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Changes in Intro Physics Instruction

  1. Jan 13, 2009 #1


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    This NY Times article is describing how, at many leading institutions in the US, there are revolutionary changes being made in how introductory physics courses are being taught to students, especially to non-physics majors.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2009 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    Good. It's about time to improve the quality of Physics education.
  4. Jan 13, 2009 #3
    I've been doing simulations- and activity-based learning in a 101/102 "How Things Work" class, and been taking some data on it:

    Class structure:
    1) My students read and take online quizzes before they come to class.
    2) In class self-organized groups of 2-4 students complete a typically 4-5 page worksheet that guides them through an experiment (like making and characterizing electromagnets), or an online interactivie simulation (like those on PhET)
    3) At the beginning of the next class, I discuss briefly (5-10 minutes) about the last activity.
    4) I post a review test and generally I find in that day my mini-talks about their questions over the test allow me to discuss about all the key issues I would have wanted to talk about... and I refer to their activities and reading.

    Students attitudes about the application of physics to the real world are improved over a typical lecture class (one of the key goals of a "How things Work" class, or even any physics class).The hands-on aspect is important, because this class has no lab. I think students performance is improved or equal (I'm still processing this data).

    Note: My work is done in a normal lecture hall (last time I had 120 students.. although the smaller second term 102 class of 45 or so is nicer). The department has a set of ~20 laptops which I use to supplement student laptops. Nothing like MIT's "Workshop Physics" facility (with built in tables and computers and equipment.. and that at other institutions doing this research too.)

    If anyone is interested in possiblely extending my PER research to their own institution, I'm happy to share my activities and collaborate on the research techniques, both to improve N and have a different population (I'm at a state flagship university in the SEC). Send me a private message.

    I'll be presenting on this in a section of the Denver APS meeting... and probably at least send my undergraduate student with a poster to the AAPT meeting.

    I have mixed success with the technique with the calc-based intro courses. It worked great for the third term Optics/Waves/Modern class (I got some of my best teaching reviews!)... but not so great for the second-term EM clas (basically because we don't teach the Mechanics course in our department (it's taught in the college of engineering, and think the course kills students regardless... and students are at least more accustomed to lecture courses). I'd like to modify the activities for algebra-based courses... but I never seem to get those assignments.
  5. Jan 17, 2009 #4


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    Here's some interesting links:
    (Great visualizations: http://web.mit.edu/8.02t/www/802TEAL3D/ )

    "Studio Physics" was actually developed at RPI about 15 years ago.


    In addition to improving how the content gets transferred to students,
    there also needs to be improvement on the content itself.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2009
  6. Jan 17, 2009 #5

    Doc Al

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    This sounds a lot like what the late, great physics educator Arnold B. Arons (one of my personal heroes) was pushing for years ago.
  7. Jan 28, 2009 #6


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    Here's a possibly low-tech method that seems to help in getting students to do better in intro physics classes.

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