physics

Seeking the general explanation: A test of inductive activities for learning and transfer

Jonathan T. Shemwell, Catherine C. Chase and Daniel L. Schwartz

Evaluating the relation between evidence and theory should be a central activity for science learners. Evaluation comprises both hypothetico-deductive analysis, where theory precedes evidence, and inductive synthesis, where theory emerges from evidence. There is mounting evidence that induction is an especially good way to help learners grasp the deep structure (i.e., underlying principles) of phenomena. However, compared to the clear falsification logic of hypothetico-deductive analysis, a major challenge for induction is structuring the process to be systematic and effective. To address this challenge, we draw on Sir Francis Bacon’s original treatise on inductive science. In a pair of experiments, college students used a computer simulation to learn about Faraday’s law. In the inductive conditions, students sought a general explanation for several cases organized according to Bacon’s tenets. In contrast, other students used a more hypothetico-deductive approach of sequentially testing (and revising) their hypotheses using the simulation. The inductive activity led to superior learning of a target principle measured by in-task explanations and posttests of near transfer and mathematical understanding. The results provide two important pieces of information. The first is that inductive activities organized by Bacon’s tenets help students find the deep structure of empirical phenomena. The second is that, without an inductive “push,” students tend to treat instances separately and fail to search for their underlying commonalities.

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The Planeterrella: A planetary auroral simulator

Jean Lilensten, Laurent Lamy, Carine Briand, Mathieu Barthélémy, Baptiste Cecconi

This article presents a plasma physics experiment which makes it possible to produce polar lights. The experiment, named Planeterrella, involves shooting electrons onto a magnetised sphere placed in a vacuum chamber. Inspired by Kristian Birkeland’s Terrella, but with several different configurations and technical improvements, the experiment allows the user to simulate and visualise simple geophysical and astrophysical situations. Several Planeterrellas are now used across Europe and the USA. The design of the original experiment and the expertise of its first authors are shared freely with any public institute and are outlined in this article.

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The Power of Simplicity: Explaining All-There-Is with the most common thousand words

Roberto Trotta

The book Edge of the Sky recounts the story of the Universe — All-There-Is — and its outstanding mysteries by following a female scientist — Student-Woman — as she spends one night observing distant galaxies — Star-Crowds — with the help of a giant telescope — Big-Seer. The story is written using only the most common 1000 words in the English language. In this article author and astrophysicist, Roberto Trotta, reflects on how he came to write the book, why he chose this format and what he has learnt along the way.

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The effects of the medium of instruction in certificate-level physics on achievement and motivation to learn

Dennis Fung and Valerie Yip

A 3-year study was launched in a Hong Kong secondary school to investigate the effects of the medium of instruction (MOI), specifically English and Chinese, on the learning of certificate-level physics. A total of 199 Secondary Four (S4 or tenth-grade) students, divided into three major ability groups, participated in a teaching intervention designed to determine the effects of MOI on their learning achievement and motivation. The results of conceptual assessments and physics examinations revealed Chinese to be a superior MOI in enabling low-ability students to attain a higher level of achievement, whereas English was more suitable for their high-achieving counterparts. However, little conclusive evidence regarding the role of MOI for the medium-ability groups was found. A questionnaire-based survey indicated that students were more motivated to learn physics through Chinese as the MOI (CMI) rather than English (EMI), although significant limitations to its use were identified for the topic of “Heat.” Deficiencies in the vocabulary needed for abstract scientific concepts in Chinese may account for these limitations (for instance, Chinese uses the same word, “re”, for both “heat” and “hot”). Finally, follow-up interviews at the end of the study revealed a sharp contrast between the learning prospects of EMI and CMI students.

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