Course Transformation Strategies
Adopt existing research-based curricula and methods in your physics classes. Just as successful physical theories require years of development and refinement, so do successful course curricula and teaching methods. Many successful programs exist that you can adapt for your own classes.
- Faculty at Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, and Western Michigan have adapted Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction system to their introductory physics sequence and other courses. One student commented, “The thing I enjoyed most about college was University Physics II, working with my classmates and seeing them ‘get it’. If I can, I want to do that!”
- Faculty at Colorado also use University of Washington Tutorials in Introductory Physics, and use their Learning Assistants to help support these.
- Faculty at Cal Poly use Interactive Lecture Demonstrations and RealTime Physics labs.
- At Seattle Pacific, two-thirds of course time in introductory algebra- and calculus-based physics courses is devoted to small group activities using research-based materials including Tutorials in Introductory Physics, RealTime Physics, and Activity Based Physics; and one-third of course time is devoted to interactive large group discussion, facilitated by Learning Assistants.
- A Western Michigan Teacher in Residence revised the introductory physics lab classes, taking into consideration faculty and graduate student input. He then developed a lab manual that highlights areas in which students tend to have conceptual difficulty.
Develop robust methods for transferring course developments between faculty. True reform cannot depend simply on the volunteer effort of one or a small group of dedicated faculty. It is critical to be able to spread course developments widely to all faculty who are willing to adopt reformed teaching methods.
- Cal Poly faculty created “day-by-day plans” that document developments to make course curricula more interactive and engaging. They also developed a method of team teaching that allowed dissemination of their course reforms. As a result, instructors new to a course were able to quickly adopt the new methods, and achieve student learning gains on standardized assessments similar to those in courses taught by faculty more experienced in the interactive methods.
- Arkansas has created online materials for their introductory courses (University Physics I and II).
- Colorado faculty have developed a manual to assist Learning Assistants in implementing Tutorials in Introductory Physics, and have made course reform materials available online.
- Towson project faculty have provided a pre-semester workshop to instructors of the elementary education majors’ field experience course, of which there are up to eight sections per semester. Because of challenges with post-workshop communication and coordination, the project team has decided to split the workshop into a pre-semester phase and a phase that will occur a few weeks into the semester.
- Western Michigan, Colorado, and Seattle Pacific have used a faculty mentorship model to transfer course reforms to faculty new to these methods. Essentially this consists of a faculty member observing the course as taught with interactive methods, before he or she is to teach it him- or herself.
- The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign set out to “institutionalize meaningful course content and effective pedagogical methods, so that good teaching is not dependent on a single inspired instructor but is integral to all sections of all classes, while allowing room for faculty creativity and continuous improvement” and to build “an administrative/management infrastructure to support and sustain continued curriculum development as new methodologies evolve.”
- The project now recommends that all new faculty attend the AAPT/APS/AAS “New Faculty Workshop” to learn about newer innovative pedagogical techniques. This is an inexpensive option, both in terms of time and money, to help new faculty learn about and adopt these proven strategies.
Consider developing or adapting a physics course for elementary teachers that employs an interactive learning curriculum.
- Faculty at Arkansas have developed a course based on the Physics and Everyday Thinking (PET) curriculum from San Diego State University, and have achieved learning gains on the developers’ assessment instrument similar to those posted on other assessments. Faculty at Colorado and Seattle Pacific also teach physics for elementary teachers based on the PET curriculum.
- Faculty at Cal Poly have adopted the Powerful Ideas in Physical Science curriculum and report improved student attitudes and learning gains.
- Towson faculty developed teachers' guides for the schools physical science and Earth-space science courses for elementary education majors.
Emphasize teaching by inquiry in courses that include field experiences. Give your pre-service teachers the opportunity to practice and reflect on the style of teaching you want them to adopt.
- At Towson, the project team places groups of three to six “interns” (student teachers) in a single elementary classroom, where each intern facilitates an inquiry-based science activity for a small number of students. Due to the small group format, almost no classroom management is required, and the interns receive immediate feedback from their peers as well as the classroom teacher. The focus is on developing the craft of teaching and helping the students understand the science lesson.
- Cal Poly now includes field experiences in its science teaching methods course. Students deliver lessons in two-person teams at local public schools, and then reflect on and evaluate their performance. Faculty report that these activities “are consistently mentioned on the evaluations as the most valuable part of the class.”
Collect data on student performance. Physicists and administrators are much more likely to be convinced of the benefits of course reforms by hard data than by anecdotal examples of success. All PhysTEC sites have generated data to show that students in their reformed courses have larger learning gains than those in traditional lectures. See Assessment.