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Physics I teaching ideas

  1. Jun 29, 2009 #1

    Andy Resnick

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    Given the vigorous discussion on mathematics teaching on a different thread, I was wondering if anyone had good ideas on applying those ideass to Physics I.

    I am teaching algebra-based Physics I in the fall (Giancoli's book, which was given to me to use), and I have tried to incorporate some of the conceptual ideas already discussed, for example:

    1) Having an overall course theme (mine is 'motion') which carries throughout.
    2) Grouping lecture topics logically, not by chapter (for example, discussing linear and rotational kinematics together, even though they occur in chapters 2 and 8)
    3) Having groups (assigned based on lab partners) that will work problems together in class and for part of homework

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 29, 2009 #2
    Some things that would be helpful to know (for commenting) would be:

    • Class facilities (ex. is this class in a traditional lecture hall, a "studio physics" facility, a small classroom, etc).
    • Class size (30 students, 50, 100, 300...)
    • Typical demographic (premed students, architecture students, biology/geology students, etc... for example, our institution separates out premed students into a separate course).
    • Course structure (how many credits, how many sessions / hours per week in lecture, how many in lab, how many in recitation...)
    • Prerequisites/corequisites

    I've only taught one of our algebra-based courses once (and that was a hideous service course for architecture students that covered the entirety of high school physics in one term, with three lectures and no labs or recitations). I hated it, the students hated it, etc... and it made me totally change my teaching style for most of my other courses (I now successfully use a group-learning approach for both my conceptual physics and my calculus-based Modern Physics (Calc-based E&M sadly seems best work with more traditional instruction... probably because I do the summer term of this course which has ~70% the class sessions of a normal term). I'd like to eventually get assigned an algebra-based course again to try to see how this approach would work with that level... but I'd hope it would be the premed course, which is two terms and has three classes and labs/recitations.
  4. Jun 29, 2009 #3
    IMVHO, Giancoli's book is very well laid-out and chapters are logically grouped. If you break the lecture too far from the order and sequence of the text, you will make it more difficult for those (admittedly few) students who read and try to follow the material in their textbook.

    Suggestions? If you do stray from the textbook sequence, may I suggest you post study notes/outlines on a student-accessible website, preferrably with references to the appropriate sub-sections and relevant sample problems in their texts?
  5. Jun 29, 2009 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    Class facilities: Not sure, presumably a basic lecture-hall type room (whiteboard, projector w/ computer port, etc). Cleveland State has started to experiment with these little 'clicker' things for students, but I have never used them.

    Class demographic: 60 undergrads, nonmajors, not sure about science/nonscience. The catalog lists the class as "This course meets the criteria for partially fulfilling CSU’s Natural Sciences requirement of General Education. It also satisfies CSU’s criteria for quantitative literacy and critical thinking. " It's a 5-credit class with lab (2 lectures/week, 2 recitations/week, 1 lab/week). Prerequisites are "Three units of high-school math, three units of high-school science", whatever that means.

    My guess is that the average student doesn't see the relevance of physics, is moderately math-phobic, and sees the class as an obstacle to overcome on the way to doing something more interesting.
  6. Jun 30, 2009 #5
    This is one of the classes I've been teaching, and your assessment is pretty much on target. That can be an advantage, however -remember, you will never have to drive over a bridge, stand in a building, or ride an elevator designed by one of your students, so it is a lot easier to relax and HAVE FUN.

    I start each semester with a survey of student interests and activities, then use those interests to select the sample problems and applications of principles for the remainder of the year. For instance, our summer session just finished rotational kinematics and started rotational dynamics last night (torques, angular momentum, rotational kinetic energy). Since we have several amateur athletes in the class, we looked at the difference in force required to do planks and pushups on the floor vs. against a wall, center of gravity and proper technique for squats and deadlifts, and next class we have a 'guest lecturer' coming to demonstrate some judo/akido throws and joint locks, all of which play with force, moment arm length, and angle to produce torques at an advantage on an opponent (and yes, we go over the vectors on the board in between throws). I have one scuba diver in this class as well, so I already know what examples I'll use for fluids (next chapter).

