Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Is Physics Difficult?

Some blog followers might be interested in a post "Is Physics Difficult? [Hake (2010)]. The abstract reads:


ABSTRACT: Robert Kaiser of the Physics First List wrote (paraphrasing): "Why are we still asking the silly question 'Should children learn some physics ideas in the 7th, 8th or 9th grade?' OBVIOUSLY THEY SHOULD. We have English reading, writing story analysis, etc., from 1st grade to 12th grade. Same for History and Math: children start with almost nothing, but with many years of exposure, they slowly build up skills. Why should science be the one subject in which children (realistically) get almost nothing, and then are thrown to the wolves for 11th grade physics."

The same point was made by Ken Ford (1989) in his Guest Comment "Is Physics Difficult." Ford wrote: "Six-year-olds write English and . . . Jeremy Bernstein writes English. What separates them? A long, gradual incline of increased ability, understanding, and practice. [But for Physics] we have fashioned a cliff. There is no gradual ramp, only a near-vertical ascent to its high plateau."

See "Physics First: Opening Battle in the War on Science/Math Illiteracy?" at for cartoons which contrast Lederman's 9th grade physics cliff (page 2) with Ford's P-12 science/math ramp (page 4).


To access the complete 10 kB post please click on .

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University

Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands

President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References which Recognize the Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)

"For most men, save the scientific workers, science is a mystery in the hands of initiates, who have become adepts in virtue of following ritualistic ceremonies from which the profane herd is excluded".

John Dewey (1927) in The Public and its Problems

REFERENCES [URL's shortened by and accessed on 17 November 2010.]

Dewey, J. 1927. The Public and its Problems, a 1954 edition is available from Swallow Press. information at, note the searchable "Look Inside" feature.

Hake, R.R. 2010. "Is Physics Difficult? (was Why are we still asking silly questions?)" online on the OPEN AERA-L archives at Post of 17 Nov 2010 13:11:56-0800 to AERA-L, Net-Gold, & Physics First. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to various discussion lists.


Jacquelyn said...

I work with elementary grades K-3. Over the past 8 years, my focus has been narrowed to reading intervention only. Our district has purchased smartboards for every classroom. In the past, I used some of the free physics games available online with third graders. Their curriculum covers physics as "simple machines", with worksheets requiring them to match up a drawing with a machine. Every child who has dropped a pencil or thrown a ball has "done" physics, so I don't understand why the textbook companies have to dry it out and shrivel it up and make it dull. Also, I don't understand why school districts block any websites with the word "games" in the url. I am adding some links so you can see for yourself what is available, and how the laws of motion and problem solving can be taught in a fun, engaging way to the youngest students.

Richard Hake said...


Thanks for your comment and for the links to the educational game.

I totally agree wth you that "the laws of motion and problem solving can be taught in a fun, engaging way to the youngest students."

It's unfortunate that NCLB testing has removed science from the curriculum in many school districts.

Keep up the great work!

Richard Hake