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?
During my AAPT SM18 experience, I focused on presentations and posters from three main areas in which I have deep personal interest: IPLS/curriculum development, diversity/equity in physics, and self-efficacy/attitudes. In addition, I attended several sessions related to areas of interest for our department, specifically on integrating computation through the curriculum. In this post, I will synthesize and reflect on my take-aways from the conference. I saw a lot of good talks. As such, this post is somewhat long.
In the development of Physics 131, we have been working backwards: refining the course starting with the last unit on entropy and then moving towards the start of the semester. Due to this approach, our first two units on the mathematical foundations of physics and forces are now our weakest two units. Moreover, Unit 3 – Forces and… covers a LOT of material: impulse, work, and torque. One of our (many!) goals for the summer is then to revamp these first two units – hopefully making the labs a more valuable experience at the same time. One of the big guiding principles of this revamp is to use the idea of expansive framing described in Engle et al .
Is there a sense in which IPLS courses like Phys 131 and 132 here at UMass, are courses with diversity as a central component? A recent meeting of my Teaching for Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity Fellowship which had Including Aspects of Identity in Course Design as the theme, got me thinking about this question.
Brokk Toggerson, along with Lara Al Hariri, Caleb Rounds, and Adena Calden have been awarded a Mutual Mentoring Grant by the UMass-Amherst Institute for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Development (TEFD) to develop a mutual mentoring network to connect the, predominantly junior, faculty who are responsible for teaching the introductory sequence of courses for life-science majors. This collaboration would be truly interdisciplinary connecting faculty from biology, chemistry, physics, math, and kinesiology. The mentoring network will strive to develop a curriculum that is aligned both in content and skills, thereby helping students develop the tools of knowledge transfer and interdisciplinary thinking critical for a modern workforce. In addition, the network will also share pedagogical best practices particular to large-enrollment STEM courses.
Congrats to the group!