Award-Dr. Roxanne Springer
Members of the department are working closely with physics education research groups around the country to develop a set of experimental activities that will not only target students' conceptual difficulties, but that will also introduce them to modern data analysis techniques. The pedagogical strategy that we are employing is known as "guided inquiry," which consists of structured activities that engage the students in the process of constructing their own understanding of physical concepts and phenomena. They do this through a series of increasingly complex exercises that ask them to make predictions and then to explicitly resolve any inconsistencies that may have arisen between their predictions and the actual outcomes. The activities are designed in such a way that as the students work together in groups on their experiments; they must confront and resolve their difficulties before moving forward. We have found that this creates a very lively atmosphere in the labs as the students discuss and debate the underlying physics principles.
Another important component of the project is the training of the laboratory
instructors. The new materials in the laboratories require that the instructors
now play a significantly different role than they have in the past. Instead
of simply walking around and answering the students' questions, the lab
instructors now play the role of facilitators in a
The lab space design also plays a large role in the project, as we wish to create a comfortable physical environment that contributes positively to the student experience in the laboratories and that encourages interaction among the students. The labs are no longer arranged in a hierarchical fashion where the students all face the instructor in the front of the room. Instead, the computers face the center of the room and are on tables lining the perimeter of the lab--against the wall. In addition, each work area has a peninsular extension into the middle of the room around which students can discuss and collaborate on their experiments. Our design is adapted from a similar layout developed by the Workshop Physics Project at Dickinson College.
We are very excited about the positive changes now taking place in our introductory labs and will keep you posted as the project proceeds!
(we are pursuing sources of funding to make the necessary changes in the labs)
Last modified: 29-Jan-99