure difference, the stronger the water flow ~ the greater the voltage of the source, the greater the electrical current)

As the examples given in brackets illustrate, the water cycle and simple electrical circuits show similarities on all three levels of analogy. At the same time, physics didactics generally assume that the majority of students perceive the behavior of water in a water cycle as more familiar than that of the electric current, which they are also familiar with from everyday life. From a didactic point of view, it therefore makes sense to provide access to the treatment of electrical circuits ( primary learning area ) by observing and describing the behavior of water ( secondary learning area ) .

To use analogies :

When using analogies of this kind, physics teachers must ensure through appropriate planning, inquiries, and pointers that

  • the students do not lose sight of the primary learning area
  • the students become aware of those aspects of the three levels O, M, E for which the analogy applies
  • the students are aware of the limits of the analogy (e.g. "water runs out of an open pipe, electricity does not!")

In particular in quantum physics and other areas of modern physics, the method of building analogies not only reaches its limits in physics lessons, but also in specialist science. For these sub-areas of physics there are no adequate analogies in the world of life, which is why a field of future research in physics-didactic is opening up here.

Good analogies, which the above. Criteria suffice, but in appropriately planned lessons they can serve as a bridge arch in the sense of a car license, i.e. as a point of contact for knowledge transfer from the previous knowledge of the students to previously unknown areas of physics. They can be used both as a preceding advance organizer in meaningful taking over lessons (Kircher, 2007. 166) as well as for subsequent illustration and thus make an important contribution to the structural networking of physical knowledge and its anchoring in the everyday knowledge of the students.

Demonstration and student experiments

There is no question that the experiment has always played a central role in the cognitive process of physics. Without the targeted preparation of nature for the purpose of verifying a physical hypothesis, it would be impossible for physics to achieve its ultimate goal of describing and explaining nature in the language of physics. Experiments are therefore one of the central physical processes that was already anchored in the Merano principles for natural science physics teaching from 1906 as compulsory subject matter and is still found in today's curricula.

It is all the more astonishing how seldom experiments are carried out in physics lessons - especially at high school. The reasons for this are manifold. The "collection" is out of date / insufficient , the overloaded curriculum does not leave enough time for experiments, experiments are too complex or not feasible in school, these are just some of the reasons physics teachers give for self-limitation when experimenting.

In the work Physics Didactics from 2007 (see sources), which he co-edited, Willer refers to a further point: the inadequate training of teachers, especially in high schools. In the very theory-heavy course, too little space is given to experimenting and imparting physical knowledge through experiments. So it is not surprising that this is propagated in the classes of the graduates in the form of a theory-heavy class that is only occasionally peppered with demonstration attempts.

Physics educators seem to generally agree that especially school experiments can increase the learning success, transfer ability and motivation of the pupils - apparently even so certain that so far there have been no broad field studies on this topic! Individual studies from the late 1970s such as those by Corell (1969) or Weltner (1969) , in which the learning successes of physics lessons with student experiments were compared with the results of lessons with demonstration experiments or without any experiments, confirm the hypothesis mentioned above but due to methodological inaccuracies, especially with regard to the constancy of various external influencing variables (teacher attitude towards the type of lesson, time of lesson ↔ the pupils' ability to concentrate, etc.), it is more of an exploratory character .

As far as the students themselves are concerned, studies by Schecker (1985) and Behrendt (1990) already show the effects of the above-mentioned discrepancy between the extent of student experiments at secondary schools and grammar schools: While the secondary school students surveyed by Behrendt in 1990 were generally very interested in student experiments and the Working with laboratory equipment showed, Schecker found in a 1985 survey of secondary school students (grades 11-13) that they were only interested in the physically relevant results of the experiments, but ignored the experiments themselves and the process of physical knowledge gave away. One can probably assume that the different student attitudes are a result of the treatment of (student) experiments experienced by the students in their previous physics lessons . It should be noted that the reduction of the experiment to the relevant result area, which is practiced in high school , deliberately excludes the eminently important process of understanding that goes hand in hand with the planning and execution of the experiment and thus robs the experiment of its didactic qualities.

