red Supported Site University of Missouri-Columbia: Course Reform


  • 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.
  • Created new course "Teaching Physics" for physics education students and others interested in exploring teaching physics.
  • 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.


  • 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

  • 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 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.
  • 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 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).

[Physics 2750H: Honors University Physics I]

  • This section of course was previously nonexistent. The honors section of this introductory course is a small section (≤ 36), 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.