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Research in physics education at secondary and tertiary levels in recent years has focused more on concept learning or understanding than on skills and values development. Values development has received the least emphasis. The teaching of physics in lectures often stresses concepts and their relationships, while physics laboratory emphasizes, too, laboratory skills development.
V. M. Talisayon
University of the Philippines
Research in physics education at secondary and tertiary levels in recent years has focused
more on concept learning or understanding than on skills and values development.
Values development has received the least emphasis. The teaching of physics in lectures
often stresses concepts and their relationships, while physics laboratory emphasizes, too,
laboratory skills development.
However, in the work place, the employability of physics graduates appears to hinge
more on generic skills and values that are transferable to many areas of research, work
and life, itself [1,2]. For the general population, the great majority of students who will
not pursue a physics career, the teaching of physics for scientific literacy and science
culture in a given society is a priority thrust in physics education. UNESCO has led
international efforts towards scientific literacy, particularly, in developing countries,
cognizant of the crucial role of science and technology in national development.
Lately, international emphasis is on education for sustainable development, with 2005-
2014 declared as the United Nations Decade for Sustainable Development. Like scientific
literacy, sustainable development is laden not only with concepts but also skills and
values such as the development of human potential, moral, cultural and gender
sensitivity, participatory democracy, collaboration, unity and peace.
This chapter examines selected researches and perspectives on development of skills and
values in physics teaching for patterns and trends and posits directions for the physics
education community to consider. Skills needed to learn physics may be categorized as
thinking skills, including science process skills, ICT skills, communication skills, and
interpersonal skills. The values development section focuses on attitudes towards science
and its image to students.
In promoting physics to the public and encouraging students to have a career in physics,
the development of problem solving ability in physics is usually emphasized. In a survey
of the value of a physics degree, physics alumni of an American university [2]
underscored the importance of the following skills in their profession, as follows:
1. Problem solving skills, mathematics and other technical skills
2. Problem solving skills – allow work from one leading edge technology to
3. Mathematical skills applied to physical systems
2. 4. Analyzing and modeling a physical process
5. Gathering data, making and testing models and predictions
6. Experimental, computation, theoretical skills – applicable to a broad spectrum
of problems
7. Scientific method of thinking that is applicable in all areas of life
8. Ability to learn new information rapidly and efficiently
9. Ability to logically and systematically pursue a line of thought
10. Analytical skills, precise thinking, clarity of thought
11. Logical, data-based decision-making
12. Writing, speaking, thinking in a logical, predictable and consistent way -
appreciated in work
13. Learning how to learn new things on your own
14. Skills on how to learn, define problems, strategically plan, implement and
communicate solutions; creative thinking skills
15. Independent learning skills and time management
Redish [3] notes that general skills learned in undergraduate physics like complex
problem solving , physical modeling, and estimation have a wide range of applications
from science to finance.
The school physics curriculum in Hong Kong [4] lists the following goals for skills
1. Develop skills for scientific inquiry
2. Develop ability to think scientifically, critically and creatively, and solve
physics-related problems individually or collaboratively
3. Understand language of science and communicate ideas and views on physics-
related issues
4. Make informed decisions and judgments on physics-related issues
The international study, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)
2003 [5] established international benchmarks for science process skills from data of 25
countries for fourth grade and 46 countries for eighth grade (Table 1). The benchmarks
are set at cut-off scale points. For both grade levels, on average, highest percentage of
students were at or above low benchmark (82%- Grade 4, 78% - Grade 8), intermediate
benchmark (63% - Grade 4, 54% - Grade 8), high benchmark (30% - Grade 4, 25% -
Grade 8), and advanced (7% - Grade 4, 6% - Grade 8). For example, 82% of the sample
Table 1
International Benchmarks of Science Process Skills at
3. Grades 4 and 8 (TIMSS 2003)
International Science Process Skills
Grade 4 Grade 8
Advanced Demonstrate beginning scientific inquiry Understand some fundamentals
knowledge & skills, and skills below of scientific investigations, apply
basic physical principles to solve
some quantitative problems,
provide written explanations to
communicate scientific
knowledge, demonstrate skills
High Briefly describe & explain some daily Demonstrate some scientific
phenomena, compare & contrast, draw inquiry skills, combine
conclusions, demonstrate skills below information to draw conclusions,
interpret information in
diagrams, graphs and tables to
solve problems, provide short
explanations conveying
scientific knowledge & cause-
effect relationships, demonstrate
skills below
Intermediate Apply factual knowledge to practical Apply & briefly communicate
situations, interpret pictorial diagrams, knowledge, extract tabular
combine information to draw conclusions, information, extrapolate from
demonstrate skills below data in a simple linear graph,
interpret pictorial diagrams,
demonstrate skills below
Low Interpret labeled pictures & simple pictorial Interpret some pictorial diagrams
diagrams, provide short written responses to & apply knowledge of simple
questions requiring factual information physical concepts to practical
could interpret labeled pictures and simple pictorial diagrams and provide short written
responses to questions requiring factual information. The results, which indicate an
empirical hierarchy of the science process skills, can guide a physics teacher on the skills
that can be emphasized for further development.
Strategies for skills development are varied. For example, Parisi et al. (1999a) used the
environment outside the school laboratory to develop science process skills [6] in a
student experiment on electromagnetic radiation and its interaction with the physical
environment. The amount of solar ultraviolet radiation in tree shade is measured at
different times of the day and compared with changes in illumination levels and
Solano-Flores (2000) had a fun-filled activity on bubbles and soap solutions to enable
students to construct their own solution strategies for making longest-lived bubbles [7].
They are given relevant and irrelevant pieces of equipment. The activity aimed to develop
and assess science process skills and high-level thinking skills such as problem solving
4. skills and creative thinking skills. Student investigations, project-based learning
approach, and undergraduate theses also aim to develop these kinds of skills.
With the introduction of the science, technology and society approach in the late sixties
and more recently, the physics in context approach, decision-making skills have come to
the fore. In physics, for instance, energy resource allotment and development scenarios
have been used in the classroom for role-playing and students’ exposure to elements of
the decision-making process [8] like identification of key players and the values they
cherish, uncertainty and consequences of a given decision, evaluation of quality of
information at hand, alternatives and trade-off to be considered, and negotiations to be
made in the real world.
As the world moves on in the 21st century, the increasing demand for ICT skills in the
work place and schools has necessitated technology integration in teaching. TIMSS 2003
results for fourth and eighth grade showed that science achievement was positively
related to computer use, particularly at eighth grade. Average achievement was highest
among students reporting using computers at home and school. Students who used
computers elsewhere or did not use computer at all had the lowest achievement.
Intel Teach and Microsoft Partners in Learning are examples of international programs
that have helped teachers and students enhance their ICT skills for teaching and learning
physics concepts and doing laboratory work. Computer interfacing experiments and
robotics have enhanced student laboratory experience in physics. Developing students’
ICT skills in physics teaching is also a way of narrowing the digital divide within a
country and across countries.
Communication skills – listening, speaking, writing and reading – are basic skills that are
needed and further developed in courses like physics. Students’ reading comprehension
of physics texts is often assumed, but the technical writing style and presence of
equations, graphs and tables lower the readability of the text. If students come to a
physics class ill-equipped to understand physics texts, development of reading
comprehension skills for a physics text needs to be a concern of the physics teacher.
Such skills can be developed, in consultation with the communication arts teacher and
with the physics teachers drawing from their experience and strategies of understanding
physics texts.
Interpersonal skills most developed in a physics class are those needed for a group to
accomplish its task, be it an activity, experiment or project. Such skills, together with
thinking skills and reading comprehension skills are among self-learning and lifelong
learning skills applicable to many areas of life. For physics teaching to be better
appreciated by students, skills development can be equally emphasized and uses to life
pointed out to students.
