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Physics Education Research Conference 2010 Invited Talks

Bridging Session

Uncovering the hidden decisions that shape curriculum

Danielle B. Harlow, University of California, Santa Barbara

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM
Pavilion West

Developing explanatory models is a central practice to scientific inquiry. When students create and test explanatory models for scientific phenomenon, they develop content knowledge, knowledge of the nature of science, and creative thinking skills. Unfortunately, such instruction rarely occurs in K-12 science. This is, in part, because teachers do not have the opportunity to develop sophisticated understandings of the process of modeling, but also because teaching in this way requires teachers to make real-time instructional decisions that are responsive to students? ideas. This is challenging for new teachers, especially because this decision process is often invisible. In this talk, I will highlight the importance of providing opportunities for sophisticated science thinking for our youngest learners and consider how uncovering the decisions that shape physics courses for teachers may benefit their future students.

Download Danielle Harlow's Invited Presentation

Rethinking our goals: What will our students remember when they forget everything?

Eugenia Etkina, Rutgers University

4:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Pavilion West

The question of the purpose of education is similar to the question about the purpose of life: it is difficult to keep the answer in mind when one is submerged in everyday routines and minor distractions. But if we stop briefly while grading an exam, preparing a lab, or running a review session and ask ourselves what students will remember 20 years form now, the question and its answer might change completely what we do every day. Our PER group has tried to answer this question and as a result is changing our approach to teaching introductory physics. We still want students to understand electromagnetic induction and thin lenses; but a larger goal is to empower them with the understanding of reasoning processes that help them make independent decisions and solve complex problems in their future lives. I will share the successes and challenges of this work.

Download Eugenia Etkina's Invited Presentation

Development of functional understanding in physics: Promoting ability to reason

Lillian C. McDermott, University of Washington

5:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Pavilion West

A functional understanding of a concept in physics connotes the ability to interpret and apply it appropriately. The need to help students learn how to do the requisite reasoning is often ignored in introductory physics, a neglect that often continues in upper division courses. The emphasis in most recent research at the university level has been on the qualitative understanding of concepts, models of student thinking, and problem solving ability. These are all important, but there is also a need to conduct research to guide the development of instructional materials that promote the development of basic scientific reasoning skills (e.g., interpretation of proportions, construction of proper analogies, control of variables, use of limiting arguments, deductive and inductive logic). Examples will illustrate how the study of physics can cultivate ability in scientific reasoning.

The research and related curriculum development discussed in this presentation have been supported, in part, by a series of NSF grants, of which the most recent are: DUE #0618185 and DR-K12 #0733276.

Download Lillian C. McDermott's Invited Presentation


Toward meaning and scientific thinking in the traditional freshman laboratory: Opening the "idea space"

Saalih Allie, University of Cape Town, South Africa

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM
Galleria South

The physics freshman laboratory curriculum would appear to be a natural place for students to participate in activities related to critical thinking. However, several elements of the more traditional curriculum, such as an instruction driven recipe-like approach in order to reproduce well-known results, conspire together to send a message that is at odds with broad scientific thinking. It is postulated that this type of formulation of laboratory activities causes a closing of the student "idea space". For meaningful reflection and critique to be a natural part of the learning activities it is necessary to open the idea space by choosing suitable ways of framing the activities in terms of the parameters that control the idea space. In the talk we look at three such parameters that appear to control the idea space: metaphors, audience and language usage.

Introducing students to the culture of physics: Explicating elements of the hidden curriculum

Edward F. Redish, University of Maryland

4:00 PM - 4:30 PM
Galleria South

When we teach physics to prospective scientists and engineers we are teaching more than the "facts" of physics - more than the methods and concepts of physics. We are introducing them to a complex culture - a mode of thinking and the cultural code of behavior of a community of practicing scientists. This culture has components that are often part of our hidden curriculum: epistemology - how we decide that we know something; ontology - how we parse the observable world into categories, objects, and concepts; and discourse - how we hold a conversation in order to generate new knowledge and understanding. In order to understand these often-tacit components of our teaching, we need an understanding of how students' minds work, how they perceive the activities of science, and how we perceive those activities. To teach our hidden curriculum we must pay attention to students' intuition and perception of physics, not just to their reasoning.

What we learned by moving beyond content understanding and diversifying our research agenda

Mel S. Sabella, Chicago State University

4:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Galleria South

Physics Program at Chicago State University has been investigating student learning for the past eight years in an effort to construct an effective instructional environment for the urban physics student. In our initial work, the targeted analysis on student content understanding caused us to miss the specific attitudes, thinking, and reasoning skills present in our students. As our research focus began to shift to identifying these other skills, we began to identify specific student resources that foster an active learning environment in the introductory physics course. In addition, we began to uncover a set of coherent, robust content knowledge that we had previously overlooked. Research studies on collaboration in the classroom and work on identifying intuitive and formal reasoning has since provided a rich, complex picture of student understanding and has informed the development of our instructional environment.

Supported by the NSF Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement Program and the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program (0632563, 0618128, 410068, 0833251).