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Not so Boring, Please!

Sean Carroll (Twitter Profile Image)
Sean Carroll is one of those folks with a surfeit of brain power. Not only is the California Institute of Technology research professor a theoretical physicist, but he’s also an evolutionary biologist. Carroll recently published a new book on physics, From Eternity to Here, and was the subject of a New York Times Q&A. As someone who finds physics exciting he’s all too aware of how sleep-inducing high school physics classes can be. Carroll admits that people often tell him that they hated physics in school. Alas, he says, “one of the tragedies of our educational system is that we’ve taken this incredibly interesting subject — how the universe works — and made it boring.”

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman has proposed that to better nurture the subject, physics should be introduced in the sophomore year, not in year 12. Carroll disagrees. The problem, he tells the Times, is not timing, but approach. “What we need to do is find a new way to teach the spirit of physics.” There is, he says, too much emphasis on dry puzzle-solving and pulleys. “Every high school graduate should know that everything in the universe is made of a handful of particles. That’s not a hard thing to know. But that’s not what’s emphasized.” Finally, Chapman tells the paper: “Ten years after high school, most students are not going to solve a problem with pulleys and levers. But they still might want to know about the expansion of the universe and about cool things in atomic physics and lasers — which they’ll find interesting and fun.”

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