The 5+ Club Supported SiteThe 5+ Club Supported Site University of Minnesota: Course Reform


  • We continued development of a library of conceptual questions to be used as pre-flight or "clicker" questions in introductory physics courses, with responses collected and displayed via an electronic Personal Response System. Some of these materials are adapted from other sources, including Mazur's Peer Instruction, the Unversity of Wisconsin introductory physics powerpoints, and materials developed by Redish at the University of Maryland. With the addition of Learning Assistants (LAs) in the Electricity and Magnetism course, we are adding these topics to the bank.
  • We continued to use Learning Assistants (LAs) in one section of Physics 1301 (Introductory Physics with Calculus for Physical Scientists and Engineers) in Fall, 2011 and in the Spring, 2011.
  • We implemented the use of Learning Assistants (LAs) in one section of Physics 1302 (Electricity and Magnetism) in the Spring, 2011 semester. This was with an instructor who had not previously used LAs. He, the students and the LAs were very positive about the impact of the LAs.
  • We trained LAs to perform demonstrations during the lecture, interact with students throughout the lecture as requested by the instructor, work with students during tutorial hours provided weekly, and provide test review sessions.
  • In response to a question on whether they would like to have the LAs in the sequel to this course, students responded with an average rating of 4.3 on a scale of 1-5 at the completion of the Fall 10 semester (they were not asked in Spring 11).
  • Regarding the value of preparation for demos, clicker questions, etc, LAs from Fall 10 and Spring 11 semester responded with an average rating of 4.6 on a scale of 1-5.
  • The FCI gains for the 1301 sections with the LAs were larger than the gains in the sections without LAs. The changes in the CLASS ratings were also better in the sections with LAs.


  • Planning time that allowed LAs to receive the weekly course materials in advance of the lecture was a challenge.
  • Currently, there is limited departmental support for using Learning Assistants, although the feedback from students and faculty involved in courses with LAs has been very positive. A particular challege is to begin to have faculty, other than the PhysTEC PI and Co-Is, using LAs in their classes. We are examining alternate methods for using the LAs that might allow the use of available teaching assistant funds.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • The use of LAs should be expanded into other courses to further the cause for institutional buy-in.
  • There are ongoing discussions and grant-writing with the Mathematics department to include LAs in introductory courses in these departments.

Lessons Learned

  • It is critical to have significant instructor acceptance for the use of reformed teaching techniques. The utilization of LAs in the lecture is critical to the LAs' positive exposure to the education field.
  • The difference in student satisfaction between the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 1301 classes suggests that lecture classes with 350 students are too large, even with a reform approach.


Physics for Elementary Education

  • The TIR continued to implement changes to the curriculum in this course, including use of demonstrations to further group interaction and physics problem solving. Numerous demonstrations were used to enhance the "Physics for Everyday Thinking" curriculum. Additionally, short video clips of physics concepts and student discussions of "physics in your world" topics were used throughout the course.
  • The teacher-in-residence (TIR) taught one section of the laboratory physics for pre-service elementary teachers. This course was taught, for the first time, in the new building designed for studio-style science courses. He will teach a section during spring semester.
  • The Minnesota Science Standards were integrated into some of the homework and the daily discussions.
  • The two papers were modified to include the State Standards and to better reflect the content of the course.
  • The collection of daily lesson plans continued to benefit faculty new to the course.