Saturday, August 23, 2008

Quantum Leaps in Physics Instruction

In my series of proposals for revamping the Intro physics labs, I emphasized on 2 important factors: (i) the physical skills that the students get by doing the lab exercises, and (ii) the analytical skills that they get in trying to find the relationships between the variables that they measure, with the hope they can find some form of a pattern. In other words, I'm trying to make them find out for themselves certainly laws or relationships between physical measurements without even telling them the physics behind them. So this will allow them to discover the physics concepts for themselves.

Well, it seems that a similar idea to this is being tried already at Florida State University, although I don't think it is as "free flowing" as the one I'm suggesting. They are doing what is called the General Physics Studio courses, where students spend minimal amount of time per week in lectures, but spend most of their time in groups working on discovering the physics concepts themselves.

"What we want to make sure is that before they jump into solving those problems, that they understand the concepts behind them," said Capstick. "Otherwise they may just learn how to do a particular problem, and then when they hit the next problem, they won't know what to do because they didn't understand the basic idea behind the first one."

To help them to better gain this understanding, students in the new studio course work together in groups on hands-on experiments and problems, giving them a chance to experience the scientific process in action as they uncover the laws of physics for themselves.

"Instead of having somebody lecturing and then having the students try to learn the material based on the lecture and a book, and then doing homework exercises and tests based on what they've put together, the idea is to have the students actively engaged in doing physics questions in class," said Capstick. "There's very little lecturing, so there might be 15 minutes or half an hour at most a week, but most of the time the students are either doing in-class activities that we call whiteboards, or they are doing a lab."

Sounds familiar? :)

It would be wonderful if a student going through one of these courses could write his/her experience on here. Anyone know of anybody taking this course this coming semester? Please contact me.


1 comment:

Ricardo Rademacher said...

This is actually noting new. 3 years ago, fresh from my PhD, I taught a Studio Physics class at Northern Kentucky University. We were not the first either and merely adopted it based on success in other earlier Sudios (That honor goes to Rensselaer in 1993).

The Studio format is excellent. I used a Tablet PC linked to a VNC connection so I could go around the room and post things on the projector for all too see. I spent 15 minutes of a 2 Hr lecture actually lecturing... the rest were hands on labs, demos, or worksheets.

I thought it was a great success and our students scores and comments showed that as well.