Description of Physics Programs and Curriculum

Norway: Description of Physics Programs and Curriculum

TIMSS 2003 and PISA 2003 showed a decrease in Norwegian students’ performance in mathematics and science in compulsory school compared with TIMSS 1995 and PISA 2000. This resulted in a broad discussion about how to improve the learning outcomes in Norway. A big effort was made to change the curriculum for all subjects in all 13 grades. There was an agreement nationally that something had to be done, and the new curriculum received support across all political parties in the parliament. It was called the Knowledge Promotion Reform, and was implemented in the autumn of 2006. The last cohort using the previous curriculum was in Grade 13 in the 2007–2008 school year, which means that these students were assessed in TIMSS Advanced 2008. Students assessed in TIMSS Advanced 2015 have been taught according to the 2006 curriculum.

In the present curriculum, two features stand out. First, the learning goals are formulated as competencies. Second, there are five basic skills (literacies) which are supposed to be used and developed in all subjects and at all levels: the ability to express oneself orally, the ability to read, the ability to express oneself in writing, the ability to use digital tools, and numeracy. Digital devices are supposed to be widely used in teaching, learning, and testing.

The following table indicates topics taught in the courses Physics 1 and Physics 2, normally taken in Grades 12 and 13, respectively.

Content Area Topics
Classical Physics (Physics 1 and 2) Force vectors and Newton’s Three Laws of Motion; the concepts of energy, work and effect, conservation of mechanical energy; friction, air resistance, calculations in situations with constant friction; qualitative understanding of the first and second laws of thermodynamics; current, voltage and resistance, conservation of charge, simple and branched direct current circuits; frequency, period, wavelength and wave speed, bending and interference; electric fields, Coulomb’s law; Newton’s law of gravitation; magnetic fields around permanent magnets and electric currents, magnetic flux, magnetic flux density around a straight conductor, force on a conductor in a magnetic field, Faraday’s induction law; application of Newton’s laws in vector form for motion in homogeneous magnetic fields and in a homogeneous gravitational fields; acceleration and forces in circular motion, and on objects at the top and bottom of a vertical circular path; conservation of momentum for one-dimensional collisions
Modern Physics
(Physics 1 and 2)
Bohr’s atom model, frequencies and wavelengths of spectral lines in emission and absorption spectra; fission and fusion processes; Stefan-Boltzmann’s law and Wien’s displacement law; HR diagrams; the life-cycle of a star, how elements are produced in stars; the standard model for the evolution of the universe; the basis for the special theory of relativity, qualitative discussion of some consequences of this theory for time, momentum and energy, qualitative description of the general theory of relativity; Einstein’s explanation of photoelectric effect, qualitative discussion of experiments with the photoelectric effect, Compton scattering and the wave nature of particles; conservation laws that apply in processes with elementary particles, the interaction between elementary particles; Heisenberg’s uncertainty relations, ”entangled photons”
Explaining Nature Through Mathematics
(Physics 1 and 2)
Parameter presentation of rectilinear movement of a particle; creation of mathematical models for relations between physical quantities found experimentally; the use of mathematical models as sources for qualitative and quantitative information; the use of differential and integral calculus to find position, velocity and acceleration; the use of calculus to find work and change in potential energy in central fields and for a spring that stretches
The Young Researcher
(Physics 1 and 2)
Key features of scientific method in physics; examples of explanation models that are inconsistent with physics and scientific methodology; how a researcher’s approach, expectations and experiences can affect research; planning and implementation of experiments; collecting and processing data, presentation and evaluation of results; simulation programs; examples of scientific experiments, uncertainty in data and results, assessing the limitations of methods
Physics and Technology
(Physics 1 and 2)
The difference between conductors, semi-conductors and insulators based on the atom model, doping of semi-conductors; the construction and use of a diode and a transistor; light detectors in digital photography; how modern sensors are characterized, and how the sensors’ characteristics set limits for measurements; technological applications of induction; physical principles behind medical examinations such as X-rays, ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging; sampling and digital processing of sound

The previous curriculum for physics involved a more quantitative approach to the subject than the present one in certain subject areas. For instance, thermodynamics (including the ideal gas law) is only discussed qualitatively in the present curriculum. In the previous curriculum, students were required to perform simple calculations concerning heating and cooling of physical objects and similar processes. In the present curriculum, there is instead a greater emphasis on a qualitative knowledge of a broader range of physical topics, including the theory of relativity, quantum theory, and technological applications of physics. Also, discussions on a meta-level (such as can be found under the heading “the young researcher”) are more emphasized in the present curriculum. There have only been minor adjustments made to the curriculum after 2006.

Not all students have to take a national written exam in physics. For Physics 1 there is no national written exam, since Physics 1 is defined as an “oral-practical” subject. For Physics 2, about 60 percent of the students are sampled for a written exam. For the local oral exam about 7 percent and 20 percent of the students in the respective courses are sampled for testing. Both the new and the previous curriculum emphasize the use of digital tools in physics. Under previous curricula, a liberal policy was developed to encourage and allow an extensive use of aids in all teaching and testing. Written notes and advanced calculators were normally allowed in local tests as well as in national written examinations. This has changed in the present curriculum. The written exam in Physics 2 is now divided into two parts. The first part is solved by pen and paper only; no aids are allowed. The second part allows the use of all aids which cannot communicate.

There is no national certification of teaching materials, such as textbooks, in Norway. The authors and publishers are free to decide the content of a textbook; the responsibility for covering the national curriculum rests on the school and the teacher.

Generally, one may say that the present curriculum emphasizes qualitative aspects of physics more, and quantitative aspects less, than the previous curriculum did. There are fewer and simpler calculations made in physics now than before.