Outline:Project Members and Abstract
Changes and Improvements
Method for Evaluation of the Project
Results and Feedback
Theoretical Perspectives and Discussions
IntroductionIt is difficult for both students and teachers to learn and to teach physics in general. It is often even harder for life-science and geological-science majors. The lab part of the curriculum is not an exception for this issue. There have been various methods to improve students' understanding, but the problems contain quite a few complicated factors, such as, students' psychology, class management, etc. Therefore, it is not simple to apply one or two methods to teach class. The character of laboratory textbooks is different from that of lecture textbooks. A lab textbook tends to become out of date due to the equipment and software availability, etc. In addition, lab books need precise experimental procedures especially for students to perform the activity by themselves. Often, contents of a textbook are incomprehensive unless the author elaborately considers how the students interact with the setups and the procedures. For instance, even slightly different order of procedures could confuse the students. Some of experimentation is "theoretically" correct, but it is not feasible to obtain a proper result because of the capability of devices. Students frequently do not learn from less contextualized experiments, which have no indication of reasons why they have to do it and what the most important concept is. It is difficult for most of the students to write the post-lab report if they do not grasp the meaning of the results. It also affects how they analyze and conclude the experiment. In the same sense, if the concepts of activities are not fitted to how the lecture part teaches, it often confuses students' learning process. Furthermore, lack of detailed knowledge with the experimental apparatuses allows students to misuse them and to have a large percent of experimental errors. Also, some activities redundantly use more pieces of equipment at one time and this keeps students from learning body of the scientific concept. On the other hand, a trifling activity also does not teach the subject for students well. For example, a lab, which the TA sets up everything for students and they just click a data-acquisition bottom to obtain a result without any discussion, would not let students learn the materials.
The curriculum that we focus on is algebra-based introductory physics, which is mostly for life-science, geological-science, and sport-science majors. (At the USM, the first course is named as PHY111 which teaches kinematics, mechanics, waves, etc. The second course, PHY112, teaches electronics, magnetism and optics.) Most of the students are not familiar with mathematics and physics way of thinking. This is common in most of the schools in the US and even in some other countries. However, Mississippi State is the worst state to prepare students for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) according to data from American Institute of Physics. From our surveys at USM, about 60% of the students who take this course did not take physics in high school. Many of them also have significant inability in algebra. In addition to the facts, even though students took physics before, quite a few high school science teachers did not have the good knowledge in physics. Some of them taught the students frivolously. Even at a college level, classes are not helpful toward students' inability, and then most of them are discouraged to learn physics sometimes by professors' attitude. Our survey related to students' motivation toward physics classes tells that quite a few students seem to lose their confidence in finishing the classes, or they do not care about what they are learning rather than grades and credits. In order to improve this situation, any of ad hoc methods cannot be effective.
This project to create a new curriculum was planned in spring 2011 and started summer 2011. The considerable accumulated knowledge and the experiences helped us maintain the entire project. The project leader has been investigating to find out such students' background since 2008, which led to a drastic change of the lecture curriculum, which was presented in AAPT Meeting 2010 in Portland. He has been making efforts on preventing students' some of characteristic rote learning, so called "Plug-in Physics." In addition to the knowledge from the lecture side, TAs have given a tremendous amount of feedback on the previous lab manual and students' understanding to the physical concepts. We also analyzed students' experimental data. The project leader wrote the prototype of the new lab textbook in spring semester 2011. Then, the textbook was tested with the students in following summer. We also evaluated whole class settings by giving pre- and post-lab quizzes.
The results are far better than we expected. Almost all of the experimental procedures become understandable to students and even to TAs. Students are able to obtain more accurate results and to grasp the concepts to complete a well-written report.
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