Experimentation, whether it is structured or not, is a fundamental aspect of learning Physics, not only because of the role it plays in the scientific research itself that we must present to our students, but also because of its cognitive importance as it is linked to carrying out experiments to complement the usual use of references books.
There have been many reports on education, learning, dissemination and vocation in Physics teaching/learning which point out that experiments and practical activities can inspire and help pupils to understand their related concepts, principles, laws or applications. One obstacle for their widespread use is the tendency of teachers to replicate in the classroom the teaching they received when they were students – centred at times on the theoretical basis and far removed on many occasions from an active, practical and experimental vision. The capacity to learn by doing – using activities that are hands-on / practical / experimental / materials-centred – should therefore be a possible objective in teacher training, which should offer possibilities for developing competences in this field.
There are currently countless resources that can be employed to make the most of students’ creativity by introducing the proposal to learn Physics by doing Physics through the use, in or out of the classroom, of any material, object, instrument or experimental setup for learning a concept, principle, law or application in a suitable context. Possibly the main way of acquiring new knowledge in this field is through direct or indirect connection with the work of colleagues who have opted to design and employ these tools.
In this way, it is common to gain information from them that we can make immediate use of or adapt in: a) books that compile sets of activities suitably illustrated with instructions and explanations; b) specialised magazines with articles periodically demonstrating new activities, proposals, suggestions and ideas that have been used successfully; c) events that are occasional meeting points for teaching professionals in the broad sense who have a vocation to share their knowledge and experience; d) projects, networks or teachers’ associations that bring together people who are interested in improving the quality of teaching; e) websites showing what others are doing in schools, colleges, universities, etc.; f) Media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc.) demonstrating a fun and/or informative approach to what we teach; g) teaching materials companies that supply our teaching labs with equipment, which can then be used beyond the usual structured practices, and that in many cases provide material for non-structured activities; h) interactive science museums where the displays provide an opportunity to connect theoretical and practical concepts by means of some small-scale, personal, semi-guided research.
All these, to a greater or lesser extent, are useful and necessary tools for our work in the classroom in a model of learning Physics by doing Physics.
José Benito Vázquez Dorrío