Physics Education Research at CU-Boulder





Physics Education Research Projects at CU-Boulder

Using a Research-based Approach to Reform Upper-division Quantum I and E&M I

Investigators: Steve Pollock, Katherine Perkins, Stephanie Chasteen, Steven Goldhaber, Rachel Pepper, Michael Dubson, Paul Beale

Supported by the SEI and a CCLI grant, we apply methods developed in PER to more advanced courses. We are guided by the results of observations, interviews, and analysis of student work. Reforms include consensus learning goals, “clicker” questions, tutorials, modified homeworks, and classroom activities. We examine the effectiveness of these reforms relative to traditional courses, based on grades, interviews, and attitudinal and conceptual surveys. See course materials (and publications).

Physics Education Technology Project (PHET )

Investigators: Wendy Adams, Michael Dubson, Noah Finkelstein, Chris Keller, Ron LeMaster, Sam McKagan, Kathy Perkins, Noah Podolefsky, Sam Reid, Carl Wieman

The Physics Education Technology (PhET) Project is a new initiative to provide a suite of online tools for teaching and learning physics and chemistry at the high school and college levels. The project focuses on the development of relatively elaborate Java- and Flash-based animated simulations that are designed to help students develop visual and conceptual models of physical phenomena. We are also developing guiding questions that will utilize the simulations to address specific conceptual difficulties, help students experience the relationships among variables, and connect physics to real-world experiences and observations. These simulations create an interactive experience for the student that is designed to promote active thinking and encourage experimentation. We have implemented the simulations as lecture demonstrations, homework tools, a replacement for laboratory equipment, and as a preparation activity for class. We have undertaken many research activities to determine what makes a simulation effective and how it can be used effectively as an educational tool.

A paper that describes the replacement of traditional lab equipment with one of these simulations in a large-lecture introductory class is in press.

 

Colorado Learning About Science Survey (CLASS)

Investigators: Wendy Adams, Noah Finkelstein, Kathy Perkins, Noah Podolefsky, Carl Wieman

CU has developed a new survey designed to assess student attitudes and beliefs regarding their science courses. This survey, the CLASS, is now being administered to students in several departments at CU-Boulder and the University of Northern Colorado. Papers describing the survey and preliminary results are available.

 

Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS)

Investigators: Sam McKagan, Carl Wieman, Kathy Perkins

Sam McKagan is developing a new survey designed to assess students' conceptual understanding of Quantum Mechanics. This survey, the QMCS, has administered to students in courses ranging from sophomore level modern physics to graduate Quantum Mechanics, both at CU-Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines.

 

Research on classroom practice

Investigators: Mike Dubson, Chris Keller, Sam McKagan, Kathy Perkins, Steve Pollock, Chandra Turpen, Carl Wieman

Steve Pollock and Carl Wieman have introduced a series of reforms into their large-lecture introductory courses. Our group is researching the effects of these reforms both in terms of student performance and in terms of student attitudes. Steve's project page can be found here. Studies of how and what students learn in a course for physics for non majors have been conducted by Carl and Kathy. Carl Wieman, Kathy Perkins, and Sam McKagan have implemented and studied reforms in a modern physics course for engineers.

 

The role of analogy in constructing physics understanding

Investigators: Noah Podolefsky, Wendy Adams, Noah Finkelstein

Noah Podolefsky and Wendy Adams are studying the manner in which students use analogy to build up their understandings of physical concepts, in particular wave concepts. A poster describing preliminary work is available.

 

Research on problem representation

Investigators: Pat Kohl, Noah Finkelstein

Physics content can be represented in a number of complementary ways including words, diagrams, pictures, and equations. Pat Kohl is studying student peformance on problems of varying format, as well as their perceptions of those formats. A preliminary paper is in press.

 

Research on problem solving in physics

Investigators: Wendy Adams, Carl Wieman

Wendy Adams is currently studying problem solving and developing a survey for evaluating problem solving skills. Wendy Adams' Dissertation

 

Theory of learning (physics) in context

Investigators: Noah Finkelstein, Valerie Otero

Noah Finkelstein is taking some steps to answer the question, "Why is teaching such an effective way to learn?" Papers are available here and here. In related work, Valerie Otero writes about students' learning from using computer simulations from a socio-cultural and distributed cognition perspective.

 

Research on physics in elementary education

Investigators: Danielle Harlow, Valerie Otero

 

Research on Programs to bridge physics and education

Investigators: Michael Dubson, Noah Finkelstein, Steve Iona, Valerie Otero, Kathy Perkins, Steve Pollock, Carl Wieman

Several programs are designed to bridge the School of Education and the Department of Physics. Each strives to increase the number of qualified physics teachers (for K-14 system). These programs include the STEM-Colorado program, Colorado PhysTEC, and a new class on Teaching and Learning Physics.