The Role of Stories in Physics

Stories play a huge role in learning. Our brains suck them up. We should use stories in physics lessons.

Newton contemplating an apple

In my previous blogs, I wrote about how an understanding of physics grows out of solving problems (here and here). But before you can enjoy problem-solving in physics, you have to know stuff. Quite a lot of stuff.

Most don’t make it that far. 

Stories scaffolding learning…

The knowledge learners need to solve problems is abstract and strange. Without a mental structure to attach these ideas to, many learners struggle and they won’t be able to solve problems.

What they need is a scaffold to build their schemas around: something they can learn quickly and easily. Something like a story.


Marie Curie

Biographies offer a story structure. Scientists overcome challenges in their work and their lives. There are complications and characters. And at the heart of these physics stories is causality – the observation that leads to discovery.

Daniel Willingham calls these the 4Cs of story telling: causation, character, complications and challenges (here). I have used them in my physics stories (here, here and here).

I don’t think stories make good physicists, but I think they help students start.



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