One of the many good education-focused talks at the NZ Institute of Physics conference last week was by Kerry Parker of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu and the University of Otago. She described her own and her students' experiences of attending the International Young Physicists' Tournament. The tournament stretches students far beyond the confines of the secondary school curriculum by using really open-ended questions (so open-ended that the 'right' answer is actually still a matter of debate and research.) Kerry showed a few film snippets of the tournament and interviews with students, both during and after it. One student quote I wrote down since it explained beautifully what physics is about:
Physics is not a set of laws inscribed in stone but rather a means to explore and understand the world around us.
I would challenge anyone to put it more succinctly than that.