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Physics of young artists

Rut-Marcinkowska M.


The presentation is prepared on the basis of experience gained in teaching physics at the secondary school level in the first years after the introduction of a new educational system in Poland. Looking for a way to make students more familiar with this commonly disliked subject we turned to individual skills of students. Artistic skills are relatively common and may be efficiently used for this purpose. Since in the new system there are no physics competitions in the first two classes of secondary school, we decided to announce a competition „Cartoon Optics“, which encouraged artistically skilled students to study this branch of physics in more details than usually. A touch of direction and role playing was experienced by students during preparation and presentation of their own experiments in physics. Finally, we strongly encouraged students to actively take part in international competitions aiming at popularizing physics, like for example „Life in the Universe“ (seven student teams took part in competition) and „Physics on the stage“ (students took part in the school performance „Miss Planets“ and prepared posters).

The presentation will show examples of artistic soul of our students.

In our work we use different ways of popularising science subjects at school. One of them is encouraging students to learn the subject through a proper choice of the book. Another way was organising a school-level competition in physics „Cartoon Optics“. This competition allowed the students to present not only their knowledge but also their artistic skills: both plastic and literary. Moreover, in the process of preparation for the competition the students realised that both contents and the form of the presentation should be equally considered. The interest in a given subject increases also when the students have to prepare experiments illustrating discussed phenomena and even more when a group of students prepare a theatre performance.

Each of the works taking part in the „Cartoon Optics“ contest was different both in form and in contents. In one of them a funny hero called Lupek accompanied a young boy performing simple experiments in optics. Lupek played the role of narrator, commented different optical phenomena like reflection of light rays from different mirrors, refraction of light on the border of two media, dispersion of white light, optical illusions, creation of images. Reading and watching such a cartoon one does not have an impression that physics is a boring and disliked subject. The author of that cartoon story showed that physics could be interesting and funny. Another cartoon focused on the properties of mirrors and lenses but without introducing any heroes and action. A very interesting work was a cartoon telling about two children discovering the secrets of shadow „with a little help“ from their mother. The children first discover the shadow itself and ask mother about details. They learn about the nature of shadow and half-shadow which leads them to discovering why their mother put so much attention to the proper lighting of their workplace. The author showed also how to enjoy some optical phenomena and how to have fun trying to understand their nature.

It seems that a good way of popularising physics among students with negative attitude towards science is to create them opportunities to take part in competitions giving a chance for artistic auto-presentation. A good proof is a numerous participation of our students in the competition „Life in Universe“ organised by the European Space Agency (ESA), European South Observatory (ESO), European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) and European Association of Astronomic Education (EAAE). Eight groups of students took part in that contest presenting their works, paintings, sketches and space compositions. Seven teams received a participation diploma from the Centre of Space Research of Polish Academy of Sciences.

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Fig. 1: Examples of the works prepared for the school competition „Cartoon Optics“.

We also encouraged students to prepare series of experiments in physics aimed at illustrating the phenomena studied during the course of physics (Fig.2). But our most spectacular success was the performance „Miss Planets Competition“ prepared by our students supervised by Mrs. Maria Rut-Marcinkowska (teacher of physics) and Mrs. Katarzyna Kabacińska (teacher of literature). The performance was thought to be also an introduction for another performance „A lesson of Physics for Ikar“ prepared by the students of Public Gimnasium No 2 in Opole supervised by Mrs. Krystyna Raczkowska-Tomczak. Both performances took part in the competition „Physics on Stage 2002“. In the first part we get to know the Sun and the planets who present themselves in the form of a beauty contest. We learn some basic information about their sizes, distances from the Sun, duration of the year, temperature etc. The second part tells about the properties of air and reaction of different bodies to changes of the atmospheric pressure and temperature.

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Fig. 2: Students presenting self-prepared experiments.

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Fig. 3: A picture from the „Miss Planets Competition“ performance.

To summarise, we would like to conclude that students like to take part in competitions that equally favour the knowledge and the form of presentation. It is a great chance to activate the students with poor attitude towards science. It is obvious that even when the main concern is the form, the knowledge will easily slip through the backdoor during numerous rehersals, which is the aim of all the teachers in the end (Fig. 4).

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Fig. 4: The author presents the works of her students.