Classical physics and human embodiment: The role of contemplative practice in integrating formal theory and personal experience in the undergraduate physics curriculum
Keywords:physics education, personal experience, contemplative practice, embodiment, meditation, videography
One of the objectives of the undergraduate physics curriculum is for students to become aware of the connections between the fundamental principles of classical physics and their personal experience. Nonetheless, numerous studies have shown that students’ awareness of such connections tends to deteriorate, sometimes substantially, following instruction. In this work, which constitutes the first analysis of the effects of contemplative practices on the learning experience in undergraduate physics courses, we present two practices aimed at integrating formal theory with students’ personal, embodied experience: a sensory meditation and a contemplative videography. In written reflections on their experiences with the practices, the students expressed suddenly becoming aware of countless manifestations of formal physics principles in their surroundings, in an important step toward establishing firm connections between the abstract and the experiential. Furthermore, the students reported experiencing a sense of physical embodiment, heightened sensory awareness, somatic relaxation, and mental stillness, in significant contrast to their typical experience. Students also described experiencing insight about the essential role of observation in the scientific endeavor, a reawakened sense of curiosity, an intrinsic motivation to understand the observed physical phenomena, and a deepened awareness of their cognitive and emotional processes.
Adams, W. K., Perkins, K. K., Podolefsky, N. S., Dubson, M., Finkelstein, N. D., & Wieman, C. E. (2006). New instrument for measuring student beliefs about physics and learning physics: The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 2(1), 1–14. http://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.2.010101
Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Lykins, E., Button, D., Krietemeyer, J., Sauer, S., … Williams, J. M. G. (2008). Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and nonmeditating samples. Assessment, 15(3), 329–342. http://doi.org/10.1177/1073191107313003
Barbezat, D. P., & Bush, M. (2014). Contemplative practices in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Bohlmeijer, E., Prenger, R., Taal, E., & Cuijpers, P. (2010). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy on mental health of adults with a chronic medical disease: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68(6), 539–544. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2009.10.005
Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822–848. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1242
Buchholz, L. (2015). Exploring the promise of mindfulness as medicine. Journal of the American Medical Association, 314(13), 1327–1329.
Bush, M. (2011). Mindfulness in higher education. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 183–197.
Chu, H.-E., Treagust, D. F., & Chandrasegaran, A. L. (2008). Naïve students’ conceptual development and beliefs: The need for multiple analyses to determine what contributes to student success in a university introductory physics course. Research in Science Education, 38, 111–125. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-007-9068-3
Crouch, C. H., & Heller, K. (2014). Introductory physics in biological context: An approach to improve introductory physics for life science students. American Journal of Physics, 82(5), 378–386. http://doi.org/10.1119/1.4870079
Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). Peer Instruction: Ten years of experience and results. American Journal of Physics Teachers, 69(9), 970–977. http://doi.org/10.1119/1.1374249
Francl, M. (2016). Practically impractical: Contemplative practices in science. Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, 3(1), 21–34.
Hart, T. (2004). Opening the contemplative mind in the classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2(1), 28–46. http://doi.org/10.1177/1541344603259311
Hayes, S. C., Villatte, M., Levin, M., & Hildebrandt, M. (2011). Open, aware, and active: Contextual approaches as an emerging trend in the behavioral and cognitive therapies. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 7(1), 141–168. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032210-104449
Jha, A. P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109–119. http://doi.org/10.3758/CABN.7.2.109
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2006). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156. http://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy.bpg016
Karr, A., & Wood, M. (2011). The practice of contemplative photography: Seeing the world with fresh eyes. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
Kerr, C. E., Sacchet, M. D., Lazar, S. W., Moore, C. I., & Jones, S. R. (2013). Mindfulness starts with the body: Somatosensory attention and top-down modulation of cortical alpha rhythms in mindfulness meditation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 1–15. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00012
Lasry, N., Charles, E., & Whittaker, C. (2016). Effective variations of peer instruction: The effects of peer discussions, committing to an answer, and reaching a consensus. American Journal of Physics, 84(8), 639–645. http://doi.org/10.1119/1.4955150
Levy, D. (2016). Mindful tech: How to bring balance to our digital lives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Madsen, A., McKagan, S. B., & Sayre, E. C. (2015). How physics instruction impacts students’ beliefs about learning physics. Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 11(1), 10115. http://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.11.010115
May, D. B., & Etkina, E. (2002). College physics students’ epistemological self-reflection and its relationship to conceptual learning. American Journal of Physics, 70(12), 1249–1258. http://doi.org/10.1119/1.1503377
Morrison, A. B., Goolsarran, M., Rogers, S. L., & Jha, A. P. (2014). Taming a wandering attention: Short-form mindfulness training in student cohorts. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 1–12. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00897
National Research Council Committee on Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation. (2013). Adapting to a Changing World: Challenges and Opportunities in Undergraduate Physics Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. http://doi.org/10.17226/18312
Naydler, J. (1996). Goethe on science: An anthology of Goethe’s scientific writings. Edinburgh, UK: Floris Books.
Ospina, M. B., Bond, K., Karkhaneh, M., Tjosvold, L., Vandermeer, B., Liang, Y., … Klassen, T. P. (2007). Meditation practices for health: State of the research. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment, (155), 1–263. http://doi.org/17764203
Palmer, P. (2017). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Ray, R. A. (2016). The awakening body: Meditation for discovering our deepest life. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
Ray, R. A. (2008). Touching enlightenment: Finding realization in the body. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Rechtschaffen, D. (2014). The way of mindful education: Cultivating well-being in teachers and students. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company.
Redish, E. F. (2003). Teaching physics with the Physics Suite. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Redish, E. F., Saul, J. M., & Steinberg, R. N. (1998). Student expectations in introductory physics. American Journal of Physics, 66(3), 212–224. http://doi.org/10.1119/1.18847
Rome, D. I. (2014). Your body knows the answer. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
Schneiderman, J. (2013). Ground truth: Investigations of Earth simultaneously spiritual and scientific. In J. Lin, R. Oxford, & E. Brantmeier (Eds.), Re-Envisioning Higher Education: Embodied Pathways to Wisdom and Social Transformation. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Shapiro, S. L., Brown, K. W., & Astin, J. A. (2008). Toward the integration of meditation into higher education: A review of research. Teachers College Record, 113(3), 493–528.
Short, M. M., Mazmanian, D., Ozen, L. J., & Bédard, M. (2015). Four days of mindfulness meditation training for graduate students: A pilot study examining effects on mindfulness, self-regulation, and executive function. The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, 2(1), 37–48.
Trungpa, C. (2008). True perception: The path of dharma art. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications.
Webb, D. J. (2017). Concepts first: A course with improved educational outcomes and parity for underrepresented minority groups. American Journal of Physics, 85(8), 628–632. http://doi.org/10.1119/1.4991371
Wieman, C. E., & Perkins, K. K. (2005). Transforming physics education. Physics Today, 58(11), 36–41. http://doi.org/10.1063/1.2155756
Zajonc, A. (2013). Contemplative pedagogy: A quiet revolution in higher education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, (134), 83–94. http://doi.org/10.1002/tl
Zajonc, A. (2006). Contemplative and transformative pedagogy. Kosmos Journal, 5(1), 1–3.