Experiment is the key to physical delight

Wonder and Delight
October 13, 1995

Wonder and Delight is an appreciation of the role that Eric Rogers played in the education of physicists. It is written by people who either knew Rogers or have been greatly influenced by his educational approach.

The book contains a biographical section. Rogers was born on August 15 1902 at Crockham Hill near Chartwell in Kent. His father, a publisher, sent him to Bedales, a progressive, co-educational boarding school in Petersfield, Hampshire. In October 1921 Rogers went up to Trinity College, Cambridge where he got a first in mathematics and physics. After two years doing research under Lord Rutherford at the Cavendish Laboratory, Rogers then decided that teaching was his real metier. starting in 1925 he taught physics in England at Clifton College, Bedales and Charterhouse and in the United States at the Putney School, Vermont, Mount Holyoke College and St Paul's, Concorde. In 1942 he finally found his permanent home at Princeton University.

Rogers spent his whole professional life teaching and in advancing physics education and worrying about the problems of testing.

To Rogers, physics was a living and exciting subject, a subject at the heart of human culture. To understand physics you had to do physics. Theoretical musings were for applied mathematicians and not for proper physicists. Rogers had a clear vision of the ideal physicist. He (or she) should have an overwhelming sense of curiosity coupled with a feeling of wonder and delight. The inquiring mind should be constantly trying to understand. It was because Rogers had such a clear mental vision of the ideal physicist that he was so good at educating physicists.

Wonder and Delight also reviews the ways in which the works of Rogers have affected physics education and science education in general. It concentrates on such topics as the role of science education in the advancement of developing countries, the ways in which a sensible science curriculum can be produced for every scholar and not just the scientifically minded and how the historical perspective helps children understand the true nature of science. History reveals how science grew in the past and from this we can guess how it is going to advance in the future. The book emphasises that science can only be understood properly if the students understand the way in which science grows and the way in which scientific work is done. The key to the latter is experimentation.

Lecture demonstrations are useful but there is nothing to beat forcing the students to do it for themselves. Much is made of the strong links between what is taught, how a subject is taught and how the students are assessed, tested and examined. The examination reveals to students the true thoughts and aims of the teacher. It is worth buying this book if only to read Rogers's essay on how exams are powerful agents for both good and ill in teaching.

Wonder and Delight lives up to its title. It is a treasury of good thoughts and provoking ideas and also a fitting memorial to Eric Rogers. As a great lover of his physics textbook, Physics for the Inquiring Mind: The Methods, Nature and Philosophy of Physical Science, I found it wonderful to have his life so vividly revealed.

David Hughes is reader in astronomy, University of Sheffield.

Wonder and Delight: Essays in Honour of the Life and Work of Eric Rogers 1902-90

Editor - Brenda Jennison and Jon Ogborn
ISBN - 0 7503 0315 8
Publisher - Institute of Physics Publishing
Price - £14.99
Pages - 238

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