red Supported Site University of Arkansas: Course Reform

Successes

  • Reformed courses are our best recruiting tool. About three-quarters of our new 7-12 teachers experiencing success in the classroom claim they began to consider teaching as a career based on their learning experiences in the reformed courses.
  • In the physics courses taken by most preservice physics teachers, there is good evidence of strong student learning.
  • An added bonus: since all our majors learn with interactive engagement, we eventually will get a new generation of professors who simply think that is the way it should be done! (And we end up with more majors.)

Challenges

  • Some physics faculty have resisted the implementation of reformed methods, or clearly expressed no interest in trying them. PhysTEC faculty had to assume administrative positions in order to be able to make teaching assignments so that courses taken by PhysTEC students were taught by reform-minded professors, in a way that engages the students (rather than by professors opposed to reform or less supportive of teaching as a profession). The extra administrative work has also taken energy that could have been devoted to other aspects of the project. Any institution trying to initiate significant reforms will face this challenge.
  • Even if the learning gains are good, fewer new future teachers are recruited if the professor is not perceived as enthusiastic about teaching.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • Reformed courses need more time in the lab and more space (a very precious commodity on our campus--and the dean found us the space).
  • The College of Engineering (CoE) has determined that the reformed physics courses improve the success rates for their students (even counting the ones that decide they would rather be physics teachers than engineers) and has offered classroom space and some resources to the physics department, and has restructured their curriculum to prominently feature the reformed courses. The CoE has also agreed to allow us to discuss teaching careers with their students at future undergraduate events, and they were involved in the Noyce proposal prepared by PhysTEC faculty.

Lessons Learned

  • The incorporation of undergraduate teaching assistants (Learning Assistants) into teaching the reformed classes keeps the cost down, improves the quality, and gets more students interested in being good teachers (either at the K-12 level, or as higher-ed faculty who will ultimately teach future teachers. If no funding is available, this program can be structured as an apprenticeship course, where students earn academic credit instead of cash for their efforts. This is the model used by Arkansas.
  • Properly preparing graduate teaching assistants is crucial. Additional majors (and especially future teachers) are recruited when instruction is of high quality. In larger programs, graduate students are a crucial part of that instruction. It is also an important service any department with teaching assistants should be providing, to enhance the career opportunities for these students upon graduation. The focus on high-quality teaching translates to good interpersonal skills that are very valuable in the industrial work force as well as in academia. The UA PhysTEC faculty believe that having the next generation of faculty know that teacher preparation is important, and how to engage in it is the most important factor in long-term sustainability of efforts such as PhysTEC.

Activity Summary

University Physics I and II below both have the following features: Two hours a week in a large-classroom setting, and two two-hour labs/week, with no separate recitation. Exam times are outside of normal class time. Both therefore need careful scheduling to not require additional rooms. Preferably, there are some undergraduate learning assistants or apprentices to enrich the experience. Other than that we have fit the course requirements within those available to the courses before the reform, so the reform is sustainable.

  • University Physics I: Calculus-based physics for scientists (including future high school physical science teachers) and engineers, primarily mechanics. The course has an average normalized Hake gain of over 50% over the project, with FCI post-test scores similar to, and well correlated with, exam averages.
    • Students either love it or hate it. Evidence on this is anecdotal, but some students in general seem resistant to active engagement learning techniques and state they would prefer simply to be “told the right stuff”.
    • Available materials (click on course name above): full course and policies
  • University Physics II: Electricity, magnetism, electromagnetism, and geometric optics. The course has an average normalized Hake gain of 50% over the project, with CSEM post-test scores similar to, and well correlated with, exam averages. Built upon a course for physicists and engineers developed with support from the NSF, DUE-9455732.
    • Students mostly love it, and most physics majors and future teachers are recruited in this class.
    • Available materials (click on course name above): full course and policies. Fall 2007, alpha test of configurable conceptual inventory for EM (over 1,000 questions from which the survey can be drawn to match instructional coverage).
  • University Physics III: Thermodynamics, waves, damped harmonic motion, and physical optics.
    • Small class of primarily physics majors, meeting three hours a week in a discussion setting, and three hours a week in lab. No separate recitation component.
    • Can be taught with standard manpower and resources.
    • Available materials (click on course name above): laboratory activities, “clicker quizzes” and solution postings for generating in-class discussions. Although this is a small class, this is an important posting as many institutions cover some of these topics in UPI or UPII, so materials are available for most introductory calculus-based physics topics between the three courses.
  • College Physics I: Algebra-based physics primarily for life sciences (including future and Michelle high school physical science teachers. At one point 80% of high school physics teachers in Arkansas had had this “premed course”.) Mechanics, heat and sound.
  • College Physics II: Electricity and magnetism, optics and some modern physics topics.
    • Three hours a week in a large-classroom setting, two-hour lab. Separate drill component.
    • Less reformed than UP sequence, but some innovative techniques that have improved student attitudes and success, included in the materials available at the link.
    • Available materials (click on course name above): reformed labs, grading policy ideas that have had demonstrated impact on learning, “clicker quizzes” and solution postings for generating in-class discussions.
  • Physics and Human Affairs: Non-mathematical, designed for non-science majors, taken by many elementary and middle-level teachers. The great ideas of physics, along with their philosophical and societal impact (including methods and values of science, problems with energy sources, and implications of modern weapons).
    • Three hours a week in a large-classroom setting, strong implementation peer instruction (see information of several versions of implementation at the evaluation link, as well as some of the materials used at the materials link); two-hour guided-inquiry lab.
    • Less reformed than UP sequence, but some innovative techniques that have improved student attitudes and success.
    • Available materials (click on course name above): reformed labs, grading policy ideas and implementation techniques for interactive learning in very large classes that have had demonstrated impact on learning, “clicker quizzes” and solution postings for generating in-class discussions.
  • Physics and Everyday Thinking (formerly Physics for Elementary Teachers): a one-semester curriculum for prospective elementary teachers. PET uses a student-oriented pedagogy with a content focus to help students develop physics ideas included in the National Science Education Standards and the Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy. In addition to the physics content focus, there is a unique Elementary Students Ideas component, providing PET students with the opportunity to apply evolving physics knowledge in the context of the elementary classroom. Resources are available to help faculty implement PET in their classrooms and for staff development leaders to implement a PET workshop for practicing teachers. These resources include a comprehensive web-based teacher guide, and a set of workshops.
  • Lab and Classroom Practices in Physics: A senior-level course where advanced students can participate in a physics teaching experience in one of the reformed courses. The course is variable-credit, so different levels of teaching responsibility can be designed.
    • Advanced students are brought into the teaching environment as Learning Assistants (apprentices).
    • One to three credit hours, based on level of teaching commitment.
    • Available materials: sample syllabi, course readings and assignments.
  • A course offered for future teachers, on the process of science, and societal implications, building on a historical perspective. For additional materials, contact Gay Stewart.