Future Teachers Meet Wiki/Wikibooks as an instructional tool for High School Physics - The online research journal project

Mike Maskell, MS

Introducing Students to Professional Research

The high school physics teacher (and the freshman physics professor) has three jobs towards his students: to teach them the knowledge of physical laws and concepts, to develop their problem solving skills with particular focus on the skillset involved in solving physics problems, and to give them a preview of what it is like to be a physicist. The first job is accomplished by virtually every physics teacher. The second job is accomplished by particularly good physics teachers. The third is rarely recognized among any physics teachers. This is not because it is an unimportant job, but most likely because it is a job whose results are not tested in our current system. Undervaluing the experiential aspect of physics education in the setting of standards leads to undervaluing it in the classroom, whether consciously or unconsciously. As teachers, we lack the ability to unilaterally change the standards to give this aspect its due; however, we can still offer it to our students without having to detract from the lessons we are being scrutinized on. Wikibooks provides just the sort of tool to demonstrate the professional physicist's research process to the students, while exercising their testable knowledge along the way.

Modern-day physicists rarely work alone. Gone are the days of the bearded, tweed-clad scientist laboring away at a chalkboard in a secluded room. Physics research is now conducted by collaborations, often spread around the world. This has inevitably evolved for the same reason that students often enjoy working in groups: larger tasks are easier when spread among multiple participants. Students are generally familiar with group work, but have had few opportunities to use internet communication among group members. Internet communication is so fundamental to physics collaborations that it must be made a part of the student's experience. An even better simulation could be produced if the teacher is lucky enough to have a colleague at another school willing to do the same project with his students.

The internet has also revolutionized the peer review process that has been the cornerstone of scientific credibility for centuries. Peer reviewed journals are one of the best sources of accurate, unbiased information, because they are constantly open to scrutiny by all professional scientists. This peer review is so important to the scientific community that students would be ill-served by omitting it. Fortunately wikis are freely and readily available, and are a very easy form of peer review. A complete scientific research project involving wiki would begin with assigning the students to read some examples of peer-reviewed journal articles (careful selection must be made to ensure the material is not beyond their comprehension), forming the students into small research collaboration groups, having the groups choose a research topic and perform the research(this could be an experiment they will perform or a method of problem solving or physical concept they will research, having the groups present their results, review each other's results, and publish a class peer-reviewed research journal from the results. Each group would be provided a wiki that they can use to easily communicate and share ideas and writings with each other, and the collected journal articles would be placed in another wiki for all to read and edit before final publication.

(NOTE: This work still under construction)