General Relativity in Upper Secondary School: How History and Philosophy of Science Can Inform Physics Education of the 21st century
Magdalena Kersting, Physics
Few scientific discoveries have had a bigger impact on our understanding of the universe than general relativity (GR). Einstein’s revolutionary theory did not only herald a new scientific and technological age, but brought about a new heyday of the philosophy of space and time as well. Yet, despite its scientific, philosophical, and technological importance, GR is lacking from most school curricula today, possibly because of its abstract nature.
This work presents a design-based research project that has introduced GR to final year upper secondary school students in Norway. The educational approach invites students to explore historical aspects and different philosophical interpretations of GR within a digital learning environment. Preliminary results based on focus group interviews show that students were particularly motivated by such an approach: They approved of a qualitative and philosophic perspective that created awareness that physics is part of our cultural heritage.
In conclusion, we argue that employing history and philosophy of science in the service of physics education can serve as a successful approach to making GR more accessible to young learners.