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 Trends in Science Education written by John Belcher Professor of Physics Articl with many helpfull links

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مُساهمةموضوع: Trends in Science Education written by John Belcher Professor of Physics Articl with many helpfull links   السبت يناير 16, 2010 12:37 am


Trends in Science Education

John Belcher

Professor of Physics


This article originally appeared in the MIT Faculty Newsletter,
Vol. IX, No.1, September 1996.


I lectured 8.02, Physics II, Electromagnetism (the 750
student, on-term version)
a few years back.
As a result, I have become interested in the conceptual difficulties that
freshman have
when they encounter MIT's core science subjects.
So, after 25 years of being on the faculty here, I have for
the first time in my professional career attended two
conferences focused exclusively on education. At
the beginning of August, I attended the International
Conference on Undergraduate Physics Education
(ICUPE),
July 31-August 3, 1996, and later the American
Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT ), August 5-10,
1996, both held at the University of Maryland
at College Park.

Although much of what I learned at these conferences is
old hat to many people at the Institute, much of it is new to
me. The context is physics education, but much of it
applies to science education in any of the core disciplines.
These are a common set of issues that we all deal with. I
think it is worthwhile to give a brief summary of what I
found to be of interest at these meetings. A lot of this
material is on-line. To reach the on-line resources,
take a look at this article
at
http://web.mit.edu/jbelcher/www/trends.html.

Given the extensive history of educational reform
in this country, both here and elsewhere, my
preconception before I went to these meetings was that
what can be done, probably has been done
in physics education. But I was wrong. This is a lively field,
with a theoretical underpinning based on general
research in education, with new
modes of teaching, many based on advanced technology,
and with a variety of assessment tools used to evaluate
the effectiveness of teaching methods. Both
meetings I attended had a number of workshops illustrating various
teaching innovations, some of which I will
mention below. The area I found most interesting
is research into methods used in the general science
education of engineers and scientists (i.e., what we do in our
freshman core science subjects), and that is what I will focus on here.

What does research in education have to say
about teaching methodology in the freshman year? Over the last decade, a
number of studies seem to show that the lecture/recitation
format in its traditional form is not very effective in getting
conceptual material across. Although the format has
some success in teaching problem solving, it leaves
glaring holes in conceptual understanding. There is
quantitative weight to this statement. There are a number
of physics education research groups, both in the
US and abroad
(many
with homepages)
which study these issues, in part by using assessment
tests given both before and after courses (in mechanics,
for example). One such test is the Force Concept
Inventory (FCI) (The Physics Teacher 40,
141-153, 1992). Such tests have been used in
conjunction with a number of physics courses across the
country, including courses at Harvard.

A problem typical of these assessment tests is the
following. A ball is thrown straight upward.
Disregarding any effects of the air, the force(s)
acting on the ball from the moment it leaves until it returns
to the ground is (are): (a) its weight vertically downward
along with a steadily decreasing upward force; (b) a
steadily decreasing upward force until it reaches its
highest point, after which there is a steadily increasing
downward force of gravity; (c) a constant downward force
of gravity along with an upward force that steadily
decreases until the ball reaches its highest point, after
which there is only the constant downward force of gravity;
(d) a constant downward force of gravity only.

The answer to this question is (d); many students will give
(c) as the correct answer (why do you think this is so?). The interesting result is
not that a fair number of students answer this
question incorrectly before they take a course like
8.01, but that a substantial number still get it wrong
afterdoes not change the
student's basic conceptual framework about mechanics
very much
. This is not because the students are dumb.
It is because the standard course we teach is not effective
at changing preconceptions or misconceptions that the
students bring with them.
taking a course like 8.01. That is, the standard
course in the standard format

Why is this so? An answer to that
question is contained in the article The Implications of Cognitive Studies for
Teaching Physics
by Edward Redish (The
American Journal of Physics
62, 796-803,
1994) (this article can be found on-line; see the URL given above).
Cognitive studies are about how people understand
and learn. Constructivism in cognitive studies postulates
that: (1) people tend to organize their experiences and
observations into patterns or mental models--the student
does not come to us as a blank slate; (2) it is reasonably
easy to for the student to learn something that matches or
extends an existing mental model; (3) it is very difficult to
change an established mental model substantially; (4)
different people have different styles of learning.

There is a wealth of detail in the article by Redish that
expands on these points, and quotes the relevant
literature, and I strongly recommend it. In particular, with
regards to different learning styles, there is a passage
from Redish that I quote below. We should all keep the
following in mind. It is appropriate for any faculty teaching
introductory courses in the sciences (not only physics),
especially at a place like MIT, where the faculty have been
outstandingly successful in their own disciplines from an
early age.

"Our own personal experiences may be a very poor guide
for telling us what to do for our students. Physics teachers
are an atypical group. We selected ourselves at an early
stage in our careers because we liked physics for one
reason or another. This already selects a fairly small
subclass of learning styles from the overall panoply of
possibilities. We are then trained for approximately a
dozen years before we start teaching our own classes.
This training stretches us even further from the style of
approach of the "typical" student. Is it any wonder why we
don't understand most of our beginning students and they
don't understand us?".

