For many people, the phrase “quantum physics” evokes images of science fiction-like technology, a vaguely puzzled sensation, or perhaps just a shudder. Yet for a growing number of secondary school teachers worldwide and their teenage students, quantum physics represents a gateway to a lifelong love of science.

Kirsten Stadermann is one such teacher. Although she originally intended to make a career of researching laser physics, she “accidentally” started teaching in Holland when a local school lost a teacher unexpectedly.

“It was such a great experience,” she recalls of her first few months on the job. “At the school I was smiling all day long… and I thought, well, that’s what I want to do.”

Stadermann started off scouring the literature for mention of state and national standards that mentioned one or more topics generally regarded as modern or quantum physics*. Although she faced difficulties in finding readily accessible documents, which ultimately limited her study to mostly European countries, she analyzed the curricula of 15 countries that mention quantum physics—five more than had been previously studied. In addition, some of the countries (Germany, for example) set their educational standards on a state-by-state basis, so in total, she reviewed 23 different curriculum documents.

Stadermann recalls, “[At first] I was a little bit afraid that in the end they couldn’t pass the exams… but the funny part is that these classes—where we had these discussions—did much better than the other classes.”

One of the biggest challenges faced by physics teachers lies in the fact that quantum physics is anything but straightforward. Indeed, it’s the very fact that there is no one “right” interpretation that many students are excited by the subject. “It’s very important to show them…that everybody understands that nobody understands it,” she says. Not only does this assuage the students’ anxieties when faced with difficult concepts, it illustrates for the students the very nature of science itself.

“Talking about interpretations from Bohr and Einstein doesn’t really help if the students are not allowed to think themselves,” she warns.

The question of testing quantum physics in secondary school is more difficult. Stadermann has used both multiple-choice questions and in-depth oral examinations to study the effectiveness of her teaching, and they tell drastically different stories. In the multiple-choice tests, her students performed poorly overall, averaging around 7 correct answers out of 20. When she actually spoke with them, though, it soon became clear that they had a broad understanding ranging over a variety of interpretations—and what’s more, they enjoyed delving into deep philosophical questions. Even more importantly in her mind, they showed a good comprehension of the nature of science. “The question is, what are we actually testing with the multiple choice tests?” she asks.

**–Eleanor Hook**

Bohr atomic model

Discrete energy levels (line spectra)

Interactions between light and matter

Wave-particle duality/complementarity

Matter waves, quantitative (de Broglie)

Technical applications

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle

Probabilistic/statistical predictions

Philosophical consequences/interpretations

One dimensional model/potential well

Tunneling

Atomic orbital model

Exclusion principle/periodic table

Entanglement

Schrödinger equation

Calculations of detection probability