Supported Site Seattle Pacific University: Course Reform

Successes

  • In autumn 2006, two new faculty members facilitated reformed learning environments which incorporate Learning Assistants (LAs) to support inquiry-based learning. These faculty taught in calculus-based physxtensively utilizes research-based curricula. Students in these introductory courses demonstrated strong learning gains as measured by nationally normed concept inventories (FCI, TUG-K, CSEM).
  • The Learning Assistant program supports small-group, student-centered learning in two year-long sections of algebra-based physics, two year-long sections of calculus-based physics, elementary science content/pedagogy courses, and university scholars liberal arts physics.
  • The LA program also supports a Physics Help Center where students are encouraged to meet in groups to work on tutorial homework. The Help Center is staffed by both LAs and physics faculty. The LAs are scheduled in the evening when students actually do their physics homework.
  • In autumn 2007 the Department offered PHY 3010 "Contemporary Issues in Physical Science Education." The course is adapted from the nationally recognized University of Colorado-Boulder LA course. An additional strand is infused: understanding of science education inequity. The Director of the SPU John Perkins Center for Racial Reconciliation and a Resource Teacher from WA State MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) engaged the students on the local and national efforts to decrease the achievement gap in science. In addition to readings and seminar discussions, students were required to visit a precollege classroom and present their observations to our class. More recently, some components of this course have been integrated into the LA pedagogy course.
  • Science content/pedagogy courses for pre-service K-8 teachers model active engagement, drawing strongly upon research in education and physics education. In these courses, the pre-service teachers are expected to build their own scientific models using evidence-based reasoning. These courses have adapted curriculum from Physics by Inquiry (University of Washington) and Physics and Everyday Thinking (San Diego State University). A recent ongoing successful development is the incorporation of issues related to student thinking in science to a greater degree and earlier in pre-service teachers’ education.
  • Two physics courses for non-science majors continue to evolve from lecture-based courses to lab-based inquiry courses. The curriculum in both courses has undergone substantial revision by the instructors to better reflect the nature of inquiry and curriculum expectations in local school districts.

Challenges

  • The curriculum we are using in our introductory courses (University of Washington Tutorials, etc.) is most effective in an environment where students, working in groups, have regular access to faculty or LAs. It can be difficult to provide this access when students are working on homework during evening hours.
  • As the LA program grows to encompass more courses, it is challenging to ensure that all LAs have sufficient training for all of the activities with which they will be assisting.
  • In 2008-9, we used the Energy Concept Inventory developed at Arizona State University to measure gains in student understanding of a comprehensive, interdisciplinary energy model. In contrast to strong learning gains for these students on the FCI and CSEM/BEMA, the learning gains on the ECI were very limited. This is especially disconcerting when we consider the fundamental role of energy concepts in national science standards.

Sustainability/Physics Department Buy-In

  • We will be adding a Physics Help Center where students will be encouraged to meet in groups to work on tutorial homework. The help center will be staffed by both LAs and physics faculty.
  • Coordinating the LA training course is now a position for which a faculty member will receive load credit.
  • By developing a team approach to teaching the introductory physics courses, we have demonstrated that the reformed teaching methods utilized in these courses can readily be adopted by new faculty.
  • We plan to more actively partner with other College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) faculty to recruit non-physics and non-science majors to take the LA pedagogy course. We believe that learning to communicate complex ideas is critical in a wide range of professions. Therefore, the LA pedagogy course has value for all students, not just future physics teachers.

Lessons Learned

  • An LA program provides a framework in which new faculty can effectively implement reformed teaching strategies.
  • When students are actively engaged in learning physics, they will seek out more assistance from faculty and LAs. A support structure for assistance outside of class hours should be integrated into a course reform effort.
  • An LA program should be explicitly constructed to demand responsibility and accountability of the students, LAs, and physics faculty.

Algebra-Based Introductory Physics, year-long sequence, and Calculus-Based Introductory Physics, year-long sequence

Two-thirds of course time is devoted to small-group activities using research-based curricula (Tutorials in Introductory Physics (Univ. of Washington), Realtime Physics (Univ. of Oregon, Tufts, Dickinson), Activity Based Physics (Univ. of Maryland). The LA’s, along with physics faculty, guide small-group activities.

One-third of course time is devoted to interactive large-group discussion.

Assessment using TUG-K (Test of Graphing and Kinematics), FCI, CSEM and pre-post tests for individual activities.

University Scholars Physics (Liberal arts physics for non-science honors students)

One-half of course time is devoted to small group activities using research-based curriculum (Tutorial in Introductory Physics as well as similar non-published materials developed for special relativity and quantum mechanics).

One-half of course time is devoted to interactive large group discussions.

Environmental Education for Elementary Teachers

This course uses active-engagement methods, drawing strongly upon reseach in education, physics education, and cognitive science.

Pre-service teachers are expected to build their own scientific models using evidence-based reasoning.

Pre-service teachers are introduced to student ideas on the topics covered in the course and are given opportunities to discuss the possible implications for the learning environment (teacher action, curriculum, teaching strategies) when students hold these ideas.

Curriculum has been adapted from Physics by Inquiry (Univ. of Washington) and Physics and Everyday Thinking (San Diego State Univ.).

Longitude by Dava Sobel has been added as a course text to provide a historical perspective and insight into the practice of science over the past few centuries.

Physics of Sound and Introduction to the Nature of Science

Two of SPU’s Physics courses for non-science majors were taught by Eleanor Close, Stamatis Vokos, and Lezlie DeWater.

Course instruction is evolving from from lecture-based courses to lab-based inquiry courses.

The curriculum in both courses has undergone substantial revision by the instructors to better reflect the nature of inquiry and curriculum expectations in local school districts.