Reforming Intro Physics

Jordan's class 1From 2012-17, I led efforts in the Physics and Astronomy Department to reform some sections of the calculus-based Introductory Physics sequence for scientists and engineers (PHYS 2210/2220).  The evidence-based reforms included adopting a new course platform (smartPhysics -> FlipIt Physics) that held students accountable for preparing for class via online pre-lectures and pre-class quizzes, using peer instruction during class to address conceptual difficulties based on the pre-lecture data, implementing context-rich cooperative group problem solving during twice weekly discussion sessions, and utilization of novel assessment strategies.  We also adopted the Force Concept Inventory as a pre- and post-assessment to measure student gains, which were in the range expected for a student-centered active-learning classroom.  Students who had taken the reformed version of PHYS 2210 were also found to perform slightly better in the second half of the sequence (PHYS 2220) than those who had taken a traditional version of PHYS 2210.

In more recent years, the mantle of intro physics course reform in the Department has been taken up by Prof. Claudia De GrandiProf. Ramón Barthelemy, and others, and now involves the deployment of Learning Assistants to facilitate group discourse.

People and Roles:

  • Prof. Brian Saam:  Brian is Professor and Chair of Physics at Washington State University.  Before moving to WSU, Brian was a partner in crime for the early course reform efforts in PHYS 2210 and 2220.
  • Prof. Kyle Dawson:  Kyle is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the U.  He adopted the fully-reformed approach in both PHYS 2210 and 2220 during one academic year (with no prior experience with the course) with good results.
  • My role:  I initiated and pursued the course reforms summarized above, sometimes in partnership with other faculty, often alone and in the face of resistance from colleagues.  I also obtained and analyzed the limited longitudinal data alluded to above, and discussed the outcomes with departmental leadership to sustain (moral and political) support for my efforts.  Finally, I conceived of a new career-line (non-tenure track) faculty position within the Department (Professor of Educational Practice), obtained buy-in and resources for that new position from the Department Chair and Dean of the College of Science, wrote and broadcast the job posting, and led the search committee which eventually resulted in hiring an outstanding new colleague and leader in educational practice, Prof. Claudia De Grandi.
© Jordan Gerton 2019