If we accept the fact that our introductory courses do not
get basic conceptual ideas across to many of our students,
what do we do about it? The pervasive answer in the
community at these two meetings is the
abandonment of an exclusive emphasis on problem
solving, and a modification of the traditional lecture format
to permit teaching of underlying concepts. "Teaching of
underlying concepts" usually means some sort of active
interaction between student and teacher, or student and
student, frequently mediated by technology, as opposed
to the passive "telling" mode of traditional lectures. There
are well-documented examples of approaches along
these lines which are much more successful in getting
across basic conceptual material than the standard
lecture format. "Successful" is again defined quantitatively
in terms of the results of standardized assessment tools
such as the FCI mentioned above.

For example, there is the Peer
Instruction
approach of Eric Mazur at Harvard
University. In this
approach, used in a one-year calculus based introductory
physics course for science concentrators, "...the lectures
are broken in 12-minute long sections. Each section starts
with about 7 minutes of lecturing on one of the
fundamental concepts to be covered. This mini-lecture is
then followed by a short multiple-choice question that
tests the students' understanding. After one minute the
students record an answer and are then asked to turn to
their neighbors to try and convince them of their answers.
After another minute or so, the students are asked to
reconsider their answer and record it again. A poll is taken
so the instructor can decide whether to move on to the
next concept, or to continue on the same. This process
repeats until the end of the class...". The polls are taken
electronically, with the results instantaneously posted in
histogram form visible to the entire class.

Assessment data
show a dramatic gain in student performance
compared to that in the same course taught in the
traditional lecture format

There are other such efforts involving innovative teaching
methods, which I will reference here but not detail: the CUPLE (Comprehensive Unified Physics
Learning Environment) approach of Jack Wilson of
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; the
Microcomputer-Based Laboratory (MBL)
approach of Ron Thorton of Tufts University; the Physics by Inquiry approach of Lillian
McDermott of the University of
Washington; the Workshop Physics approach of
Priscilla Laws of Dickinson College; a workbook approach
to teaching Electric and Magnetic Interactions using
integrated desktop experiments, from Ruth Chabay and
Bruce Sherwood of Carnegie Mellon University; the
RealTime Physics
laboratory approach, which
features the comprehensive use of microcomputers for
data collection and analysis, by Sokoloff, Laws, and
Thorton, among others.

Most of these approaches use assessment tools to
measure in some quantitative fashion the effectiveness of
the pedagogy. Many of them involve the use of
technology, but it is important to note that this use is
frequently to facilitate faculty-student or
student-student interaction, not do away with it. For
example, the Peer Instruction approach uses
interconnected small computers which provide immediate
feedback to the students and to the instructor about the
range of answers, which is then the focus of small group
discussions. Other approaches mentioned above also
make use of computers, e.g., digital video processing as a
means of studying realistic examples of Newtonian
mechanics, motion sensors in conjunction with computers
to simultaneously measure and graph such physical
quantities as position, velocity, and acceleration, and so
on, all in an interactive laboratory environment.

The use of these approaches has been successful in a
variety of venues. Rutgers University has a class, Extended Analytic Physics, which
is a first year calculus-based physics
course for students who plan to become engineers, but
who enter with poor preparation in physics and
mathematics. The lectures in this course use an
anonymous student response system similar to the
Harvard Peer Instruction system. The class also
has a weekly workshop that is a hands-on group activity,
partially using the RealTime Physics MBL based
laboratory mentioned above. The Extended Analytic
Physics students have about twice the contact hours as
compared to the mainline Analytic Physics students, with
smaller classes, and more diverse teaching methods.

This course and courses like it at Rutgers have been
outstandingly successful. For example, the retention rate
of minorities in engineering, who are one component of
such courses, has gone from 9% in 1985, before
such courses were introduced, to 50% in 1995.
At the end of their first year, the students in
Extended Analytic Physics (about 120 students) take the
same final as the parallel Analytic Physics (about 450
students), and on average do better on that final than
the mainline students
.These are remarkable results;
someone at Rutgers is doing something right. In student
interviews, all of the Extended Analytic Physics students
felt that the hands-on, cooperative nature of the weekly
workshop was important to their success,
as was the anonymous student response
system used in lecture, a technology-facilitated innovation.
However, the students in Extended Analytic Physics were
also uniform in saying that it was very important to them
that the lecturer knew their names. We live in an age of
transforming technological advances. Some things do not
change, though.

What are the take-home messages of all this? First, there
is a lot of research and innovation in core science education
going on. A lot of this innovation uses advanced
technology to good effect. Second,
there is a focus on the use of quantitative
assessment tools to see if what we intend to teach
students is what they learn. Such tools have been used in
the last decade to examine the results of both our
traditional approaches and results of innovative
approaches. There are innovative approaches out there
which do much better than our traditional approaches, by
this standard.
Whether or not we agree with these innovative
approaches, or the assessment tools by which they are
judged, we should be aware of them.
It is also clear that there is
enormous educational potential in emerging technology.
We at MIT, of all places, should be
involved and knowledgeable about innovations in science education
which make effective use of advanced technology.

source on this linkhttp://web.mit.edu/jbelcher/www/trends.html

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Trends in Science Education written by John Belcher Professor of Physics Articl with many helpfull links
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