    The whole reason Giancoli wrote his book (if we're talking about the same one) was to update the examples and applications to make them relevant to modern students (how many physics texts still use 'record players' for analyzing rotational kinematics?!?!?) This will give you a wealth of good material for making your class interesting, accessible, and relevant to their world. If nothing else 'sticks' but that physics applies to everything around them, you will have succeeded more than THEY expected.
  7. Jun 30, 2009 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    Thanks for the encouragement! I like the way you incorporate 'non traditional' demonstrations- I was thinking about discussing yoga poses as part of the section on equilibrium.
  8. Jul 5, 2009 #7
    Hmmm, my high school AP Physics teacher graduated from CSU. We usually spent about 30 minutes in groups working the problems from Giancoli each day. I'm sure you know Jearl Walker? I ran into him when I was doing my senior project at CSU. Anyways our physics teacher would show us tapes from Jearl Walker's show and it was somewhat hilarious and fun, though I'm not quite sure how beneficial they were.
  9. Jul 5, 2009 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    Thanks for the feedback. How would you summarize your experience- was it a positive or negative experience?
  10. Jul 6, 2009 #9
    Definitely a positive experience. I'm not really a big lab person, but I found physics labs to be fairly interesting. I did quite well in AP Physics, but surprisingly did worse in the prerequisite (honors). Giancoli was a good text, with lots of decent problems (a few were quite challenging). It is kind of weird how we did a lot of problem solving in that class compared to having a pset due every week in college, I think. The teacher lectured for the first 30 to 40 minutes, then he usually assigned upwards of 10 problems to be due the next day. Giancoli's end of chapter problems are split up into sections of different difficulty levels. The section of least difficulty is very easy going, whereas the problems towards the end can be very difficult (though there may be a lot of repetitive ideas in the intermediate problems).

    Anyways, I think you plan sounds very good. I think that algebra-based physics can learned most effectively by attacking many problems with minimal background knowledge.
  11. Jul 6, 2009 #10
    How much control do you have over the recitations and lab sessions?

    With two recitations per week (and decent cooperative TA's if you have them), I'd try to make one of theses sessions "inquiry" / activity -based. Two good sources for this are "http://www.phys.washington.edu/groups/peg/tut.html"" -- curricular materials that come out of the University of Washington Physics Education Group and have been shown to improve students understanding at various institutions. Some of the materials in the first reference are calculus-based and many are algebra-based, while the latter leans a bit more towards no-math.

    I've adapted some of these ideas for activity-based work in my own classroom I've done successful activity-based teaching for classes of up to 110-120 students, for two semesters of "How things Work" courses which have no math prerequisite, and one semester of algebra- and calculus-based "Physics III (Waves, Optics and Modern Physics)." -- during the "lecture", since unfortunately my teaching assignments have no recitation section and lab is tightly controlled by the laboratory supervisor, who favors a directivist / cookbook approach to control damage to equipment. In my lecture sessions, I usually have the students complete guided-inquiry worksheets, and I usually tend to use simulations (such those available through the http://phet.colorado.edu/index.php" [Broken] -- through the University of Colorado' Physics Education Group). The PhET site has several teacher-submitted activities (and I've been submitting some of mine when I think I have something particularly novel). I make sure students are prepared for this form of instruction by making them read the text before they come to class and complete short online quizzes (similar to the "just in time teaching" method). I favor the use of simulations because most students have their own laptops or at least one laptop for a group of 3-4 (although I can substitute in a few departmental ones if needed -- we have a set of 20 and with a class of about 120 students I probably check out about 15, exchanging a computer for a student ID). Occasionally though I like to mix in a few hands on experiments with Walmart-purchased supplies or cheaper lab-equipment -- such as aero-dynamic toys, bouncing balls, ice-cream making, lens and mirror ray-tracing and comparison, dice rolling to show "decay" etc... the students do seem to prefer these experiences although they can cost a bit to set up at first -- especially with 120 students.

    Doing an activity during one recitation would be motivating, while reserving one session per week for problem-solving would probably be appropriate for the level of students you have and the curricular expectations of the course for a significant competency in problem-solving. Via what I've heard from other professors, often grouping students together for whiteboard problem-solving or concept-mapping works well during recitation... and probably helps them work together better outside of class (which I do encourage).

    For the lecture session, many professors use personal response systems or "clickers" with concept tests (you may want to look over Mazur's "http://mazur-www.harvard.edu/research/detailspage.php?ed=1&rowid=8"" materials -- he uses more PRS concept testing during the lecture than actual "lecturing"). Some institutions subscribe to particular systems and have instructional support available through some "instructional technology center" usually based out of the library or something.

    My group-work activity-based "lecture" sessions are more like a permutation of "http://gallery.carnegiefoundation.org/collections/keep/jbelcher/" [Broken]" and are my own form of peer instruction (which I use because otherwise my primary assignment "How Things Work" doesn't get any "hands-on" because they don't even have a lab!). Of course it's rather an extreme variation form the typical instruction... but I've found it works for me and my students (in all my assignments but a calculus-based EM course -- which I still teach a traditional way), and my chair is supportive.

    Sorry to be so long... but there's a lot of buzz-words and curricular materials you can look up more on... edited to add some links to get you started.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  12. Jul 6, 2009 #11

    Andy Resnick

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    Thanks! There's a lot here for me to digest- I've seen the PhET site, but not the others.

    And, of course, I mention this forum in the course intro....
  13. Sep 1, 2009 #12
    I found the physics tutorials from the University of Washington particularly useful in developing a conceptual understanding of the material. The tutorials essentially walk the students through some simple situations asking key questions. Our class met once a week in the lab to work through tutorials in relatively small groups. The instructor would cycle through the groups clarifying any misconceptions and answer questions. These will not teach the student to solve complex problems, however, they will provide a great conceptual foundation. For non science majors this may be of greater importance.
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