Scientific curriculum, Physics teaching and learning, Science education, Curriculum development

Developing an Updated and Adapted Scientific Curriculum to Support Adolescents’ Physics Learning

April 04, 2022

By Solmaz Khodaeifaal

Our contemporary life has been strongly interwoven with technology and digital devices, and the crisis of COVID-19 has strengthened this connection and dependency more than ever. As such, young students need greater awareness of and desire to prepare for this new technological and digital future, as recommended by NSF (2020), NSERC (2021), CCA (2015), and the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (2015). This also requires curricula and pedagogical updates and adaption for acquiring such knowledge and achieving our goals in the future (Elbeck, 2018; Science, Technology and Innovation Council, 2015; DeCoito, 2016). This goal asks for revolutionary initiatives in a physics science curriculum (He et al., 2021; Venegas-Gomez, 2020; Duit et al., 2014; DeCoito, 2016, 2015; Amgen and Canada and Let’s Talk Science, 2019).

For the aim of teaching and learning such a curriculum and the scientists’ science related to our contemporary life, we as teachers, educators, curriculum developers, and education leaders have to employ a curriculum and pedagogy updated and adapted to the Fourth Industrial Revolution to strongly support young students’ science learning in quantum mechanics. As I argue in my thesis, quantum physics is the focal point and intersection of the physical, biological, and digital technologies and sciences of the 21st century.

Indeed, in science education, is it not worth learning the fundamentals, concepts, and sciences behind the technologies and their influential everyday experiences? Today’s problems and concerns will change not only due to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Schwab, 2016, 2017, 2021; Schwab & Davis, 2018; WEF, 2020a, 2020b) but because of the nature of science. For instance, physicists and researchers are still striving to explore more in quantum physics and overcome some major challenges, such as using light to build a quantum computer (Preskill, 2018; Walmsley, 2015).

One of the main topics students focus on to initiate their learning is light, from electromagnetic spectrum of light to Young’s double slit experiment and wave-particle duality. Light is not only connected to our everyday lives but is also a contemporary scientific problem; scientists are still observing and investigating light to know its behaviour. Quantum mechanics beautifully and quintessentially describes the behaviour of light and its particles, photons (Barad, 2007; Feynman, 1985; De Broglie, 1929). It is the behaviour that all quantized things like electrons, protons, and neutrons show in an atom (Barad, 2007; De Broglie, 1929; Walker, 2002; Hawkes et al., 2014). Their behaviours cannot be described and justified in classical physics (Barad, 2007; Feynman, 1985; De Broglie, 1929). We need to step into and learn from modern physics with its own ways of looking at nature and its phenomena.

In brief, the aim is to benefit the most from the least time spent on classical physics. Let students explore modern and contemporary science and knowledge; let them know there are many different ways of thinking and solving problems rather than using the classical foundations and principles.

The physicist Richard Feynman states that “Nature isn’t classical …, and if you want to make a simulation of Nature, you’d better make it quantum mechanical” (Feynman, 1982, p. 486). There are problems in science that scientists have failed to solve with classical physics and digital computers, like quantum physics problems that could be easily solved with quantum computers (Preskill, 2018). This is where our young scientists can think of using quantum physics for the future (He et al., 2021; Venegas-Gomez, 2020; Akdemir et al., 2021). Moreover, the nature of science—“a more encompassing phrase to describe the scientific enterprise for science education” (McComas, 2002, p. 4)—paves the way for young, interested students to make scientific discoveries in the future.

This is where we need to bring in passionate young students. As Feynman (1982) argues, “Physical knowledge is of course always incomplete, and you can always say we’ll try to design something which beats experiment at the present time […]” (p. 468). Students, even as young as grades 8 and 9, should be given opportunities to place themselves in such inquiries and basic research conditions and let them act like scientists. These are the teacher’s responsibilities.

Equally important is preparing students for career opportunities to meet future industry needs—requiring an extremely skilled and educated quantum workforce (He et al., 2021; Amin et al., 2019; Venegas-Gomez, 2020). To fulfill this aim, we “need to introduce quantum concepts early on in K-12 schools since the learning of quantum is a lengthy process” (He et al., 2021, p. 418; also see Amin et al., 2019; Venegas-Gomez, 2020). This pedagogical aim is exactly what I emphasize in my study.


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About the author:

Solmaz Khodaeifaal is a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Education—Educational Theory and Practice: Curriculum and Pedagogy at Simon Fraser University. Her focus is on students’ engagement, their active roles in learning physics, and how youths can learn quantum mechanics at an early age. Solmaz is Director and Instructor of the Science Circles Program at Math Potentials Inc. in BC and has a background in Atomic Applied Physics, Business Administration, and Education (MED, MBA, BSC). Email address: