Physics Education


A major goal of this Conference (WCPSD) is to stimulate physics communities in nations across the world to collaborate on finding ways that physics can best be used to benefit diverse societies. Many countries, in particular the developing countries, question the rationale for global economies and are seeking alternative models of development. If physics is to benefit people in a culturally sensitive and environmentally sound way, then people from both rural and urban areas in all parts of the world must have access to quality physics education. This need for culturally rooted scientific progress is felt most acutely in developing nations.


Since the Conference is about actions that can be taken by physicists and physics educators to promote sustainable development, we want to develop proposed actions that support sustainable development. We are working from the following definition of sustainable development:

Sustainable Development is Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and is further informed by additions to that basic statement that have been added since, which stress: (1) economic sustainability: the ability of the global economy to produce goods and services in a way that avoids extreme sectorial imbalances which damage agricultural or industrial production of both the developed and developing nations (2) Environmental sustainability: which would include maintenance of biodiversity, atmospheric stability, and other ecosystems functions not ordinarily classed as economic resources and (3) social sustainability: which seeks to ensure fairness in distribution and opportunity and ensures adequate health and education facilities, gender equality etc. (Derived from the statement formulated by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987).

In view of our working definition of Sustainable Development, we have agreed on several guidelines for our action planning:

  • We strive to strengthen physics education in ways that are determined and sustained by local initiatives.
  • We intend to limit our focus to the improvement of physics education at the secondary level as well as at the university level for future physics teachers in both primary and secondary schools.
  • We strive to promote basic physics teaching that is enhanced by the use of locally developed examples, assignments and projects that that are familiar to teachers and their students.

We recognize that some students who study physics at the high school and university levels will major in physics and perhaps move on to graduate work and/or employment in physics research or employment with established corporations. However, we feel that the biggest impact we can have on environmentally responsible, human scale sustainable development will come through the promotion of the use of teaching materials and equipment that helps to meet local needs in rural areas and among the poor in and on the outskirts of cities.

Our assumption is that the training professional physicists and the facilitation of out migration of physics students should not be our primary focus. However, if we are successful, students who do choose to prepare for careers in physics research and industrial engineering should also benefit from our efforts– especially because we hope to promote locally relevant physics topics with appropriate attention to teaching underlying principles of physics.At present our proposals for action involve three interrelated projects:

  • Collecting and distributing free curricular materials and teacher resources via the World Wide Web
  • Promoting access to basic physics equipment through the development of construction plans and the dissemination of low-cost component
  • Pilot testing the usability of the collection curricular materials and locally constructed apparatus by means of a regional workshop in each of three major developing areas of the World – South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia


We have chosen a multi-international Physics Education Program Committee, and have created a listserve for interested individuals who have volunteered to be on a special “Conference Physics Education Advisory Group.”

On Day 1 of the three day World Conference on Physics and Sustainability, each theme is given 90 minutes to prepare attendees for breakout sessions to occur in Day 2. The role of the speakers is to inspire constructive discussion in the Day 2 breakout sessions and to help those who attend the conference participate in refining and shaping the Action Plans outlined on this Website. We have chosen the following speakers:

  • Costas Constantinou who will discuss the field of physics education research and the adaptation of inquiry-based curricular materials based on physics education research in Cyprus. He is Associate Professor and a member of the University of Cyprus Department of Educational Sciences. He has adapted the low-cost, physics education research based Physics by Inquiry materials developed by the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington in the USA.
  • Mathew Malata who will discuss his experience in mounting in-service physics teacher workshops and programs in Zambia. Mathew is the Chairperson of the Zambia Association of Science Education (ZASE) and teaches physics at a government high school in a poor section of Lusaka.
  • Maurício Pietrocola who will discuss his experience with university teacher education programs in Brazil. Mauricio is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of São Paulo.

Day 1, Format for Talks

We decided to compromise between a panel and purely formal talks. One of the Committee co-chairs will take about 10 minutes to introduce our action plans. Then each speaker will give a formal presentation of about 20-25 minutes. During the time allotted each speaker will present an overview and key points that are supported by actual experience or educational research. Then when all the talks are finished we allow the audience to ask questions for about 15 minutes.

Day 2, Breakout Sessions – Developing Action Plans

We are in the process of planning four breakout sessions for the second day of the conference.

1. Dissemination of Teacher Resources: The discussion in this group will center on how to create an International Physics Education Resource Center. This electronic center could include downloadable curricular materials and teaching resources, low cost equipment plans, and availability of free education related journal articles.

2. Identification and Development of New Curricular Materials for Developing Regions: The discussion in this group will focus on the identification of physics-related topics that are relevant to the needs of developing countries at several levels (high school students, university students preparing to teach physics, university students taking introductory physics, and teachers currently involved introductory physics courses. In addition, the group would identify actions needed to adapt existing materials and in some cases develop new materials for use in developing regions. These topics could involve low energy lighting (such as LUTW), bicycle physics, the operation of hand crank radios, how to avoid automobile accidents, and so on. The ultimate goal would be to make curricular materials and low cost equipment plans available for local modification.

3. Pilot Teacher Workshops: The discussion in this group would center on how to design and implement teacher workshops using available resources that are in-line with ideas developed at the conference for topics and pedagogies. How can we best pilot testing the usability of the collection curricular materials and locally constructed apparatus by means of regional workshops in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Can we target rural areas for some and cities for others? Who will mount and fund these efforts?

4. Mobile Physics.  The purpose of this session is:

  1. To explore the opportunities presented by mobile science projects to:

    • Provide access to equipment and resources
    • Enrich teaching
    • Support teachers
    • Involve the wider science community in science education
  2. To provide an opportunity to learn about some mobile science projects, discuss best practice and develop ideas for new projects.

Case studies will be presented and discussion will then be driven by participants around the topics of what is special about mobility, what role volunteers can play, how mobile projects can and should adapt to local needs etc etc ? Conclusions will be summarized and will feed in to the Action Plan. Anyone interested in or involved in mobile science should attend. The focus will be on what mobile science can contribute in developing countries.