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Abstract Title: Cognitive Issues in Developing Curriculum for Upper-Level Physics Courses
Abstract: In the last few decades, several exemplary introductory physics curricula have been developed that take into account cognitive issues in the teaching and learning of physics. This session will focus on how physics education researchers, in recent years, have begun developing and evaluating curricula for upper-level physics courses that account for cognitive issues. The poster presenters will discuss cognitive approaches to designing upper-level physics curriculum pertaining to different subject matters. They will particularly focus on analyzing the issues that are common across different subject matters and those that are particularly important for their topic of interest. Presenters will also discuss the importance of various cognitive issues in the design of upper-level courses compared to their importance in developing introductory physics curriculum.
Abstract Type: Targeted Poster Session

Author/Organizer Information

Primary Contact: Chandralekha Singh
University of Pittsburgh
3941 Ohara St.
Department of Physics, University of PIttsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Phone: 412-624-9045
Fax: 4126249163

Targeted Poster Session Specific Information

Poster 1 Title: Observations of General Learning Patterns in an Upper-Level Thermal Physics Course
Poster 1 Authors: David E. Meltzer, Arizona State University
Poster 1 Abstract: I will discuss some observations from using interactive-engagement instructional methods in an upper-level thermal physics course over a
two-year period. From the standpoint of the subject matter knowledge of the upper-level students, there was a striking persistence of
common learning difficulties previously observed in students enrolled in the introductory course, accompanied, however, by some notable
contrasts between the groups. More broadly, I will comment on comparisons and contrasts regarding general pedagogical issues among different student sub-populations, for example: differences in the receptivity of lower- and upper-level students to diagrammatic representations; varying receptivity to tutorial-style instructional approach within the upper-level population; and contrasting approaches to learning among physics and engineering sub-populations in the upper-level course with regard to use of symbolic notation, mathematical equations, and readiness to employ verbal explanations.
Poster 2 Title: Learning about student learning in intermediate mechanics:  Using research to improve instruction
Poster 2 Authors: Bradley Ambrose, Grand Valley State University
Poster 2 Abstract: Ongoing research in physics education has demonstrated that physics majors often do not develop a working knowledge of basic concepts in mechanics, even after standard instruction in upper-level mechanics courses.[1]  A central goal of this work has been to explore the ways in which students make--or do not make--appropriate connections between physics concepts and the more sophisticated mathematics (e.g., differential equations, vector calculus) that they are expected to use.  Many of the difficulties that students typically encounter suggest deeply-seated alternate conceptions, while others suggest the presence of loosely or spontaneously connected intuitions.  Analysis of results from pretests (ungraded quizzes), written exams, and informal classroom observations will be presented to illustrate specific examples of these difficulties.  Also to be presented are examples of particular instructional strategies (implemented in Intermediate Mechanics Tutorials2) that appear to be effective in addressing these difficulties.
1) B.S. Ambrose, "Investigating student understanding in intermediate mechanics:  Identifying the need for a tutorial approach to instruction,"
Am. J. Phys. 72, 453 – 459 (2004).
2 Supported by NSF grants DUE-0441426 and DUE-0442388.
Poster 3 Title: Cognitive Development at the Middle-division Level
Poster 3 Authors: Corinne A. Manogue and Elizabeth Gire, Oregon State University
Poster 3 Abstract: One of the primary goals, as students transition from the lower-division
to upper-division courses is to facilitate the cognitive development
needed for work as a physicist. The Paradigms in Physics curriculum
(junior-level courses developed at Oregon State University) addresses this goal by coaching students to coordinate different modes of reasoning, highlighting common techniques and concepts across physics topics, and setting course expectations to be more aligned with the professional culture of physicists. This poster will highlight some of the specific ways in which we address these cognitive changes in the context of classical mechanics and E&M courses.
This work is supported in part by NSF grant DUE 0618877.
Poster 4 Title: Cognitive issues and appraoches to improving students' understanding of quantum mechanics
Poster 4 Authors: Chandralekha Singh and Guangtian Zhu, University of Pittsburgh
Poster 4 Abstract: Learning quantum mechanics is challenging. Our group is investigating cognitive issues in learning quantum mechanics and developing quantum interactive learning tutorials (QuILTs) and tools for peer-instruction based upon cognitive task analysis. Many of the tutorials employ computer-based visualization tools to help students take advantage of multiple representations and develop better intuition about quantum phenomena.  We will discuss the aspects of the cognitive design of the quantum mechanics curriculum that are
similar or different from introductory courses and discuss why the analysis of cognitive issues is important for bridging the gap between quantitative and conceptual aspects of quantum mechanics.
Supported by the NSF-PHY-0653129 and 055434.
Poster 5 Title: A research-based approach to transforming upper-division Electricity & Magnetism I
Poster 5 Authors: Steven Pollock and Stephanie Chasteen, University of Colorado
Poster 5 Abstract: We are transforming an upper-division electricity and magnetism course
for physics and engineering majors using principles of active
engagement and learning theory. The teaching practices and new
curricular materials (homeworks, interactive lectures with clickers,
and after-class help sessions and tutorials) were guided by the
results of observations, interviews, and analysis of student written
work to identify common student difficulties with the content, and
were informed by explicit learning goals established in collaboration
with faculty. In parallel, we are developing a conceptual test, the
CUE (Colorado Upper-division Electrostatics instrument), to assess
some of the impacts and ongoing evolution of the new curriculum. We
present key elements of our research base for these course
transformations, including instances where interactive engagement
techniques, and our assessment tools and observations, help elucidate
student difficulties at this level. Our work underlines the need for
further investigation into the nature of student difficulties – and
appropriate instructional interventions – for complex physical problem
solving at the upper division level.