Education Research at the Boundary of Physics and Biology Documents

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AAPT Summer 2013 

written by Juan Burciaga, Catherine H. Crouch, Vashti Sawtelle, and Kimberly Tanner

Attached are the presentations from the AAPT Summer 2013 Invited Session on Introductory Physics for the Life Sciences (IPLS). For a number of years a growing portion of the physics community has been investing time, energy and expertise into revising the IPLS course. There are a number of resources for physics faculty to draw upon for alternative course paradigms, more detailed evaluations of what is or is not working in their IPLS courses, and models of combining PER and BER (Biology Education Research) efforts to understand effective teaching and learning in the IPLS. These talks provide an overview of some examples of reform in the IPLS and also highlight ongoing transformative efforts.

You may access the talks under the "View the primary documents attached to this resource" link.

Published July 31, 2013
Last Modified July 31, 2013

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Primary Documents (4)

Preparing to Teach IPLS: Motivations, Challenges, and Resources 

The physics community is experiencing a growing pressure to reform the Introductory Physics Courses for the Life Sciences (IPLS). Part of this pressure for reform is external (e.g., the changing nature of biological research or the revision to the MCAT) and part is internal (e.g., faculty dissatisfaction with the traditional course). And as faculty turn their attention to reform efforts, we encounter many challenges and barriers, some expected but many unexpected, and far too many intransigent. What is the source of this demand for reform? How can an individual faculty respond to this demand? What are the barriers to both local and community-wide reform? What resources exist, or are being developed, to aid individual faculty and the physics community as a whole to respond to the groundswell of change? The paper will summarize, and expand on, the discussions that members of the physics community have been pursuing over the last four years.

Copyright Juan Burciaga. Free for non-commercial use.

Published July 31, 2013
Last Modified July 31, 2013

This file is included in the full-text index.

Teaching Introductory Physics in Biological Context 

Physics is an increasingly important foundation for today's life sciences and medicine (hereafter "the life sciences"). However, the physics content and ways of thinking identified by life scientists as most important for these fields are often not taught, or underemphasized, in traditional algebra-based college physics courses. Furthermore, such courses rarely give students practice using physics to understand the life sciences in a substantial way. Consequently, students are unlikely to recognize the value of physics to their chosen fields, or to develop facility in applying it to biological systems. In this talk I will present common themes among reformed introductory physics for the life sciences (IPLS) courses that are organized around significant life science applications of physics, describe the guiding pedagogical principles and the process of developing and implementing such courses, present initial assessment data, and identify directions for further development and research.

Copyright Catherine Crouch. Free for non-commercial use

Published July 31, 2013
Last Modified July 31, 2013

This file is included in the full-text index.

Iteratively Designing an IPLS Course to Support Building Disciplinary Connections 

Our course in Introductory Physics for Life Science (IPLS) majors at the University of Maryland works to bridge the disciplines of biology and physics with a primary focus on developing students' scientific reasoning skills. These include developing students' abilities (1) to know when and how to use different concepts, (2) to make and justify modeling decisions, and (3) to make implicit assumptions visible. Our interdisciplinary course provides students an opportunity to examine how these decisions may differ depending on canonical disciplinary aims and interests. Our focus on developing reasoning skills requires shifting course topics to focus on core ideas that span the disciplines as well as foregrounding typically tacit disciplinary assumptions. In this talk we present concrete examples from our IPLS course to give a sense of what it looks like to implement a vision focused on these reasoning skills in an interdisciplinary classroom.

Copyright Vashti Sawtelle. Free for non-commercial use

Published July 31, 2013
Last Modified July 31, 2013

This file is included in the full-text index.

Exploring "Thinking Like a Biologist" in the Context of Physics 

University biology education aims to produce students with biological expertise, which includes not only accrual of biological knowledge, but also organization of that knowledge into a biological framework. The recent publication of "Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education" includes such a framework that can be used to prioritize what biology students are learning and to help them organize this information. This framework asserts only five fundamental biological principles: 1) structure-function relationships, 2) pathways and transformations of energy and matter, 3) interconnected systems, 4) information flow, and 5) evolution. So, how might these principles inform the development of physics courses for life science students? To what extent might these fundamental organizing principles of biological expertise align with physics principles? To what extent might they be in conflict? And how could we begin to measure how students navigate, integrate, or segregate these organizing principles across the disciplines of physics and biology?

Copyright Kimberly Tanner. Free for non-commercial use.

Published July 31, 2013
Last Modified July 31, 2013

This file is included in the full-text index.