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Teaching methodologies of modern and contemporary physics aimed at high school: inconsistencies regarding applicability

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DANTAS, Cícero Samuel Gonçalves [1]

DANTAS, Cícero Samuel Gonçalves. Teaching methodologies of modern and contemporary physics aimed at high school: inconsistencies regarding applicability. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year. 06, Ed. 12, Vol. 09, pp. 103-114. December 2021. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access link:


The insertion of topics of Modern and Contemporary Physics (FMC)[2][3] in schools in Brazil today is already a reality in textbooks focused on high school. It is not enough just to insert such contents in the textbooks worked by teachers in classrooms, it is also necessary to analyze relevant aspects involved in the teaching-learning process that enable meaningful teaching. Through a bibliographic review research, the objective of this article is to analyze the teaching methodologies directed to the teaching of the FMC, observing the divergences or inconsistencies regarding the application in high school, which, as is known, presents numerous problems of both curricular and structural character. The analyses showed that some methodologies implemented run away from the reality of Brazilian schools, such as the excess of FMC topics, contrasting the number of classes aimed at the discipline of Physics.

Keywords: Bibliographic Review, Teaching Methodologies, Modern and Contemporary Physics.


Historically, the study of physics is divided into three major stages: Classical Physics (FC)[4]; comprises the works developed by Copernicus, Galileo and Newton; Modern Physics; set of theories that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century; and Contemporary Physics beginning at the end of the second world war whose main interest is subatomic particles (DOMINGUINI, 2012). Thus, in general, Modern and Contemporary Physics (FMC) emerges at the beginning of the 20th century to modify and complement the concepts of Classical Physics, starting with the hypothesis of Max Planck (of energy quantization) to solve the problem of the black body. In 1905, Albert Einstein published articles dealing with the photoelectric effect, the quantum of light, restricted relativity and the Brownian movement. At the end of 1920 the theoretical structure of Modern Physics was completed with the works of Schrodinger, Broglie, Heisenberg and others (SALES et al., 2008).

There are several reasons to teach FMC in high school. One of them is the large number of technological implications (TORRE, 1998), because the study of the FMC allows students to read and interpret the current technological society, making the knowledge more significant for them (GARCIA; LOCK, 2009). Examples of technologies available in our society based on FMC’sadvances are mobile phones, tablets and computers.

Teaching FMC in high school is not an easy task, both from a practical and theoretical point of view. Therefore, the approach to this area of physics has been causing concern in researchers and teachers for a long time (CARUSO; FREITAS, 2009). To Gil et al. (1987), since the 1980s, there is an interest in inserting contents of Modern Physics in high school. Since 2002, several topics on Modern Physics have been implemented in high school, among which we can mention: Spectral Lines, Theory of Relativity, Elementary Particles and Wave-Particle Duality. All these themes were developed by scholars in the field, both in higher education and high school (PIETROCOLA AND SABINO, 2016).

For Garcia and Costa (2014) teaching physics is quite complex and, therefore, there is great difficulty of students in this discipline. Costa (2004) states that physics is one of the disciplines, if not the most, that fail in high school because of the requirement of minimum knowledge of algebra, logical reasoning and an extensive set of scientific theories. Because of this complication that involves the study of physics, many students end up unmotivated and, in addition to the distaste, we abandon studies.

Although it is essential to study the FMC, it is known that there are several factors that “make it impossible” to effectively teach FMC in high school, such as low workload of the discipline, on average two classes per week of Physics, lack of environments in schools that enable the implementation of exploratory or experimental classes, in addition to the excess content of the FC itself. So, is it possible to apply a methodology directed to the teaching of FMC In such adverse situations?

The aim of this research is to analyze some teaching methodologies published in journals in Brazil in the last 20 years, going back from the beginning of 2020, observing the inconsistencies found regarding the applicability in high school with regard to the study of themes of Modern and Contemporary Physics (FMC).

We selected 17 papers in journals and analyzed between May and July 2020 for this research, which were: Caderno Brasileiro de Ensino de Física, from UFSC; Experiências em Ensino de Ciências, from UFMT; Física na Escola; Investigações em Ensino de Ciências, in addition to the data available and selected in Google Scholar. The selection of the works was made using the keyword “methodology in Modern and Contemporary Physics (FMC)” in the databases of the above-mentioned sources.

Finally, it is worth noting that the number of studies found was very large. Thus, the choice of articles was disaggregated according to the methodologies whose applicability was closer to the reality of schools and, mainly, to students.

The next topic describes the teaching methodologies of FMC directed to secondary education.


This topic was divided into two parts: in the first we discuss methodologies that address the Theory of Special Relativity (TSR) and quantum theory, specifically. The second part deals with teaching methodologies for themes of Modern and Contemporary Physics in general.


