Physics 390T is now Physics 361

At the December 6th meeting of the UMass Faculty Senate, the experimental course Physics 390T was approved and became Physics 361. The feedback from this course was uniformly positive with several other departments in the College of Natural Sciences reaching out to get more information with an eye to starting a similar version of such a course for themselves.

Congratulations to Brokk Toggerson on this accomplishment.

If you would like to read more about the new Physics 361, you can read more about an Introduction to Physics Education for Physics Majors here.

Application of Active Learning Techniques to Upper Division Courses

Today, I led the discussion for the new(ish) 5-College PER Lunch which co-convened with the bi-monthly UMass Physics Teaching Lunch. The topic was the application of active learning techniques to upper division courses.

Much of the research literature has been on the application of active learning techniques to lower-division and introductory courses. The unique challenges of upper division courses often result in feelings that similar techniques will not work for these more advanced offerings. However, we know that actively is how people actually learn. The purpose of this session was to brainstorm the challenges and then, for break into groups to explore ways of implementing these techniques in the upper division.

The slides which guided today’s session can be found here.

Addendum: Gary Felder, from Smith College, wanted to share his active exercises for Math Methods which can be found at

Thinking about integrated labs in the Team-Based-Learning Format of P131

As we near the end of the semester, Physics 131 is once again finishing up with a unit on the statistical interpretation of entropy (not a typical topic for an introductory algebra-based course). This unit gets started with two labs: one systematically playing the famous Monty Hall problem and a second models the free expansion/compression of a gas using coins. While I do not have strong evidence for this belief, I feel that these two labs are the strongest two labs we do all semester. Students seem to really engage with these two labs and the act of doing the experiments really seems to add to student understanding in ways I do not see with other labs in the course. Even our much celebrated lab investigating the bio-mechanical ground-reaction forces of the human jump doesn’t seem to engage our students as much. Why? What is the “magic sauce” of these two labs? How can we modify the other labs of the course to achieve these same ends?

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