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String theory in high schools

Posted by Melissa on December 8, 2008

Sunday’s New York Times included an article about Scarsdale public schools phasing out Advanced Placement courses and replacing them with Advanced Topics courses that allow more flexibility and depth. What caught my eye was the following: “Physics students now study string theory — a hot topic in some college courses that is absent from the Advanced Placement exam.”

While I agree that the calculus-based AP physics exam is limiting — only topics in mechanics and electricity and magnetism are covered — I’m not sure I would choose to include string theory in a high school physics course. I applaud efforts to expose students to current research, but how about selecting something that is possibly relevant as well as cutting edge? Maybe photonics or spintronics. Perhaps quantum entanglement and quantum computation. But string theory?

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One Response to “String theory in high schools”

  1. Mark said

    As a high school physics teacher, at a school that has also done away with AP courses, I had the same reaction as you. I guess you could have them read something by Lisa Randall or Lee Smolin, but I don’t think that really counts as “studying” string theory or quantum gravity. In fact, I try to encourage as much of this type of external reading as possible, but it isn’t what I teach in class, for goodness sake. There are so many more really fun, adequately complicated and exciting additions you can make without going so far out there that nobody is going to get anything truly useful from it… let’s be realistic.

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