The 5+ Club Supported SiteThe 5+ Club Supported Site Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo: Course Reform


  • Reformed the first and second quarter physics course for elementary teachers using the Powerful Ideas in Physical Science Curriculum (PIPS). The results have been postive. Students like the course and they show improvements on the HTCE and a local optics exam.
  • Reformed the first and third quarter introductory physics course, calculus-based: mechanics and electricity & magnetism. This is not a complete reform effort in the sense that not every section taught is reformed. We have developed a reformed plan that can be used by any instructor if they so choose. The plan uses Interactive Lecture Demonstration, labs in the Real Time Physics style, and other group problem-solving activities. Instructors who use the mechanics day-by-day show an avaerage Hake gain of 0.43 on the FMCE.
  • Reformed the science teaching methods course. The students experience constructvist activities, develop a framework of teaching and learning based on this experience, and then practice implementing these type of activities.
  • Modified the Introduction to Teaching course offered by the College of Education to specifically address the interests and the teaching of science.
  • Developed a model, along with a day-by-day plan, for team teaching. Instructors teach their own sections, use the same general plan, and meet once a week to discuss what is happening or will happen in the course.


  • The team teaching requires that instructors meet outside of class time, but since all of the instructors are teaching their own sections (at different times), this time is hard to find.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • The reformed structure in the first and second quarter Physics for Elementary Teachers (Physics for Non-Science Majors) course is sustainable. The number of courses taught is small enough that a small number of instructors can teach all of the sections. We try and add new instructors to the group each year. Also, once they experience this format, they have been convinced that it is better for the future elementary teachers.
  • The reformed structure is sustainable in that there will always be a group that uses and continues to modify it. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that in any given quarter all of the sections will use it, but it does serve as a platform for collaboration that isn’t normally available.

Lessons Learned

  • The structure of the course, not the instructor, is the most important first step in course redesign. For each reformed course we have developed a Day-by-Day plan. There is no way to distinguish between the instructors of different sections using the class scores on the FMCE and CSEM. This is true whether or not some of the instructors are new to teaching the course or even new to teaching.
  • Use physics-education research based curriculum when redesigning courses. We used Powerful Ideas in Physical Science in our course for future elementary teachers. This was the smoothest starting and the most successful course we reformed. In the case of Powerful Ideas in Physical Science, the cost was low, but even if the cost is higher, it is worth the savings in time and headache when developing the course.

Introductory physics, calculus-based: first and third quarter (2nd quarter was not reformed)

  • 1st quarter Course Information: introductory mechanics, meets four times per week in a lecture hall
  • PhysTEC faculty put together an active-learning teaching plan for the course lectures. The results are a Day-by-Day plan and materials that will get instructors though a quarter in a fairly active-learning mode. It's
  • The plan includes active learning activities (Power Point, ILDs, and other demos) that meet the day’s goals and the approximate times for their completion.
  • 3rd quarter Course Information: introductory electricity & magnetism, meets 3 times per week in lecture hall and 1 time per week in lab
  • New instructors who use the materials teach the course in conjunction with an experienced instructor. Each instructor has their own sections, but the activities and plan for the course are the same.

First and second quarter physics for elementary teachers

  • General course information: 3-two hour lectures per week in a studio style classroom.
  • We feel that if future teachers don’t like science, then they will not teach science, and certainly they won’t teach it well. Therefore, the goals of the course are to: 1) improve students’ attitudes about science, and 2) emphasize the process of Science (Observe, Measure, and Explain).
  • The course redesign was guided by the following ideas. 1) The course will emphasize the enterprise of science, "How does science work?" 2) The course will include active learning methods, in order to allow students the opportunity to construct their own understanding. This experience in science teaching should improve their understanding of important ideas and processes, and start them thinking about the classroom conditions that optimize science learning.
  • The Powerful Ideas in Physical Science matched our goals, so we have used that curriculum in both quarters. The first quarter uses Light & Optics and Heat & Conservation of Energy. The second quarter uses Electricity and Nature of Matter.

Science teaching methods

  • Course Background: teaching methods for science teachers, meets two times per week for 2 hours in a studio style classroom.
  • In redesigning this course, our primary goal was to maximize the probability that our students would actually use “constructivist teaching strategies” after leaving our program and entering the teaching profession. This meant that they would need to understand at a deep level how constructivist, student-centered teaching differs from teacher-centered teaching and would also need to have ample opportunity to practice the skill of constructivist facilitation in the presence of faculty who could serve as coaches.
  • Our course begins with the students experiencing inquiry-based learning from the student perspective. This portion of the course lasts about three weeks and requires that students complete an abbreviated version of a unit from the Powerful Ideas in Physical Science curriculum. During this time, students are given a number of articles to read at home, addressing subjects like constructivist theory, the importance of using open-ended questioning strategies, and peer instruction.
  • In the second portion of the course, students practice facilitating constructivist learning in short (10-15 min) teaching segments that utilize inquiry activities and interactive lecture demonstrations. These presentations are videotaped, and students are required to use the RTOP tool as a reflective aid in evaluating their own success. Each student implements peer learning at least twice, the first time with an activity/demonstration that we provide and the second time with an activity/demonstration that they found or developed on their own. Students are assessed using a journal, a reflective paper incorporating information from readings and their own experience as a learner, and a short reflective essay on their own performance as a facilitator.
  • The past 2 academic years we started to include a field-experience component. Students go in 2-person teams to deliver a lesson in local public schools. The field experience includes significant reflection, and evaluation components these are consistently mentioned on the evaluations as the most valuable part of the class

Introduction to the Teaching Profession

  • Couse background: College of Education course that satisfies the state mandated 45 hours of observation in public schools. Meets once a week for two hours seminar style to discuss observations and readings.
  • In redesigning this course our goal was to provide the student with an experience that was focused specifically on science, but more importantly to begin the process of the student examining the question “ what is learning, and what type of teaching is required to reach that goal?
  • The early portions of the observations were in an exemplary teacher’s classroom, regardless of subject. The early readings and seminar discussions were on generic topics crucial to all good teaching; classroom tone, teacher-student rapport, and management. In the main portion of the class we limited the observations to science teachers. It was during this section that the seminar started addressing the question “what does it mean to learn something”. Seminar included viewing some of the Minds Of Our Own video and video clips of interenational teaching from the TIMMS Study.