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[Phys-L] Re: Goals of the Introductory Course

To put together a course which really changes how students think you should
look at the various courses designed by PER. Look at Workshop Physics at
Dickinson College, the Scaleup project by Beichner at NC State, the work
of Alan Van Heuvelin, McDermott et al at Washington State, Leonard et al a
U.Mass Amherst...

Unfortunately the actual change in thinking is generally far less than it
could be, and is usually zero. To assess changes in thinking use the
Classroom Test of Scientific Thinking from Anton Lawson's book "Science
Teaching and the Development of Reasoning". Then of course use the FCI as a
pre and posttest.

All of the articles you need to look at have been published in The Physics
Teacher, American Journal of Physics, and Journal of Research in Science
Teaching. Then of course read Aron's book "Teaching Introductory Physics"
cover to cover several times. Finally the book "Really Raising Standards"
by Shayer and Adey can provide much insight into student thinking.

Finally a little known thesis published in the late 80s has some powerful
insights into student problem solving. M. C. Mehl, "The Cognitive
difficulties of first year physics students at the University of the Western
Cape and various Compensatory Programmes", Univ. of Capetown, Jun 1985. He
raised a 50% failure rate to a 100% passing rate.

John M. Clement
Houston, TX

-----Original Message-----
Thank you for the replies. My syllabus begins with "meta" goals similar
to the ones John and Rick listed. It helps to know others have a
similar viewpoint. I especially agree that we should work to change the
way our students think about the world.

I'm curious about topic-related goals. John, your post speaks to this
very well, and I would like to press you and everyone else for more
detail. What are the essential topical learning goals we should set for
students in the introductory course?

I realize the list could be quite long, even if we take "essential" in a
quite restrictive sense, which I would like to do for the sake of
argument. I also know the list will differ depending on the
constituencies represented in the class. I'm at a four-year liberal
arts college. We have a single calculus-based two-semester introductory
course with pre-medical students, physics majors, and 3/2 engineering
students in the same room. It seems to me the needs of the physics
majors should largely determine the goals I set for this course, but
perhaps others have a different viewpoint. I do make an effort not to
leave the pre-med students bewildered. (They are by far the largest and
most vocal component of the class.)

I'm hoping to create a leaner curriculum for this course; a "less is
more" approach. Instead of agonizing over what to leave out--I don't
want to leave anything out--, I'm attempting to develop learning goals
that determine what to bring in.

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