Physics Learning, Physics Teaching, William Pinar

Reconstructing Students' Physics Learning Paths, with help from William Pinar's Method of Currere

April 06, 2021

By Solmaz Khodaeifaal

Using my experiences as a physics student, physics teacher, and science educator—with help from William Pinar's method of currere—I attempt to redesign and reconstruct students' physics learning path through a program called Science Circles Program. According to Pinar's method, "returning to the past (the "regressive") and imagining the future (the "progressive") must be understood (the "analytic") for the self to become "expanded," and complicated, then, finally, mobilized (Pinar, 2012, p. 5). From my viewpoint, this means one returns to the self and to lived experiences: the roots of and reasons for acquired knowledge and consciousness. One attempts to remember, review, understand, connect, analyze, detect (not only the issues and gaps but also the opportunities, strengths, accomplishments, and successes), synthesize for various objectives, envision the future, conclude in the present, save wherever is possible, apply whenever is needed, and finally again utilize in the present to develop the outcomes. The present is and should be the moment of the act and turn. The moment of change.

In the Science Circles Program at Math Potentials, I review the past and act in the present by envisioning the future of those who will become young physicists. While I strongly believe that students in grades 8 and 9 are able to learn not only the principles of waves but also an understanding of quantum physics, I also resonate with some incidents connected to students', particularly females, preferences, interests, participation, and representation in the field of physics. I raise this question: what is the aftermath of teaching in either vacant physics classrooms or only one or two students? I have been, have seen, and have taught in such a classroom. As Pinar (2019) argues, from this regressive moment—"reactivating the past in the present—I move to the progressive moment, in which we focus on futuristic conceptions of education as exclusively technological" (p. 8). In these moments, adolescents can learn about well-established technologies connected to their everyday lives.

Such moments could also be seen as part of a huge shift and a desire for revolution, as asserted by Klaus Schwab in The Fourth Industrial Revolution (2016). The crisis of COVID-19 is reshaping everything, especially education—our classrooms and environments (Schleicher, 2020; Reimers & Schleicher, 2020). Technology and digital objects are becoming important parts of our bodies. Though now attachable and detachable, these objects may soon be implanted: able to read brainwaves as well as other signals and also recognize potentially unexpressed thoughts or moods (Schwab, 2016). Technology and our minds, which frequently hover over the past, the present, and the future, are genuinely collaborating. It seems we must become accustomed and habituated to the technologies, as Adams and Thompson claim (2016, pp. 1–22). This is the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. And if, as Schwab (2016) argues, STEM skills are the backbone of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, then most professions will require a basic understanding of science and mathematics.

After considering the future in the present during such a "progressive moment," I turn to reflection and self-understanding, the first analytic moment of currere. As noted by Pinar (2019, 2012, 2004), in this moment we detect "anti-intellectual conditions" and "anti-intellectualism." Indeed, what counts as knowledge and education when information is either easily accessed or noticeably traded? What are the impacts and consequences of information without intellectual, critical, and ethical factors and principles? In "What Is Curriculum Theory?" Pinar (2019) offers his solutions to mitigate anti-intellectual conditions: "self-criticism" and "complicated conversation" with ourselves, our students, and our academic subjects will keep us away from an "anti-intellectualism" that is deep-rooted and prevalent in the field of education.

This complicated conversation occurs with the intellectual freedom to create the curriculum we teach and our pedagogical approaches to teach and assess students' learning (Pinar, 2019). We, educators, have to overcome anti-intellectual barriers; thus, our aim is to continue the project of "intellectualization" (as emphasized by Pinar) if we really are teachers, not technicians in a factory of skills and knowledge. As a science educator, I wonder whether students are being indoctrinated and "forced to learn what the test-makers declare to be important" in education, as Pinar asserts (2004, p. 10). We must facilitate intellectual conditions that allow us (teachers, parents, educators, administrators, and curriculum developers) to individually and professionally "mobilize" ourselves (Pinar, 2019) to act.

We need to help adolescents fulfill their potential and prepare for future careers and their role as 21st century citizens in a rapidly changing world by supporting their learning and engagement through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). We need to remember "what is at stake in the education of children, an education in which creativity and individuality, not test-taking skills, are primary" (Pinar, 2004, p. 10).

I use Pinar’s autobiographical approach because "such an autobiographical sequence of ourselves as individuals and as educators might enable us to awaken from the nightmare we are living in the present" (Pinar, 2004, p. 5): the nightmare of miseducation, underrepresentation, and indoctrination. By making a place in education for "creativity, erudition, and interdisciplinary intellectuality" (Pinar, 2012, p.11), I consciously return to my past, imagine the future of education and profession, analyze and mobilize myself, and reconstruct a curriculum and pedagogy in the present to improve students' physics learning in the Science Circles Program.

To sum up, Pinar’s method of currere asks us to slow down, remember, even re-enter the past, and to meditatively imagine the future. I envision a future when youths learn physics not as a school subject and a required course in their formal education, but as scientific knowledge for living and working toward a more sustainable future, for thriving in the modern workplace and in their careers.


Adams, C. & Thompson, T. (2016). Researching a Posthuman World. Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Pinar, W. (2004). What is curriculum theory? (1st edition). Routledge.

Pinar, W. (2012). What is curriculum theory? (2nd edition). Routledge.

Pinar, W. (2019). What is curriculum theory? (3rd edition). Routledge.

Reimers, F. M. & Schleicher, A. (2020). Schooling disrupted, schooling rethought: How the Covid-19 pandemic is changing education. OECD.

Schleicher, A. (2020, Nov 17). Impacts of COVID-19 on education and remote learning. What comes next? [Webinar]. OECD.

Schwab, K. (2016). The fourth industrial revolution. World Economic Forum.

About the author:

Solmaz Khodaeifaal is a doctoral student 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 these relate to achievements in their lives and schools. 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: