University of Minnesota

Physics Education Research and Development Group

Content and Structure Changes to Course:

Table 1.
How the Content and Structure of the Physics Course Was Changed to Reinforce Desired Learning Behaviors and Discourage Initial Behaviors

Students' Initial Knowledge, Thought Processes and Learning Behaviors Desired Knowledge, Thought Processes and Learning Behaviors Reinforcement of Desired Behaviors & Barriers to Initial Behaviors
  • Students tend to learn physics as a unrelated collection of memorized facts and formulas.

  • Consequently, many students
    • do not connect physics with the real world,
    • do not change their intuitive ideas (misconceptions) about the way the world works, and
    • cannot distinguish between fundamental principles and specific applications and elaborations of these principles.
  • Students will overcome their misconceptions, construct a coherent hierarchy of knowledge based on the fundamental concepts and principles of physics, and be able to apply these concepts and principles to new, real-world situations in a logically consistent manner.

  • A story line is provided that concentrates on the fundamental concepts and principles of physics and situates students' learning in a real-world problem-solving framework. The lecturer explicitly models the process of constructing knowledge.

  • Within the story-line, multiple situations and content topics are used to illustrate the fundamental concepts and principles.

  • The fundamental concepts and principles are given on each exam -- they do not need to be memorized.

  • All problems must be solved using only the fundamental concepts and principles given on the test.

  • Students tend to solve problems by memorizing sets of specific formulas to use in specific situations (novice strategy).
  • Students will learn a logical, general problem-solving strategy that they can use to solve real-world problems.

  • Students are taught a logical problem-solving strategy. The strategy is always modeled in its entirety in the lectures.

  • Students are given context-rich problems that are too complex to solve with their situation-specific novice strategy.

  • Students are provided with a supportive cooperative-group environment in which to practice using the strategy to solve context-rich word problems and concrete experimental problems.

  • Students are provided with a booklet that describes the strategy, shows worked examples, and gives practice context-rich problems. They are also given problem-solving format sheets with procedural prompts.

  • On tests, students are graded on the use of the strategy as well as for correct physics and mathematical procedures.

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  • Last modified on October 15, 2012