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PERC 2009 Abstract Detail Page

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Abstract Title: Foundations of Course Reform for Introductory Physics
Abstract: At the heart of course reform lies the question "What do we want the students to learn?" and its complement "What do the students want to get from our course?".  Each question has two parts:  what skills should students master for the final examination, and what skills should they retain at some later point in their lives, for example at graduation?   This targeted poster session reports a series of studies exploring these questions and shows the use of various PER-based diagnostic instruments to evaluate an approach to problem solving inspired by the answers we found.  Since the posters represent work in progress, audience opinion and suggestions will be solicited.
Abstract Type: Targeted Poster Session

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: David E. Pritchard
Phone: 617-253-6812
and Co-Presenter(s)
Analia Barrantes, MIT - analiab -at-
Andrew Pawl, MIT - aepawl -at-
Brian Belland, Utah State University - brian.belland -at-

Targeted Poster Session Specific Information

Poster 1 Title: What Else (Besides the Syllabus) Should Students Learn in Introductory Physics?
Poster 1 Authors: David E. Pritchard, Brian Belland, Analia Barrantes
Poster 1 Abstract: Course reform begins with a set of objectives.  We started with a Delphi Study based on interviews with experts, developed orthogonal responses to "what should we teach non-physics majors besides the current syllabus topics?" AAPT attendees, atomic researchers, and PERC08 attendees were asked for their selections.  All instructors rated "sense-making of the answer" very highly and expert problem solving highly. PERers favored epistemology over problem solving, and atomic researchers "physics comes from a few principles".  Students at three colleges had preferences anti-aligned with their teachers, preferring more modern topics, and the relationship of physics to everyday life and to society (the only choice with instructor agreement), but not problem solving or sense-making.  Conclusion #1: we must show students how old physics is relevant to their world.  Conclusion #2: significant course reform must start by reaching consensus on what to teach and how to hold students' interest (then discuss techniques to teach it).
Poster 2 Title: What do A students learn that D students don't?
Poster 2 Authors: Analia Barrantes, David E. Pritchard
Poster 2 Abstract: We have compared performance of students scoring 1 standard deviation below average (D group) with students scoring 1 standard deviation above average (A group) on final exam problems requiring analytic solutions and written plans.  While the D group received 38% fewer total points than the A group, the differences were more dramatic with respect to getting an entire problem correct: for both analytic solutions and plans of attack the A group relative to the D group gave ~ 3.6 times more good answers, and failed to identify all of the physical principles about 3.8 times less often.  We found that students' written plans of attack closely correlated with their analytic solutions in both groups.  We suggest that the typical "one topic per week" organization of introductory courses does not prepare students to identify the physical principles that apply to problems that might involve any of the concepts in the course.
Poster 3 Title: What Do Seniors Remember from Freshman Physics?
Poster 3 Authors: Analia Barrantes, Andrew Pawl, David E. Pritchard
Poster 3 Abstract: We have given a group of 56 MIT Seniors who took mechanics as Freshmen a written test similar to the final they took at that time, plus the MBT and C-LASS standard instruments.  Students unlikely to have reviewed the material in the interim scored half as well as they did as Freshmen on the written part of the test.  Their facility with energy and kinematics was comparable to D-level Freshmen.  They were less able than D-level Freshmen to construct simultaneous equations describing a dynamics problem, but more able to recognize a two-stage problem and develop subgoals.  Their mean score on the MBT was essentially unchanged from the post-test taken as Freshmen, though there were significant shifts in responses to ten of 26 questions.  Attitudinal surveys indicate that half the Seniors believe the mechanics course content will be useful to them, while the vast majority believe physics teaches valuable problem solving skills.
Poster 4 Title: Modeling Applied to Problem Solving
Poster 4 Authors: Andrew Pawl, Analia Barrantes, David E. Pritchard
Poster 4 Abstract: Modeling[1] Applied to Problem Solving (MAPS) is a pedagogy that helps students transfer instruction to problem solving in an expert-like manner.  Declarative and Procedural syllabus content is organized and learned (not discovered) as a hierarchy of General Models.  Students solve problems using an explicit Problem Modeling Rubric that begins with System, Interactions and Model (S.I.M.).  System and Interactions are emphasized as the key to a strategic description of the system and the identification of the appropriate General Model to apply to the problem.  We have employed the pedagogy in a three-week review course for students who received a D in mechanics.  The course was assessed by a final exam retest as well as pre and post C-LASS surveys, yielding a 1.2 standard deviation improvement in the students' ability to solve final exam problems and a statistically significant positive shift in 7 of the 9 categories in the C-LASS.

1.  M. Wells, D. Hestenes, and G. Swakhamer, "A Modeling Method for High School Physics Instruction", Am. J. Phys. 63, 606-619 (1995).