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Here is a scan from an old Soviet textbook for school children: http://storage5.static.itmages.ru/i/11/0129/h_1296295703_dda36c65eb.png

It shows the table of quarks and antiquarks of different generations, colours, spins. The book also includes similar tables of gluons and their interactions with quarks and between themselves. They all are coded in this fancy cake-shape code.

The standard model table includes Z and W-bosons, gluons as well as graviton and gravitino.

What do you think about such manner of teaching physics and in general, what do you think about appropriateness of teaching Standard Model in junior school?

Some other images from the book (quark-gluon interactions, hadron decay):

quarks-gluon interactiondecay of hadrons

Illustration in a chapter about quantum parity:

quantum parity

Tha book has chapters about quantum chromodynamics, spontaneous symmetry breaking, quantum parity and so on.

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This is just lovely! –  Sklivvz Jan 29 '11 at 18:39
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This really seems to be more of a discussion than a question - it isn't looking for an answer, it's just collecting opinions, which is not what this site is for. –  David Z Jan 29 '11 at 21:35
    
Still, it is interesting information :) –  Gordon Feb 2 '11 at 17:49
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closed as not constructive by David Z Jan 29 '11 at 21:32

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4 Answers

While I agree with @Sigel arguments, that the substructure of matter should be delayed until the appropiate age for understanding its process of discovery, I think that it should exist an appropiate way to answer the question if the kids ask it.

We can not just answer "turtles until the end" not to appeal to mistery or legend. And while we can explain that the technical details of the argument will be addressed at later ages, we must still stress that they can be addressed by the use of reason and experiment.

This implies that the teacher could need some support material in order to focus on how to answer this question -substructure of matter- if it is asked. The booklet above contains some good ideas, but it should never be a main teaching material, it should be support material.

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It's chronologically impossible to write about M-theory in Soviet textbook. The good thing is when bright kids have access to information and can ask knowledgeable people the questions.

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Indeed. But there is a chapter about the grand unified theory. –  Anixx Jan 29 '11 at 14:18
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First of all I should say that I find this particular way of presenting quarks rather unfortunate. Not only it delivers very little physics information, but it's even quite misleading (I mean those fancy shapes). On the other hand, I do believe that teaching some modern physics at high school is extremely important. Of course the students do not have the background to understand how quantum mechanics works - maybe apart from the semiclassical approaches such as Bohr quantization which should be avoided at any cost since it only leads to confusion. Of course, as Nigel Seel pointed out, the students should absorb the theory-experiment relation and understand their role. However, an equally (and sometimes even more) important part of the education of possible future scientists is a motivation for choosing a research career. Thus, the students should get in touch with modern physics as soon as possible so that they are not discouraged by the fact that they have to go through many years of study of theoretical background that was developed more than 100 years ago. In fact, one can get their hands on and have a lot of fun with physics without really understanding deeply the underlying theory. I expect objections that classical mechanics and all the other standard high school material can also be made interesting, yet I think that for the sake of motivation, nothing can beat showing the students a (though tiny) part of the actual current research.

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Exactly, it's disheartening that even at university level the exciting topics that encouraged people to study physics in the first place are sometimes postponed until later years of the course. +1. –  Nigel Seel Jan 29 '11 at 12:22
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@Nigel: I disagree, sorry :) It's nice that people are excited about doing physics but you can't really study exciting topics before you mastered all the underlying "boring" physics and mathematics and that simply takes time. I know what I am talking about; I wanted to study strings since high school and was occasionally trying ever since then but it was only after going through lots of math courses and QFT and GR that trying to learn them became worthwhile. –  Marek Jan 29 '11 at 17:02
    
When I did physics at university - plenty of years ago now :-( they did neither QM or SR in the first year. I was not impressed. –  Nigel Seel Jan 29 '11 at 19:16
    
@Marek: There is a lot of physics besides string theory one can do without having a deep knowledge of quantum field theory and all that. For example, a lot of very exciting experimental work in the field of the ultracold atomic gases can de done with just moderate knowledge of quantum mechanics. Moreover, one should really not insist on mastering all the necessary background before starting any research. In this respect, the essay "Scientist: Four golden lessons" by Steven Weinberg is quite encouraging. –  Tomáš Brauner Jan 29 '11 at 21:23
    
@Tomáš: well, I must admit I have a very little knowledge of experimental physics so it might be possible. But in theoretical physics I don't think one can start a reasonable research before finishing at least undergraduate studies. Sure, sometimes you can learn while researching. But it only works if the stuff you have to learn is not too hard or there is not too much of it. So you definitely need a good background before attempting anything non-trivial. –  Marek Jan 29 '11 at 21:35
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Of course, we don't know the age of the soviet schoolchildren here but I think we can be confident that they wouldn't have the background to understand the quark model. So it's just sterile dogma - empty facts for memorisation.

The crucial point which distinguishes physics, and science in general is that it's experimental. The theory is not taken on trust or authority, in the end it has passed experimental tests. This is the critical insight that school students need to absorb, through doing experiments and seeing how the theory they're taught is anchored in practical experience. Even future theorists need to understand that lesson.

If there is a way to introduce 20th century ideas such as QM and RT in such a way at school level I applaud it, but based on the experience of TV popular science I'm sadly skeptical.

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When you learned that Earth is round did you perform the measurement? And what about Earth's core being liquid? And millions of other facts? It's enough that the children are taught the right facts, they don't need to understand why they are true (because to understand everything would take few full human lives dedicated to science anyway...). So I think it's great to teach Standard Model along biology, chemistry and all the other knowledge. –  Marek Jan 29 '11 at 11:41
    
You don't of course have to do all the experiments yourself (where did I say that?). The point is to understand that the experiments were done, or could have been done in principle. Many school children do in fact learn in school how experimentally the earth was shown to be spherical. –  Nigel Seel Jan 29 '11 at 11:51
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Some experimenting is ok, it may be attractive to juniors. In general, junior school is not to train future physics cracks. Physics in school is one contribution to understand the world and to learn of one way to gain insight into nature. Analog can be said on Math, Latin..... –  Georg Jan 29 '11 at 12:42
    
@Nigel: yes, but how does the "experiments were done" point differ from anything else that is taught at school? In other words, what's so special about Standard Model in comparison with, say composition of DNA? –  Marek Jan 29 '11 at 13:48
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@arivero: well, people in physics and math are lucky because they can usually derive and check things for themselves. But for everything else you need priests and popes. It reminds me of a quote actually: "New York has gone. No reaction. He'd never seriously believed it existed anyway." :) –  Marek Jan 29 '11 at 17:27
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