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Physical Phenomena in Real Time

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Science  29 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6004, pp. 605-606
DOI: 10.1126/science.1186992

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There is a growing realization that nurturing scientists for the 21st century requires engaging students in the processes of doing science (1). For students to be engaged in the process of doing physics, they need to learn to think like a physicist. Physics is more than the final content that we assess in a traditional exam. Much of its richness is the process through which physicists acquire knowledge and those specific “habits of mind” that are necessary to practice physics. For example, when solving an experimental problem, a physicist needs to decide what features of the problem are relevant and which features can be ignored, how to represent the problem in different ways, including mathematical expressions, how to use available equipment to collect necessary data, how to analyze the data, and how to evaluate the results (2, 3). Investigations are subject to the variability of experimental conditions and unanticipated complications. What if we could guide students so that they can make progress in a short amount of class time, yet still be engaged in the process of doing physics?