Florida International University Project Report 2009
Course & Lab Reform
- We provided 4 Learning Assistants (LAs) for three modeling instruction introductory physics courses. Modeling courses average a factor of 2.5 larger normalized gains for the Force Concept Inventory and a factor of 4 lower failure rate than traditional courses at FIU.
- One advanced LA was placed in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools with an FIU-trained physics teacher. The student was able to observe a ninth grade physics class as well as work with students on a robot project.
- Another advanced LA was placed as a physics teacher with an on-campus math and science high school for at-risk students. This student used the modeling instruction curriculum and was mentored by the CHEPREO coordinator and a former TIR.
- We again offered the science teaching course, Seminar in Science Education – Science Educational Theory and Practice. This year we were able to offer the course to mathematics as well as physics majors. This required adding some mathematics-oriented material which we are working with faculty in mathematics and mathematics education to identify and use.
- After two successful semesters of running approximately half of the introductory physics I labs (Spring 08 and Fall 08), FIU PhysTEC was asked to take over the physics I labs entirely as of Spring 2009 (between 14 and 20 sections per semester).
- Lab materials were revised to meet needs of FIU curriculum. Two new labs (Graphical Analysis and Friction) were designed and included as well as adjustments to order, format, and some content.
- As a result of the success in the Introductory Physics I labs, FIU PhysTEC has been asked to introduce reform to the Introductory Physics II labs starting in the Fall 2009 semester.
- Students in the LA-enabled classes, the LAs, and the faculty teaching the courses responded positively to the implementations. LAs reported that students sought help from them frequently but by the end of the semester had started seeking help from each other. LAs also shared teaching strategies between faculty as they assisted in more than one class.
- Faculty and graduate assistants (GAs) differ greatly in how they utilize the LAs. This may be because some are not aware of the LA experiences and training or have difficulty in stepping back from the center of attention in the class setting.
- Each semester new graduate teaching assistants that run our labs will have never had exposure to physics education reform. This can result in some resistance to and, therefore, varying degrees of success at moving to a student-centered, epistemologically-based curriculum.
- FIU has adopted laboratory reforms for Fall 2008 in all Physics I Labs.
- Physics II Labs will begin reform process in Fall 2009 with approximately half of the labs reformed.
- 3 of 5 faculty agreed to use tutorial-based test questions on course exams.
- A form of the LA component of FIU PhysTEC reform was adopted by the Department of Mathematics in Spring 2009 and will be adopted by the Geology/Earth Sciences and Chemistry Departments in Fall 2009.
- FIU has reformed its Science and Mathematics Education programs with the aid of the PhysTEC faculty and former TIR. These new education programs include LA-like recruitment and initial experiences and share an introductory seminar modeled after the Colorado LA Seminar.
- Faculty using LAs in classes will continue to do so.
- Although Graduate Assistants and LAs have suggested early, intensive training experiences for new GAs and LAs before the start of the semester, it is difficult to implement. Graduate and undergraduate have summer plans (work, vacation, qualifiers, REUs). Funding for training sessions before the start of the semester is also an issue. The need for this early training has not yet been resolved.
- Weekly training meetings need to have clearer expectations outlined at the start of the semester. Attendance from GAs and some LAs is sporadic. The purpose of meetings needs to be made clear and adhered to.
- Even with attempts to align lab with lecture, timing is still an issue with some instructors as they move quickly through the curriculum in an effort to cover all of the requisite chapters for a traditional Physics I course.
- We should strive to improve communication between TIR and physics faculty regarding the emphasis of upcoming labs and possible test and quiz questions. Epistemology and pedagogy employed in the labs may be topics of discussion at physics department meetings/colloquia.
- LAs were assigned to six calculus-based physics sections that employ physics modeling instruction. One or two LAs work in each of the three sections of introductory physics based in modeling instruction each semester. The courses are Introductory Physics I and II.
- Math LAs were assigned to 3 professors in 5 mathematics courses.
- LAs acted as peer-to-peer facilitators for group work and whiteboard presentations. They also served as mentors and a source of encouragement to struggling students. In some of the mathematics courses, LAs also served as study group leaders outside of regularly scheduled class times.
- One advanced LA taught high school physics to a small class of students attending an on campus school for at-risk youth. He was mentored by the CHEPREO coordinator and a former TIR. His students all intend to take physics at FIU in the fall.
Seminar in Physics Education – Science Educational Theory and Practice
- Adapted from the Learning Assistant course created by Valerie Otero at University of Colorado, the FIU PHY 3993 Seminar in Physics Education is now a permanent course, PHY 3012, and is required for the new FIU secondary education teacher preparation degrees in Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Earth Science. PHY 3012 touches on theoretical issues such as conceptual development, conceptual change, collaborative learning, and students’ conceptions of various topics in physics. The course was designed and implemented to introduce physics students to fundamental ideas in physics education. The syllabus (see Appendix 1) for the course reflects this focus.
- The course was team-taught by PhysTEC faculty, Laird Kramer (Physics) and Eric Brewe (College of Education), and the FIU TIR, Jorge Gibert. All of the new Physics (13) and mathematics (10) LAs were enrolled in the Seminar. The enrollment in this course has doubled in its second offering.
- Students explored teaching methods in the context of doing activities to bolster their own understanding of the related science and/or education concepts. Activities and discussions were framed in the context of assigned readings for the course. Readings include seminal works in physics and some mathematics education research.
Lab Reform – Tutorial-based labs for Physics I
- After two successful semesters of running approximately half of the introductory Physics I labs (Spring 08 and Fall 08), FIU PhysTEC was asked to take over the Physics I labs entirely as of Spring 2009 (between 14 and 20 sections per semester). These labs include students from both the calculus and non-calculus based physics courses. This effort includes training the graduate teaching assistants alongside the Learning Assistants. The lab reform uses Introductory Physics Tutorials and Interactive Lecture Demonstrations (ILDs) developed at the University of Maryland.and emphasizes collaborative learning approaches. See Assessment document for results for Force Concept Inventory, MPEX 2 and CLASS.
- Each reformed lab had at least one LA (in 3 or 4 labs there were two LAs) to work with the graduate teaching assistant. LAs and GAs met every Monday with PhysTEC faculty and the TIR to work through the tutorial and ILD (if applicable) for the week. Weekly meetings clarified not only conceptual difficulties but also teaching approaches that would encourage students to reflect on and then refine their own conceptual understandings.
Lab Reform – Tutorial-based labs for Physics II
- Preparation of the reform of Physics II labs is underway, to be implemented in Fall 2009. ISLE (Investigative Science Learning Environment) from Rutgers University will be implemented as a pilot program in several sections of labs, supported by experienced LAs.