Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A Tale of Two Curricula: The Performance of Two Thousand Students in Introductory Electromagnetism

I've only had a quick look at this report, so I can't say much about it. But still, I thought maybe someone might want to read it. It's a very interesting and quite comprehensive study of the students' response to an E&M test after going through two different curricula for intro E&M class. Not only that, they monitored this at four major universities - Purdue, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Carnegie Mellon - resulting in a very extensive survey.

Abstract: The performance of over 2000 students in introductory calculus-based electromagnetism (E&M) courses at four large research universities was measured using the Brief Electricity and Magnetism Assessment (BEMA). Two different curricula were used at these universities: a traditional E&M curriculum and the Matter & Interactions (M&I) curriculum. At each university, post-instruction BEMA test averages were significantly higher for the M&I curriculum than for the traditional curriculum. The differences in post-test averages cannot be explained by differences in variables such as pre-instruction BEMA scores, grade point average, or SAT scores. BEMA performance on categories of items organized by subtopic was also compared at one of the universities; M&I averages were significantly higher in each topic. The results suggest that the M&I curriculum is more effective than the traditional curriculum at teaching E&M concepts to students, possibly because the learning progression in M&I reorganizes and augments the traditional sequence of topics, for example, by increasing early emphasis on the vector field concept and by emphasizing the effects of fields on matter at the microscopic level.

Edit 10/5/09: This exact reference to this paper is: M.A. Kohlmyer et al., Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. v.5, p.020105 (2009).



Hadronic Chaos said...

I both learned from, and taught (as a TA) from the M&I textbook. Compared to standard texts, M&I is much more effective, interesting, and fun. By pounding home that each problem should be solved from first principles (Newton's 2nd law, Energy conservation, etc), it builds connections between traditionally isolated pedagogical topics. The book also uses real physics in problems, like the Mossbauer effect and galaxy rotation curves, and contains extensive programming exercises. Those exercises are insightful, and, personally, inspired me to specialize in Computational Physics.

I'm working to get Stanford to adopt the text for their 'Physics for Engineers' class. This paper should provide plenty of evidence to persuade some of our reluctant faculty. If you are stuck teaching from the tired texts of Knight or Halliday & Resnick, take a look at Matter & Interactions.

Michelle said...

I used Halliday & Resnick as an undergrad (BA 1979!)...it's still around??