The proposal of the work of Pietrocola and Sabino (2016) is to investigate what knowledge teachers must have in so that they can insert a teaching sequence focused on modern physics themes. To this end, they used the qualitative analysis of the data through recordings of the classes on the Photoelectric Effect, taught by teachers of the state public school system. The activities were distributed in six classes whose objectives were: to simulate the investigative character, such that the students relate the occurrence of the phenomenon; exhibition, analysis and discussion of a video about the concept of quantum and, questionnaire resolution, in addition to reading and interpreting text on the photoelectric effect.

The two authors mentioned above propose an innovative methodology, making students more participatory and autonomous during classes. One of the difficulties pointed out by the authors was the need for a better “preparation” of curricular knowledge by teachers. Therefore, based on this information, we can conclude that the application of this teaching methodology requires continuous preparation of teachers on FMC topics.

Using a virtual physics environment, Sales et al. (2008) discuss the application of a Learning Object (LO), called “Quantum Duck”, applying exploratory activities in the calculation of Planck’s constant, using, as theoretical reference, David Ausubel’s [5] theory of significant learning . The goal of LO is to facilitate the understanding of the photoelectric effect.

Using the experimental device, teachers enable students to interact more with the physical world and with new problem situations of the phenomena discussed, through the modification of variables during the simulation, immediately, which could not be performed in concrete practice. Teaching through LO proved to be accessible to the teaching of some physical concepts, showing to be a tool allied to the teacher during didactic situations in the classroom.

Caruso and Freitas (2009) discuss Einstein’s relativity in comics (topics such as the unification of space-time, the mass-energy relationship and the dilation of time), that is, through comic strips based on the work of a student of the Education Workshop through Comics (ODUHQ [6]). This proposal shows that this language helps school themes (such as RrT). That is, the basic idea of this methodology is the link between Art and Physics.

The interesting thing about this project is that the student does not engender knowledge, he only translates knowledge into the language of comics; provided, of course, the student understands the content studied. Another positive point in this approach is the fact that the comic strips are easily developed in the classroom and, of course, maintain originality. The authors state that the use of comic strips can help the teacher to stimulate students to reflect before a given content (CARUSO; FREITAS, 2009).

The methodology based on comic books, in addition to interdisciplinarity, enables the development of creativity and imagination of students. However, many teachers use them only as an illustrative medium in their classes (CARUSO; FREITAS, 2009).

Through a historical approach, Wolf and Mors (2006) treat concepts of the Theory of Special Relativity (TSR) in high school, both in private and public schools. The didactic material produced by the authors has two texts: the first is aimed at the teacher and the other for the students. In the students material the authors focus on two aspects; one historical and one conceptual. The teacher’s material seeks to support him in teaching the approach to the concepts of TSR, highlighting from the thought of Aristotle (empiric vision), through the work of Galileo until reaching the TSR of Einstein.

It is worth mentioning that the acceptance of the theme by the students was one of the main results found by the authors in the historical approach, because those were not accustomed to this methodology in the classroom.

Cavalcante; Tavolaro and Haag (2005) present several experimental proposals for the study of emission and absorption spectra, in addition to a proposal with low cost materials for observation of absorption spectrum. Through a manual spectroscope, the authors obtained the spectra of a commercial mercury (Hg) lamp and a red LED (semiconductor) in order to compare with the other methods approached by them.

Using a constructivist approach, Silva and Rodrigues (2013) analyze four different methodological approaches on the photoelectric effect, and how those influence high school students. The strategies used were: history of science (HC); Science, Technology and Society (STS); concrete experiments and explanation of the phenomenon through exhibition classes.


Moreira and Osterman’s (2000) work is a bibliographic review in the area of Modern and Contemporary Physics (FMC). Methodological issues (our griffin), epistemological, historical, teaching strategies in the field of FMC are the focus of the work of these authors. In their conclusions, two difficulties in implementing the themes of CMF in high school are identified: the first is which theme(s) should be inserted into the school curriculum; and the second how to put such themes.

Garcia and Lock’s work (2009) analyzes works developed for the insertion of Modern and Contemporary Physics in high school, such as the Theory of Relativity (TR), Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics and Superconductivity. Analyzing the results, the authors concluded that there are few teaching proposals aimed at some areas of FMC, such as particle physics (our griffin).

Using the theory of meaningful learning, Garcia and Costa (2014) propose a methodological approach to the insertion of the FMC in high school, through experimental practices and applications in astronomy. The teaching material with 6 teaching units consists of 16 activities divided into 39 classes in which readings, discussions of scientific articles, experiments, videos and simulators of the Internet were worked. Each teaching unit presents proposed activities. In unit two, for example, the students carried out an experiment whose objective was to measure the thickness of a hair using a beam of light (laser).

The authors (GARCIA E COSTA, 2014) applied a pre-test to diagnose the students’ previous knowledge about the proposed themes. It was verified, after the application of the pre-test, that the students had no previous knowledge; virtually nil. However, after the activities, that is, post-test, the authors verified that the results were convincing in relation to the pre-test. The methodological proposal made the classes more dynamic, the students more participative and interested in them.