A sustainable development principle is the development of human potential as shown in
Figure 1 [9].
5. Figure 2. Sustainable Development in Physics Teaching
Development of critical thinking skills, including science process skills, ICT skills,
communication skills contributes to the development of students’ potential in a physics
class, considering the applicability of these skills in many areas in life.
Other sustainable development principles (Fig. 1) are values like cultural sensitivity.
Physics-related artifacts, e.g., native toys [10] and musical instruments can be brought to
class by students. Physics-related cultural practices (scientific and unscientific), e.g.,
fishing in a full moon, can be taken up when appropriate [11]. Moral sensitivity can be
demonstrated by discussing cultural values vis-à-vis scientific values, for example,
influence of friendship on one’s objectivity.
Community-based physics teaching [12], an approach for community involvement of the
class, addresses physics-related community needs and uses physics-based resources. Self-
determination and participatory democracy are developed in a physics class with group
activities, experiments and discussion, inclusion of design of investigations or projects,
and use of self-learning modules and Internet.
The principle of social justice can be actualized with quality physics teaching for the
poorest of the poor in public schools, especially remote schools. These schools need to
be provided with master teachers and given the same instructional materials used in city
schools. In any class, students at risk of dropping out can be identified and given
instructional remediation program and counseling. Outreach physics programs like
community-based physics projects can be designed for student dropouts for them to
eventually come back to the formal stream.
To promote peace, order and unity, a physics class can have cooperative learning in
group activities and experiments and a classroom climate conductive to learning. Values
of responsibility, openness and respect for others can be developed among the students as
they work in groups.
6. Global linkage or cooperation in physics teaching can take the form of collaboration with
scientists through email, e-group discussion, common laboratory experiments and
videoconferences with classes in other countries, and international competitions like the
International Physics Olympiad.
Gender sensitivity, which contributes to social justice, can be promoted with (1) active
equal participation of boys and girls in a physics class, as well as in textbooks, (2)
encouraging girls to handle electrical and electronic devices, and (3) motivating girls to
consider a career in physics.
The principle of gender sensitivity is based on researches like the international survey
[13] on the Relevance of Science Education (ROSE) involving 38 countries (Sjoberg,
2004). The study involved Grade 10 students (15 years old) in 38 countries and used a
questionnaire with four-point rating scales to determine students’ self-ratings on out-of-
school experiences, what they wanted to learn about, their future job, environment and
science classes, themselves as scientists, and science and technology.
Among the findings are:
1. Students in all countries strongly agree that science and technology are important
for society and providing greater opportunities for future generations;
2. In most countries, students think that science and technology make work more
Interesting; and
3. Most students (mainly boys) think that the benefits of science are greater than its
potential harmful effects.
In all countries, boys liked science better than the girls did (Table 2). In some countries,
mainly developing countries, the students liked science very much (Table 3). In
developing countries, all students wanted to have as much science in schools as possible.
In some countries, girls disliked science very much and did not want to have science in
school. These findings argue for encouraging girls to participate and even lead in physics
class activities.
While the students generally liked science, very few students wanted to become
scientists, with boys wanting to be scientists more than the girls. In developing countries,
all students wanted to become scientists, and many wanted to get a job in technology
(Table 3). More boys than girls wanted a job in technology. In all countries, the boys
Table 2
Some Gender Differences in Attitude Towards Science
(ROSE Survey, 2004)
7. Girls Boys
*Few want to get a job in technology * Like science better
*It is more important to work with *Much more interested in working with
people than with things machines & tools
*More think that benefits of science
greater than its potential harmful
Table 3
Students’ Attitude Towards Science in Developing and Developed Countries
(ROSE Survey, 2004)
Developed Countries Developing Countries
Few want to become scientists *All students want to become scientists
*Like science very much
*Want to have as much science in
schools as possible
were much more interested in working with machines and tools (Table 2) than the girls
were. On the other hand, the girls in all countries thought it was much more important to
work with people rather than things.
