General Relativity as a Challenge for Physics Education

690. WE-Heraeus-Seminar

10 Feb - 15 Feb 2019


Physikzentrum Bad Honnef

Scientific organizers:

Prof. Dr. Ute Kraus, Dr. Corvin Zahn, U Hildesheim

Aims: The goal of the seminar is to promote the scientific exchange of ideas and research results on the teaching of general relativity. The seminar will be focussed on the secondary school and undergraduate levels.

Target audience: Physics education researchers, physicists, and physics teachers are invited to participate in the seminar. PhD and master students are encouraged to apply.

Background: General relativity is one of the fundamental advancements of physics in the 20th century, well established and tested to high accuracy, basis of modern astrophysics and cosmology. General relativity and its applications are also especially fascinating for many students, both in school and at university. In spite of its fundamental importance general relativity is not part of most curricula in secondary schools and in undergraduate university education.

However, in recent years this has begun to change and general relativity has made its way into the secondary school curricula of a number of countries. Concurrently, physics education research on teaching general relativity has become more active with a wide variety of research activities. There are studies aimed at implementing specific curricula, others originate from the conviction that a contemporary physics education should give all students the opportunity to get acquainted with general relativity. Methodically, current research activities cover a broad range including the design of new teaching materials and of whole teaching units, the development of assessment instruments and the evaluation of new approaches, and empirical research on learning and instruction.

Scope and Key Topics: The teaching of general relativity at the secondary school and undergraduate levels is a challenge for physics education. Novel and abstract concepts must be explained. The mathematical framework of the theory is involved and is not accessible to learners at these levels. New approaches must therefore be developed that make it possible to teach general relativity using no more than elementary mathematics. The seminar will be a forum for the discussion of these questions. Contributions will be grouped in two strands, each strand comprising several invited talks, a discussion slot and a poster session.

  • Strand A: Curriculum development & design
    • What should be taught about general relativity? - Curriculum development for general relativity at the different levels and for different time budgets.
    • How can this be taught? - Development of teaching materials, including models, visualizations, animations, interactive simulations, analogies, thought experiments, elementary computations. Development of teaching concepts, including teaching units, lectures, tutorials, online-modules, contributions to textbooks, teacher guides.
  • Strand B: Evaluation & research on learning and instruction
    • What are the outcomes of the proposed ways of teaching? - Empirical tests of teaching materials and concepts, including the development of assessment instruments, tests in different settings (in school at different levels, in out-of-school education, at university).
    • What can be learned from educational research? - Empirical research on learning and instruction, including students' conceptions, conceptual change, evaluation of learning environments, the fostering of qualitative understanding.
Further information can be found at this website

The conference language will be English. The Wilhelm and Else Heraeus-Foundation bears the cost of full-board accommodation for all participants.