Supported SiteSupported Site University of Missouri-Columbia: Course Reform


  • The addition of Learning Assistants to one of the introductory courses is stimulating discussions about other reforms to the introductory courses.
  • We created new course "Thinking Physics" for underprepared physics and engineering majors. Standards based grading was an effective strategy for tracking student progress on mastering essential skills and concepts.
  • A new course "Teaching Physics" was created for physics education students and others interested in exploring teaching physics.
  • The project initiated a "best practices" discussion of teaching in faculty meeting, to be led by rotating faculty each semester.


  • Reform of introductory physics courses is slow-paced, particularly since the PI does not teach these courses currently.
  • Securing a sufficient number of enrolled students in the new "Thinking Physics" and "Teaching Physics" courses is challenging.
  • Maintaining the "Thinking Physics" course has been challenging, as faculty were needed to teach other courses.


  • "Teaching Physics" is included in the physics education degree plan.
  • We hope that offering "Thinking Physics" in the spring may increase enrollment, leading to a sustained offering of the course.

Lessons Learned

  • The Learning Assistant workshops (national in Boulder, CO and regional in Chicago) were great resources for gaining practical advice on course reform efforts, and connecting to colleagues who could point us to additional resources.
  • Significant recruiting of students in a timely manner is needed to keep enrollment numbers in new courses above the necessary minimum.
  • Hosting physics education faculty from outside institutions and visiting colleagues at other institutions helped move conversations about improving courses at MU. We will continue to pursue this strategy as a way of building momentum for greater course reform.
  • Physics and engineering majors enrolled in "Teaching Physics" had some gaps in concepts covered in prerequisite courses. They also had virtually no prior knowledge of teaching strategies or how to design a lesson or a unit. The TIR found it effective to have students design their own lessons (using objectives, driving questions, and assessments), and then teach to their peers (including each other and to students from a general science education class).
  • It helps to have courses "LA-ready", meaning that the research-based reformed activities are ready to be implemented in the classroom. For example, it was hugely helpful to have access to the University of Maryland Open Source Tutorials for use in discussion sections.
  • Some students in "Thinking Physics" took greater advantage than others of the flipped-classroom and opportunities to re-learn missed concepts (using a standards-based flexible grading approach). Next year, there will be higher accountability measures to try to better motivate those who need extra support.

[Physics 1210: College Physics I]

  • The instructor implemented several research-based techniques to make lectures and recitations more active, including using clickers in class, interactive lecture demonstrations, University of Maryland tutorials, pre-lecture video recordings and assessments, and increased opportunities for discussion in all aspects of the course (lecture, recitation, and lab). Additionally, seven LAs were stationed in the lecture hall (holding 200 students) and each recitation of about 40 students had an LA and a graduate Teaching Assistant.

[Physics 2750H: Honors University Physics I]

  • This section of course was previously nonexistent. The honors section of this introductory course is a small section (about 36 students), using a "flipped classroom" approach. Students read their textbook or viewed short prepared lectures at home. In-class time was led in a workshop style, where students would interact with one another and develop their skills and content knowledge as they worked through exercises and participated in discussions.

[Physics 2150: Thinking Physics]

  • The course was previously nonexistent. The course also used the "flipped classroom" approach described above. Furthermore, the instructor used standards based grading, where grades reflect their mastery of individual concepts and skills, rather than a score on a specific test. Individualized re-tests were offered to students to learn material they had not yet mastered.

[Physics 3100: Teaching Physics]

  • The course was previously nonexistent. For the first time, physics education students could learn pedagogical content knowledge specific to physics. It also offered an opportunity for physics and engineering majors to explore teaching. The course counts towards the physics and physics education majors.