Report on Fulbright Fellowship

January - June, 1998

Dean Zollman, Professor of Physics

Kansas State University


My Fulbright Research Fellowship was granted to work with Professor Dr. Manfred Euler, head of the Department of Physics Education at the Institute für Pädagogik der Naturwissenschaften (IPN) at the Christian-Albrechts Universität in Kiel. The primary purpose was to enable Dr. Euler and me to explore ways to collaborate on our mutual interest in wave motion and quantum physics. Our plan was to see how each of our previous works fit into a collaboration and to plan for future collaborations.

 The Institute is a very hospitable environment for any type of work related to science teaching and learning. At present, it is particularly valuable for anyone who is interested in communicating recent advances in physics research to school students. In addition to Professor Euler, Reinders Duit is also working in this general area.

The Institute provided all of the resources that I needed for my stay. I had a private office with a good computer that had excellent access to the Internet. In addition, I had complete access to physics teaching equipment and to the computer and instructional support staff. The library at the Institute contains a large number of volumes on all aspects of science teaching and was another valuable resource during my stay.

My primary research collaboration involved Dr. Euler, Dr. Andreas Müller and Markus Hanselmann. Together, we investigated two aspects of students understanding of quantum physics. The first aspect involved investigating how well students understood the use of models in contemporary physics. The subjects for our study were students who were completing a seminar on the pedagogical aspects of quantum mechanics. During the seminar they were presented with three models of the atom. Through questionnaire and observation we investigated how the students viewed each model, what they considered the utility of each model, and how they would use it in their own Gymnasium classrooms. At present, the data from this investigation are still being analyzed.

The second investigation was related to the students' epistemological beliefs and how they viewed the uncertainty and probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. Based on previous work we hypothesized that students who view knowledge as very well structured and "absolute truth" would have difficulty accepting some of the contemporary interpretations of quantum science. Those students who see knowledge as less absolute would be more likely to understand the present interpretations of quantum mechanics. Data were collected throughout the summer semester from the students in the quantum mechanics seminar. Again, the analysis is incomplete as of this writing.

Both of these studies are considered preliminary work that will continue during the coming academic year. After a more thorough analysis of the information on how students viewed models in modern physics, we will revise the questions that were asked of the students and administer further questionnaires to address questions that are raised by our preliminary study. For the second study, Mr. Hanselmann will use the information gathered during the summer semester, 1998, as a preliminary study for his Ph.D. dissertation. Thus, the collaboration on these efforts will continue for at least a few years.

Shortly before the beginning of my visit to Kiel, a consortium that includes both Christian-Albrechts University and Kansas State University received funding for an international exchange of students. The project, which is funded jointly by the Fund for Improvement of Post-Secondary Education in the United States and the European Commission, engages students in the United States and Europe in studies on the science and cultural influences of the bicycle. During the period of the grant, students from the U.S. and Europe will visit each other's universities and take part in joint projects. While this project was not formally part of my Fulbright project, it provided an additional component during my stay in Kiel. I was able to help recruit students to come to the U.S. during the 1998-99 academic year and even begin some of the bicycle studies which the students will continue when they reach my university this fall. Thus, the coincidence of the Fulbright Fellowship with the beginning of this international exchange project provided a way to start the project off very well.

During my stay in Germany I was invited to present seminars or colloquia at several different universities in Germany and other nearby locations. I visited Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich where Professor Dr. Hartmut Wiesner is Lehrstuhl Professor of Physics Didactics. Professor Wiesner and his co-worker, Dr. Rainer Müller, have completed several studies on the students' understanding of phenomena in contemporary physics. During the weeklong visit to Munich I presented a physics colloquium and planned for future joint work with Drs. Wiesner and Müller. As a sidelight to the visit I was invited to teach two physics classes at the Gymnasium in Puccheim where physics and several other topics are being taught in English on an experimental basis.

Other seminars or colloquia were presented at the Frei Universität of Berlin, University of Bremen and the University of Tübingen. Outside of Germany I presented a seminar at the University of Vienna and both a plenary talk and a workshop at a national meeting of secondary school physics teachers in Hungary. In June, an 11-year-old working group on the use of multimedia in physics in university physics education met at IPN in Kiel. I was the keynote speaker for this two-day conference that was attended by about 40 university physics faculty from throughout Germany.

I anticipate that each of the two studies described above will result in one or more professional publications. Because each of the studies is somewhat complex, the publications are likely to be prepared in about one year. In the meantime, my collaborators and I are preparing several conference presentations. I am also proposing to the National Association of Research in Science Teaching that it sponsor a symposium on "research on the teaching and learning of quantum science" at their national meeting in Boston in March 1999. If this proposal is accepted, the symposium will include contributions from Professors Euler, Wiesner, Niedderer (Bremen) and Fischer (Berlin) from Germany as well as researchers from Australia and the United States.

Collaborations with several groups in Germany are continuing. We are now trying to arrange for visits to the United States by Professors Euler and Weisner and/or one of their co-workers. I have also arranged to return to Kiel for one month during the summer, 1999. At that time I will also make visits to both Munich and Berlin.

Prior to the visit supported by the Fulbright Fellowship, I had communicated with several of the groups that are working on issues related to student learning of quantum physics. The five months in Germany enabled me to solidify these connections and to begin some collaborative efforts that are likely to continue for at least several years.