26 July 2013

Science in a social context: Speeding train and centripetal force

Educationists all over the world agree that basic education is important to all people. It is reflected in K-12 school systems that include core sciences and social sciences across the curriculum. It is also generally agreed that not only professionals taking up scientific or technical careers but also skilled and semi-skilled workforce needs to be well versed in basic science concepts and their practical applications that are useful to communities. If we teach the applicability aspect of textbook concepts effectively to students in K-12, it is possible that they become scientifically literate.

Day before yesterday there was a newspaper report about an accident due to derailment of a high speed train in Spain. In middle school physics, we come across a concept known as `centripetal force'. This force acts on all objects that travel in curved paths. The force increases when the object's mass or square of its velocity increases. In this accident, the velocity seems to have doubled. This means that the square of the velocity has increased four fold. This means an enormous increase in the centripetal force which would have probably derailed the train as illustrated in this example.  

I think that it is important not only to learn textbook concepts but also analyse their application aspects and use them for the benefit of communities. It is good if people in responsible positions such as the driver of this train understand basic science concepts and apply their knowledge to avert accidents.

Nearly 30 years back, there was an interesting science curricular project in the UK known as `Science In a Social Context' (popularly known as SISCON) that worked with applicability aspects of textbook science concepts.

If I were still teaching Physics in a high school today, I would have asked my students to discuss the news report from their physics point of view.

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.