Katherine perkins is an assistant professor of

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Unformatted text preview: iversity of Colorado in Boulder. Katherine Perkins is an assistant professor of physics attendant rank at the University of Colorado. 36 November 2005 Physics Today Research on traditional instruction We now examine how well traditional instruction does at getting the average student to think like an expert. Traditional science instruction is used in the overwhelming majority of college physics courses and has familiar characteristics. Most of the class time involves the teacher lecturing to students; assignments are typically back-of-the-chaptertype homework problems with short quantitative answers, and grades are largely based on exams containing similar problems. Over the past couple of decades, physics education researchers have studied the effectiveness of such practices. (For reviews with useful citations, see references 3–5 and the article by Edward Redish and Richard Steinberg, PHYSICS TODAY, January 1999, page 24). In this section, we present representative examples of research on three quite different but important aspects of learning: conceptual understanding, transfer of information, and basic beliefs about physics. The first aspect of learning, conceptual understanding, has been extensively studied3,4 and is particularly relevant because the great strength of physics is that a few fundamental concepts can explain a vast range of phenomena. Most studies have looked at students’ learning of basic physics concepts in traditional introductory physics courses. The results are remarkably consistent. We will discuss two examples, one from mechanics and one from electricity. Physics education researchers have developed several carefully constructed tests that explore student understanding of the basic concepts of force and motion. These tests have been administered at the beginning and end of many, many courses across the country. The oldest and best-known test is the Force Concepts Inventory (FCI).6 Figure 1 shows a sample question from the FCI and results compiled by Richard Hake from data on 62 courses (14 traditional).7 As shown in the figure, students receiving traditional instruction master, on average, less than 30% of the concepts that they did not already know at the start of the class. The result is largely independent of lecturer quality, class size, or institution. Eric Mazur, a highly renowned teacher at Harvard University, has studied students’ understanding of concepts in electricity. Motivated by FCI results, Mazur gave his students an exam with a series of paired problems8 such © 2005 American Institute of Physics, S-0031-9228-0511-020-5 1 (A) (B) (C) (D) 0.4 (E) 2 0.3 0.2 0.72 0.68 0.64 0.60 0.56 0.52 0.48 0.44 0.40 0.36 0.32 0.28 0.24 0.20 0.16 0.0 0.12 0.1 0.08 FRACTION OF COURSES 0.5 FRACTION OF CONCEPTS LEARNED as those shown in figure 2. His and similar data show that students are able to correctly answer traditional test questions and complete traditional courses without understanding the basic physics concepts or learning the useful concept-based problem-solving approaches of...
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