Project Details


Numerous reports from government and industry have called for colleges and universities to produce more -- and more capable -- STEM graduates. This project addresses this need in the context of physics. The investigators will develop a method of teaching introductory physics laboratory (IPL) sections that encourages students not only to think like scientists but also to acquire STEM-relevant technical skills. In particular, the investigators will develop new lab exercises in a format that does not provide students with step-by-step guidance. This approach will foster authentic scientific thinking as well as quality interactions among the students. New technologies such as open-source hardware and 3D printers will be an integral part of the labs. During a two-semester IPL sequence, students will gain intimate experience translating conceptual knowledge and technical skills into the design and implementation of scientific experiments. A student's experience in introductory courses (such as IPLs) plays an important role in the recruitment and retention of STEM majors. In this regard, the project aims to remove some of the drudgery that students tend to experience in introductory labs and to transform them into exciting learning environments that promote creativity and provide a sense of accomplishment. The project's approach is modeled on proven pedagogical techniques, such as peer instruction and active engagement, and it will build on the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) project, in particular. Many colleges and universities cannot afford to operate multiple sections of the same introductory lecture course in a manner that best implements these techniques. Because laboratory sections are usually capped at a relatively small size to ensure appropriate student-instructor interaction, the investigators have chosen to implement the effective pedagogical techniques in the lab setting. This approach will be cost-effective ('Best Practices on a Budget'). The labs will be based on open-source software/hardware so that other institutions that wish to adopt the approach can do so at reasonable cost. The investigators will also employ some novel assessment methods to gauge the effects of the redesigned labs on students. For example, because they will combine students from algebra-based and calculus-based introductory physics courses in a single IPL course, they will be able to study student pair-work interactions and determine whether intellectually pairing students is a beneficial methodology. Additionally, they will investigate whether built-in growth opportunities are a beneficial feature in science education.
Effective start/end date9/15/158/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))

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