Another year has past and with it a lot of changes to my 131 efforts. This year has represented the first time I have taught P131 since Spring 2017 and coming back at it with fresh eyes has been very illuminating. There will probably be a lot of discussion on what I did this past year and how it can inform where I am going in the next iterations during the 2023-2024 school year.
One thing, which has become apparent as I publish my 132 Textbook: What is an Electron? What is Light? to the Living Physics Portal has been the inclusion of sections from OpenStax Biology, OpenStax Chemistry – Atoms First 2e, and the occasional selection from some of my peers in the disciplines here at UMass Amherst into that text. These sections are, almost by definition, authentic representations of the language and modes of thinking which characterize these disciplines. Including them in the physics text serves a two main purposes:
Such sections help ensure that students see the physics material as connected to their majors’ courses. After all, right there, in the text, is some information straight out of a biology or chemistry class.
Such sections also provide an equity role: not all students in 131/132 have the same major background; some students may have not been required to take certain classes for example while others may, due to the differences in the semesters in which different majors take physics, have taken these courses several years ago. By including them in the text, I am making sure that the needed biology or chemistry information is fresh in each person’s mind.
As I said, such sections are already exist in the 132 textbook, and submitting it for review has re-impressed on me the importance of such materials. Also important are homework questions that test the material. I remember as a student skipping these introductory/motivational chapters in my intro texts (Young and Freedman’s Sears and Zemansky’s University Physics with Modern Physics 13th ed.). Simple economic factors were at play: I had a limited amount of time and the material in these sections was never assessed in any way. Thus, I skipped them. Recalling this economic thinking shows the importance of having homework assessment of the material.
So, what am I thinking with regards to such biology/chemistry sections? Which should I perhaps include? Well, I am sure that this list will change as I go this summer developing the materials for fall, but a few already come to mind:
Entropy – Some discussion on the importance of entropy to biology and chemistry? Perhaps more on the Gibbs Free Energy? Also some comments about some of the examples we work such as the alignment of cytoskeletal fibers in cell division?
Energy – Some overview of the ideas of energy from a biology text?
The ATP reaction – I use this a lot in my discussion of microscopic energy and during the past semester a few students’ comments demonstrated that a review of this material would probably be beneficial.
Some discussion on ground reaction forces for when we get to simulations etc from a kinesiology resource? A discussion of force plates could also be good.
Brokk Toggerson has been awarded 3rd Place (Bronze) / $500 prize from the first-ever Department of Higher Education Open Educational Resources Olympics for his work on the Physics 131: Forces, Energy, Entropy and Physics 132: What is an Electron? What is Light? open-source textbooks. These awards were established to honor the extensive accomplishments of of public higher educators statewide. Winners were selected by a sub-committee of the OER Advisory Coucil. The first and second place winners were from community colleges meaning that Brokk Toggerson was the only awardee from a research university.
This past Saturday, Brokk Toggerson participated in the ASBMB Northeast Catalyst Conversations for 2020 at UMass Amherst as a panelist talking about OER. In particular, about the gradual transition from OpenStax to, a stack of pdfs, to the custom books we have now developed. The biggest hurdle to many faculty is, as it was for us, the online homework systems. Our experience with EdFinity seemed well received.
In addition to being on a panel, it was interesting to see some work from the biology DBER community as well. Some interesting ideas over lunch with Sarah G. Prescott, an Associate Professor from UNH Manchester, resulted in some ideas about how to better implement Twitter in the classroom. This was tried in 132 a few years ago, without much success. The students found the assignments to be “busy work” and there were significant technical challenges getting everyone setup. However, the motivation for the assignments, encouraging students to find applications of physics in their everyday lives or fields of study is still important. Prof Prescott’s main ideas were:
Make each assignment relevant or don’t do it (obvious but always good advice!)
Make the first few assignments simply about engaging with academic Twitter. This will make the entire activity more relevant to them as they can see how this can benefit them.
Have screen captures etc. about how to get setup, including how to make a dummy account.
Make students turn-in a screen shot. Again, a video on how to do this may be needed, but these are much easier to grade than us finding students’ posts on Twitter!
Grade using a mastery model: they must include everything or no points. This is easy to grade and scales well. A few drops ensures that this does not negatively impact anyone’s grade.
Finally make the the technical use of Twitter part of the assignments: threads, hashtags, etc.
Definitely something to think about going forward. Always fun to see how other disciplines do things!
This semester, I have decided to finally take the plunge for migrating the Physics 132 textbook from the pdf generated by the OpenStaxCNX platform to a much-easier-to-edit format of Pressbooks and simultaneously moving the online preparatory homework from Pearson’s MasteringPhysics (to which I will not link, search for it if you are interested) to Edfinity. This is quite a journey and a lot of work, but I think it will pay off.
NYTimes Opinion 11 December 2019 – How Professors Help Rip Off Students: Textbooks are too expensive.
Another interesting article from the NYTimes related to our work here at the physedgroup. This most recent article talks about the fact that textbook prices have increased over 1000% since the 1970’s! The article specifically talks about economics, but many of the details mentioned are relevant to physics as well: $250 books, with $50 access codes for homework systems, all familiar refrains for undergraduates taking physics courses.