In the evening on Nov 12 2009, I browsed the internet for AP Physics classes at home. Some information about IYPT caught my eyes at www.iypt.at. I realized it is of an unparallel significance for our physics teachers and students. As I have been pondering the question of how I can efficiently cultivate students’ interests and creativity in science and simultaneously to tangibly carry out professional self development through an extremely heavy teaching load, this seemed like an ideal solution. The registration date would expire in five days.
The next morning, with printed IYPT Problems in hand, I rushed to my colleagues Niu Niu and Zhou Qian, two physics teachers who were full of passion to find ways to incorporate hands on research into their teaching. They were so excited: “These problems are fantastic!” I asked them: “School has no budget to pay you for your extra work as an IYPT mentor; do you still want to do that”? No hesitation. The proposal of organizing an IYPT team at school was delivered to the principal and to the education instruction office within half an hour. We got positive responses everywhere. It was amazing. The notice was put up before lunch break to the students. More than ten students came to the program introduction 2 days later. 8 students made their decisions to participate.
The students very much looked forward to our instruction, but they got completely lost.
Actually, we were not able to instruct them, as all the problems are open in nature. We were not even certain about the theoretical background of some of the problems. The only thing we could do at that moment was to ask students to select problems they might be interested in, to do as much research as they possibly could, and to figure out the direction of study. We hoped to make a breakthrough from their survey. Zhou Qian wrote all of us a letter, full of passion. She encouraged not only the students but also our teachers to persevere.
These puzzles had been stimulating our nerves endlessly. Very soon, 12 physics teachers were attracted to take part in the IYPT program. Some discussed how to set up apparatus, while others sorted out supporting theory. We visited physics professors at Shenzhen University, analyzed readings collected by sensors and processed all data by computer. Numerous failures made answers more and more reasonable.
For example, to investigate different parameters that affects the softness of sand. We know that dry sand is rather soft to walk on when compared to damp sand. However, sand containing a significant amount of water becomes soft again. One student believed that surface tension was the main reason; another one thought that adhesive force played an important role. This free response exhibited fascination with the nature of science, which is logical and open, and is truly extraordinary, as we were all raised in a test taking system to seek only one correct answer in solving a problem.
The laboratory installed 16 sets of computer and sensors, and attracted more and more students and teachers, talking, doing research or engaged in heated discussion, even over the winter holidays.
We were all surprised by why we could sustain consistent passion on these questions. At first, we were more likely to be curious about the unknown answers. Gradually, we realized that the open nature of the problems is the main source of inspiration. Only because of interest, we gathered together. We were hooked.