The Cavalcante and Tavolaro project (2001) allows the insertion of the FMC, more specifically the study of the dual behavior of light, in high school through workshops, using low cost materials. The workshops are divided into two parts: in the first the authors show experiments that prove the wavenature of light through interference and diffraction, typical phenomena of waves. In the second part, to evidence the corpuscular behavior of light, the authors conducted experiments in which the transformation of light energy into electric energy was observed. That is, the photoelectric effect. In addition to concrete experiments, they also used software available on the internet to investigate the dependence of the kinetic energy of electrons emitted with the frequency of light emitted in electron removal.

Parisoto; Moreira e Almeida (2017) publishes a proposal to teach concepts of Electromagnetism, Optics, Waves and FMC in the context of medicine, using David Ausubel’s theory of significant learning as a theoretical reference. Medical applications such as ultrasound, human eye function, radiography functioning, mammography, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Nuclear Medicine (MC) and Computed Tomography (CT) are part of the proposal. The structure of the proposal was divided into five meetings (of 10 h/class) whose strategies used by the authors were, among others: previous organizers, computational modeling, simulations and construction of conceptual maps.

Oliveira; Vianna and Gerbassi (2007) conducted a qualitative research with high school teachers whose objective was to know their opinion on the introduction of FMC topics (specifically X-rays) in secondary education. The work served as the basis for the construction of a methodological proposal where the selected theme was contemplated from a STS (Science, Technology and Society) perspective.

Costa’s teaching proposal (2004) allows working concepts of FMC with simple instruments of daily life, because many phenomena of nature can be studied through experiments and these are the basis for understanding topics (the law of Wien displacement, for example) of FMC. In addition to conducting experiments with concrete materials, the author proposes virtual experiments (simulations) such as the photoelectric effect.


Currently it is essential to insert FMC topics in the school curriculum; not only in the high school curriculum, but also in the curriculum of elementary school. However, certain inconsistencies were noticed in the methodologies analyzed here for the effective insertion of FMC themes in high school. The first concerns the authors’ concern only in inserting FMC themes in high school, forgetting other relevant aspects involved in the school context, because it is not enough just to insert themes of FMC in the curriculum, it is necessary that students learn significantly (in principle) the content programmed and taught in the classroom from FC topics.

Proposal of Parisoto; Moreira and Almeida (2017), although it is quite interesting in many respects, presents an excess of topics selected by the authors, which exceed the workload of physics classes in schools in Brazil, in general, are two classes of 50 minutes per week, for their effective implementation. Here is the question, so: is it possible to apply a methodology directed to the teaching of FMC In such adverse situations? The answer is “no”, because schools aim only at the approval of students in exams and external tests, “aiming” only at the memorization of content for the approval of those. The number of themes due to the workload, therefore, of that teaching methodology is inconsistent for the reality (today) of most Brazilian schools.

According to Costa (2004) the experiments in the area of FMC allow students to interact more with the studied phenomena. However, the number of themes proposed in its methodology is high, which makes it inconsistent due to the small amount of physics classes in high school in our country.

On the other hand, one of the methodologies, the use of experimental workshops, which are closer to the reality of Brazilian schools, regarding the issue of cost is that of Cavalcante and Tavolaro (2001), because the authors choose to use everyday materials of students, thus facilitating the learning of FMC themes in high school.


Based on the analyses made about the work described here and based on the curriculum and structural problems of the school environment, it is perceived that the best way to insert new methodologies on some topic of FMC is throughout the physics course throughout the textbooks, not only in the third year, but since the initial years in which the physics discipline is inserted in the school curriculum. That is, when addressing the movement of bodies in the mechanical course in elementary or high school, it is possible for the teacher to work, (in parallel, the relativity of time and the contraction of space (Einstein’s theory of relativity), using, whenever possible, the methodology that most appropriates the reality of the class, both at the cognitive and material level. Another example would be in relation to the atomic structure of matter (beginning of the course of electricity, third year of high school): the teacher can therefore introduce the concept of antimatter in parallel to that. In short: for each topic of Classical Physics, the teacher can, without any loss, insert corresponding/complementary themes of the FMC for that topic worked, always opting for methodologies that contemplate the use of materials easily accessible to students.


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2. Física Moderna e Contemporânea (FMC).

3. By Modern and Contemporary Physics we mean all the scientific knowledge developed in the area of Physics from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.

4. Física Clássica (FC).

5. David Ausubel (1918-2008) was an American researcher who developed the concept of subsumer (prior knowledge). For him, the more the human being knows, the more he learns. For more information, see: <>. Access: 13/07/2020.

6. Available in: <>. Acess: 25/06/2020.

[1] Master in Physics Teaching, postgraduate in Industrial Control and Automation Engineering, Graduated in Physics and Technologist in Industrial Maintenance.

Submitted: March, 2021.

Approved: December, 2021.

4.7/5 - (4 votes)
Cícero Samuel Gonçalves Dantas

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