In addition to the subject-specific relevance of the experiment as a central means of knowledge in physics and its didactic relevance in the process of understanding physical relationships and their emergence, the experiment in the form of so-called free-hand experiments also plays an important role with regard to the context of the real world of physics lessons. The experiments carried out "freehand" with things from the everyday life of the pupils force pupils to question seemingly banal things , such as the shadow of a glass filled with water. In this way, freehand experiments can sharpen the students' eye for the physical phenomena of everyday life and practice and make them aware of the necessary change of perspective that a physical consideration of the environment requires.

The extent to which students benefit from the use of experiments - be it demonstration or student experiments - ultimately does not depend on the quantity of their use, but on their qualitative integration into the classroom. In order to be able to use the technical and didactic advantages of experiments in physics lessons, physics teachers not only have to experiment and experiment to a sufficient extent , they must rather present the experiment as a knowledge method of physics and disclose the knowledge process based on the experiment and in one for the students understand the appropriate pace (see genetic lessons ).

See also


Textbooks and monographs
  • Roland Berger et al .: compact physics didactics . Aulis Verlag / Stark Verlag 2011, ISBN 978-3-761-42784-2 .
  • Wolfgang Bleichroth, Helmut Dahnke, Walter Jung, Wilfried Kuhn, Gottfried Merzyn, Klaus Weltner: Fachdidaktik Physik. 2nd Edition. Aulis, Cologne 1999, ISBN 3-7614-2079-X .
  • Ernst Kircher , Raimund Girwidz, Peter Häußler: Didactics of Physics . Theory and practice. Springer, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-540-34089-8 . 3rd edition 2015, ISBN 978-3-642-41744-3 .
  • Helmut F. Mikelskis: Physics Didactics. Practical handbook for secondary level I and II. Cornelsen Scriptor, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-589-22148-8 .
  • Heinz Muckenfuß: Learning in a meaningful context. Draft of a modern didactics of physics lessons. Cornelsen, Berlin 1995, ISBN 3-464-03339-2 .
  • Hans Joachim Schlichting, Udo Backhaus: Physics lessons 5–10. Practice and theory of teaching. Urban and Schwarzenberg, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-541-41271-2 .
  • Werner Schneider: Paths in physics didactics. 1998 (book series, online, PDF)
  • Martin Wagenschein : Teaching people to understand. 4th edition. Beltz, Weinheim 1973, ISBN 3-407-18095-0 .
  • Andrea Tillmanns: Raft trip, seesaw and rainbow. Discover the world of physics in a playful way . Dreieck-Verlag, Wiltingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-929394-58-0 .
  • Hartmut Wiesner, Horst Schecker, Martin Hopf (eds.): Physics didactics compact. Aulis, Cologne 2011, ISBN 978-3761427842 .
  • Jörg Willer: Didactics in the Third Reich using the example of physics. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015, ISBN 978-3-86888-118-9 , pp. 105-121.
  • Manfred Wünschmann, WG Subow u. a. (Ed.): Methodology of physics instruction in the GDR and the USSR. Berlin / Moscow 1978.
Trade journals
Professional societies




Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Erich Günther: Physical work instruction. In: Handbook of Working Lessons for Higher Schools. Book 9: Mathematical Work Lessons. Edited by F. Jungbluth, Frankfurt am Main 1927, p. 90.
  2. Erich Günther: Handbook for Defense Physics. Frankfurt am Main 1936.
  3. ^ Karl Hahn: Grundriß der Physik. Leipzig 1926.
  4. ^ Karl Hahn: Educational sheets for mathematicians and natural scientists. Volume 44, 1938, pp. 132-152.
  5. Jörg Willer: Didactics in the Third Reich using the example of physics. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015, ISBN 978-3-86888-118-9 , pp. 105-121.
  6. a b H. Joachim Schlichting: Between common sense and physical theory - epistemological problems in learning physics ; In: Mathematical and Natural Science Lessons 44/2, 74 (1991) (PDF, 96 kB)