University of Minnesota Project Report 2009
- We continued development of a library of conceptual questions to be used as pre-flight or “clicker” questions in introductory physics courses, with responses collected and displayed via an electronic Personal Response System. Some of these material are adapted from other sources, including Mazur’s Peer Instruction, the University of Wisconsin introductory physics powerpoints, and materials developed by Redish at the University of Maryland.
- We trained Learning Assistants (LAs) to perform demonstrations during the lecture, interact with students throughout the lecture as requested by the instructor, and work with students during tutorial hours provided weekly.
- The introductory course increased in student interactions by approximately 30%. compared to the previous year’s implementation of Physics 1101 (the algebra-based introductory physics course) with LAs
- 91% of students enrolled in the Physics 1101 in the Fall 08 and Spring 09 semesters responded that they would like to have the LAs in the sequel to this course.
- Regarding the value of the weekly pedagogical readings and discussions, the LAs responded with an average rating of 4.2 on a scale of 1-5 at the completion of the Fall 08 and Spring 09 semesters.
- Nineteen of the 24 LAs from Fall 08 and Spring 09 semesters reported that they now had a more thorough understanding and appreciation of teaching and would consider teaching physics as a career possibility.
- Planning time that allowed LAs to receive the weekly course materials in advance of the lecture was a challenge.
- Currently, there is limited departmental support for using Learning Assistants, although the feedback from students and faculty involved in courses with LAs has been very positive.
- The use of LAs should be expanded into other courses to further the cause for institutional buy-in.
- There are ongoing discussions and grant-writing with Chemistry and Mathematics departments to include LAs in introductory courses in these departments.
- Starting with reform of the introductory course sequence for non-calculus based physics was a good fit. With only limited training time for the LAs they were still able to feel that the contributions they made were significant.
- It is critical to have significant instructor acceptance for the use of reformed teaching techniques. The utilization of LAs in the lecture is critical to the LAs' positive exposure to the education field.
- The trial run of only five LAs in Physics 1301 (calculus-based) showed that for the program to be successful, it is imperative that there be a reasonable student to LA ratio (20:1 or less).
Non-Calculus-based Introductory Physics
- The bank of conceptual questions developed by a physics faculty member, graduate student and our first TIR continued to be used during the lectures. They can be used with an electronic response system.
- The LAs were utilized in a variety of venues to find out which placements would be most productive for all involved. In the discussion sections, which use context-rich problems, LAs presented and led the discussion of brief conceptual questions. LAs were assigned to lead review sessions before tests as well as provide tutorial hours weekly.
- LAs continued working with students in lecture hall for Physics 1101. It was a new approach for the teaching of a large lecture type course and can most easily be described as “a class within a class,” where each LA is the facilitator of a smaller group within the lecture hall.
Physics for Elementary Education
- The TIR continued to implement changes to the curriculum in this course, including use of demonstrations to further group interaction and physics problem solving. Numerous demonstrations were used to enhance the “Physics for Everyday Thinking” curriculum. Additionally, short video clips of physics concepts and student discussions of “physics in your world” topics were used throughout the course.
Central Ideas in Learning Assistant Seminar
- LAs explore teaching methods in the context of doing activities (e.g. labs, simulations, tutorials) as students, to bolster their own understanding of the related concepts. Post-activity discussions focus on the appropriateness of the various methods.
- LAs practice the lecture demonstrations that they will be performing in the upcoming week’s lectures. Both the concept being presented as well as the mechanics of performing the demonstration were emphasized.
- LAs read 12 articles related to pedagogy and physics teaching. These readings were then the basis for discussion in each week’s seminar.
- LAs wrote two reflection papers. The first one was due at approximately the mid-semester point, and the other was due at the end of the semester. LAs reflected on their experience as LAs, their suggestions for improvement, and their impression of teaching.