How to teach physics


Electromagnetic radiation plays a huge role in our everyday life but people tend to have many misconceptions about it. Sarah Zloklikovits from the Vienna Doctoral School in Physics (VDSP) aims to change this by developing methods to teach the principles of electromagnetic radiation. Watch the video to find out more.

Radio waves, microwaves, X-rays or gamma rays - electromagnetic radiation is all around us. In her dissertation project, Sarah Zloklikovits from the Vienna Doctoral School in Physics (VDSP) at the University of Vienna is developing a way to teach the principles of electromagnetic radiation to students in secondary schools. "This is quite a challenge as it is a complex topic that is typically only taught in higher education. Therefore, it is important not to just simplify the content but to reconstruct it in a way that takes students abilities and prior knowledge into account", the young physicist says.

Vienna Doctoral Schools
The Vienna Doctoral Schools at the University of Vienna correspond to international standards and meet the highest quality in a wide range of research fields. To conduct research on the highly relevant topic of teacher education, Sarah Zloklikovits chose the Vienna Doctoral School of Physics which gave her the opportunity to stay up-to-date on the physics that is currently discussed in the world of science. If you aim to advance science and your career to the next level, the Vienna Doctoral School in Physics welcomes you and provides support, training, mentoring and networking opportunities on your way to a PhD in physics.
Find out more about the Vienna Doctoral Schools.

Overcoming challenges in physics education

Sarah Zloklikovits is collaborating closely with teachers and students in order to improve teaching materials: "I am looking into the challenges that students face while learning about electromagnetic radiation and investigate how we can overcome these challenges." In order to make sense of new learning content, students rely heavenly on their previous experiences. "The problem with electromagnetic radiation is that we just cannot see or feel most of the radiation that surrounds us, so students have little experiences to which they can connect. As a result, students confuse the different types of radiation", the PhD candidate explains.

In the video series 'Presenting early stage researchers', doctoral candidates of the Vienna Doctoral Schools talk about the burning questions they investigate, let you to look over their shoulders during their research activities and show how their ideas contribute to shaping the world of tomorrow.

Guidelines for physics teachers

The researcher's results have the potential to affect what is happening in physics classrooms in Austria. "My work offers guidelines for teachers that help them plan their lessons and support them so that students can acquire a sound understanding of electromagnetic radiation", Sarah Zloklikovits says, who is not only doing research but also teaches courses in the teacher education programme at the University of Vienna.

Her advice for physics teachers? "Start with experiments that use light. Students know this type of radiation very well and the outcomes of the experiments are easy to observe. Then move on to experiments with infrared radiation, as this type of radiation is not visible but can be sensed as heat. Next, perform experiments with UV radiation. In doing so, students experience a type of radiation that they can neither see nor feel but that they can easily detect using UV beads. But most importantly - focus on the topics that are relevant for students in their everyday lives. How are x-ray images created? Is it safe to heat my lunch in a microwave? Is the radiation emitted by my mobile phone dangerous?"

What comes next?

Not a lot of research has been done on this topic and there is still a lot to figure out. But Sarah Zloklikovits is uncertain if she will continue on the path of a researcher or if she will go back to school and teach mathematics and physics. But one thing is for sure: She will be part of the world of physics education in one way or another. (hm)

Sarah Zloklikovits is a fellow in the doctoral programme in Teacher Education at the University of Vienna and a member of the Vienna Doctoral School in Physics (VDSP). She is an editorial board member for the journal "PlusLucis" of the Association for the Promotion of Physics and Chemistry Education. In 2021, she received the Impact.Award of the University of Vienna.

PhD candidate and Impact.Awardee Sarah Zloklikovits studied teacher education at the University of Vienna and felt very welcome at the Faculty of Physics and the Department of Physics Education: "When the opportunity to apply for the Vienna Doctoral School in Physics arose I did not have to think twice about it." (© Benjamin Furtlehner)