For the eleven countries, the overall ROSE rating had a significant ( p <.000) negative,
very high relationship with human development index (HDI), as indicated in Table 4 and
Figure 2 [14]. HDI is a composite index of development of a country, used by the United
Nations Development Programme [15]. The correlation of the ROSE rating with the
TIMSS science score was also significant (p <.022) and negative, but moderate in value.
A positive attitude towards science is expected to be associated with high science
achievement. The reasons for the negative relationship need further investigation.
Table 4
Correlation Between ROSE Rating and HDI, and TIMSS Science Score
Variables (Ranks) Spearman Rho Degrees of Level of
Coefficient Freedom Significance
ROSE Rating & - 0.991 11 0.000
ROSE Rating &
TIMSS Science
8. Score - 0.624 11 0.022
H D I / TIM S S 0 3
0 5 10 15
Series 1: ROSE vs HDI
Series 2: ROSE vs TIMSS
Figure 2. Correlation Between ROSE Rating and HDI, and TIMSS Science Score
The negative, high relationship between science-related interests and experiences and the
human development index, a composite index, calls for an in-depth study. For instance,
have students in countries with high HDI taken the benefits of science and technology for
granted, since these benefits are part of their daily life?
The Hong Kong physics curriculum [4] goals include sustainable development,
specifically, the awareness of social, ethical, economic, environmental and technological
implications of physics and develop an attitude of responsible citizenship. The curriculum
is one of several school curricula around the world that lists among its values goals the
development of students’ interest, sense of wonder and curiosity about the physical
world. Other physics curricula as in the Philippines underscore the values of openness,
tentativeness of science findings and other limitations of science, humanity of scientists,
and respect for life.
The physics graduates in the American university alumni survey [2] cited values
developed in a physics degree that are useful in work, such as patience and perseverance
in solving problems, self-discipline, self-motivation, team work, and willingness to
change based on new information and feedback.
Physics teaching in rich or poor countries at all academic levels needs to focus on
developing generic values useful in life, as well as positive attitudes towards science,
9. particularly, physics, which has acquired a reputation of being a boring and difficult
Physics concept has been a main goal of physics teaching with skills often considered as
tools to learn the concepts (Fig. 3). Values like a positive attitude towards physics,
Concept Skill Value
Focus Focus Focus
Concepts End-Goal Context Context
Skills Tools End-Goal Tool
Values Motivation Motivation End-Goal
Figure 3. A Model for Focus Shifts in Development of Physics Concepts, Scientific Skills and Values
perseverance and patience have served as motivation to learn the concepts. Yet, if skills
and values are equally important, particularly because of their transferability to many
areas in life, focus shifts (Fig. 4) are needed in teaching physics.
If a physics teacher is intent in developing decision-making skills among the students, the
decision-making process is explained and demonstrated using energy resources as the
topic and context. The value of energy conservation is the motivation for doing the
activity. On the other hand, if the development of a value, e.g., perseverance, is the focus
or end-goal, having three trials in measurement of a variable is the tool, and the context is
a physics concept or variable that can be measured.
The three shifts can take place in one physics class session, if these are among the
learning objectives of the teacher for the day. What is important is the teacher’s
awareness that such shifts are to be made for skills and values to have greater emphasis in
a physics class.
Focus shifts to skills and values in physics teaching, complemented with greater research
on skills and values development, are recommended. Transferability of skills and values
to many areas of life and their crucial importance in scientific literacy and sustainable
development in rich and poor countries cannot be overemphasized.
10. Some skills like reading comprehension of physics texts, decision-making skills, complex
problem solving, physical modeling and estimation need greater emphasis in physics
teaching at the appropriate school or university level. Values development can be made
more explicit and deliberate in a physics class, with physics teachers and faculty
receiving training on values development strategies.
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