Physics 4460/5460 Education 4460/5460
Teaching and Learning Physics
Fall 2015
Finkelstein & Dancy

A course on how people learn and understand key concepts in physics. Readings in physics, physics education research, education, psychology and cognitive science, plus opportunities for teaching and evaluating college and K-12 students. Useful for all students, especially for those interested in physics, teaching and education research. The class will largely depend upon your input. You will help create and direct the class.

Learning Objectives: Course-scale. By the end of the course participants will have:

    • engaged as members of the physics education research (PER) commuity,
    • demonstred (and externalized) a foundational understanding of the span of the field (PER theory, practices, curricula and key studies),
    • enacted their skills at putting theory and experimental work into practice (in real educaitonal settings),
    • analyzed curricula and foundational studies in PER,
    • conducted original scholary work
    • defined areas of their own interest in the field

Student responsibilities:

  • active participation in and out of class.
  • weekly homeworks (readings, reflections, physics problems & analysis, fieldwork, and fieldnotes)
  • final project (project of your own design)

Our roles, as instructors will be to facilitate your engagement with the material, provide resources for you, and give you feedback and direction. Please make use of our office hours


Official Office Hours: We will plan on being around:

NF: Tu 1-2p, 4:30+ F1023 Gamow: 303 735 6082
MD: Thurs 2-4p and by appointment; F1031,


E.F. Redish, Teaching and Learning Physics Also available online for free:
[I don’t promise the pages match up]

Introductory Physics Text (Mechanics Calc-based), eg. Knight, Giancoli, Wolfson, or Dubson & Pollock’s lecture notes (or 2013 version)

Weekly readings on D2L, NB, class website or handed out

Course Website:

Student Work / Expectations

There will be 3 types of regular work in this course: (1) readings/reflections on PER foundations- theory and experimental studies, (2) review of PER curricula & review of trad’l physics content:, (3) practicum in teaching or research & fieldnotes.

Theory / Research in PER: (Typically for Tuesday Classes) Each week we’ll be discussing readings. A tentative schedule is on the calendar page.  We’ll be reading from Redish’s book Teaching Physics and original sources that are on the course web page, D2L, NB, or handed out in class one week in advance.
You are to post your at least 3 comments or responses to comments online for each paper on NB by Monday 5pm.  You are to review your colleagues notes on the reading and respond to one of the questions / comments or queries by Tues noon. Also, each week you are expected to write a paragraph summary of each paper/ reading, and to list out 3 questions, or points of interest that the paper brought up. These can be the same as posted on NB if helpful. Bring this paragraph summary and 3 comments / qeustions to class in hardcopy [The goal here is for you to have an annotated bibliography of readings and be prepared to engage in class]
While, we (Dancy and Finkelstein) will lead the first week or two of readings, our operation may be handed over to you to lead the discussions for future classes. As you are interested we will have students sign up to lead the discussion once or twice over the course of the term.  These weeks you should produce an online summary of the reading (1 paragraph to one page is fine), be prepared to present a 5-10 min summary of the paper, and bring in some points of discussion for the class.
Graduate Students: you will typically have an extra article each week and are expected to read and comment on these.

Curricula/ pedagogy & analysis of physics content and reasoning (typically thursdays). There will be also be readings about physics pedagogy also for each Thursday’s class. You are to post your at least 3 comments or responses to comments online for each paper on NB by Wed 5pm.  You are to review your colleagues notes on the reading and respond to one of the questions / comments or queries by Thurs noon. Also, Make a write a paragraph summary of each paper/ reading, and to list out 3 questions, or points of interest that the paper brought up.  Bring these Thursday’s to class. Again this is to provide you with an annotated bibliography and prepare you to engage in class.

Also, We’ll be grounding these curricula / pedagogy by covering the intro sequence of physics at the same time we are reading about student learning. Our class will roughly parallel the 1st semester of calc- based physics, 1110. (   Our tentative schedule of topics is listed on the course calendar page .  Each week you are expected to review the relevant sections in an introductory textbook, preferably from Wolfson, Knight, Dubsons online notes or another book. 

There may also be assignments to review student reasoning of course content. This may vary from analyzing student work, analyzing homework problems / approaches in the traditional or per-based curriculum. See the assignments page to keep up on these.

Teaching / Fieldwork (your choice): You are expected to spend a minimum of 2-3 hrs per week teaching in, working in, or studying educational environments.  Possible environments are on the fieldsites page.  Each week you will be expected to send in ethnographic fieldnotes describing your experience.  These should be no shorter than a page or a page and a half (and no more than a few pages).  The format for these notes is described in detail here. and an example of fieldnotes. These are due within 24 hrs of fieldwork and submitted online. They are to be reviewed on Sunday nights (that is Week 1 ends Aug 30). You are expected to complete roughly a dozen fieldnotes / site visits over the 15 week semester.

Final Project: a final project of your choosing will be due at the end of term.  The format of the final project is described on the project portion of the course site.  Again, Graduate students are expected to conduct a more in-depth (lengthy) project and writeup.

Grading: This class will not emphasize grades, but rather learning, and formative feedback.  Nonetheless we are obliged to provide you with grades in addition to credit.  We anticipate everyone will be able to do well.   In general, we emphasize effort and learning. The rough / default weighting of grades will be based on:

  • 30% - readings / participation (tues)
  • 30% curricular analysis & content/ participation (thurs)
  • 40% field work & final project.

Yes, this is a lot of work.  But rewarding.  And all directed at your learning.

Summary of work / exepctations

Tues Thurs Weekly
Readings (2-3 hrs)  Analysis (1-2 hr) Field-sites (2-3 hrs)
Summary/ notes/oinline paritcipation(1 hr)   Reading& Notes (1 hr)      Field-notes (1 hr)

The above listed is for undergraduate expectations. Graduate students will be asked for more.  The Thurs HW’s and some of the Tues Readings will fade as the semester moves on and you focus more on your projects.

Class Project Schedule: (More at the Course Calendar and the Projects Page) - We anticipate:

  • Week 1: 8/25: Introduction
  • Week 1: 8/27: Identify preliminary fieldsite(s)
  • Week 4: 9/15 Identify area of interest for project - Turn in 1 paragraph description
  • Week 7: 10/6 Outline of project due
  • Week 13: 11/17 Rough cut of final project due
  • Last week / Finals week: project due.

Additional Information / Thoughts:

We know we are demanding a great deal of you but also know you can succeed and thrive in this environment. We are here to support you in your studies and development. If you have any concerns please check in with us.

Ethics: You should not cheat in this class.  Frankly it will be easier if you do not and you’ll learn more.  If you cheat you’ll fail.  Collaborative work is encouraged.  Citing your partner’s work and sources that you draw from is necessary.  Do not plagiarize.  If you are concerned about what this means, speak to me.  More information is at:

All students of the University of Colorado at Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior.  All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council
(; 303-735-2273). Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). Other information on the Honor Code can be found at  and at

Accommodations for disability:
If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to your professor a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner (for exam accommodations provide your letter at least one week prior to the exam) so that your needs can be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by e-mail at If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see Temporary Injuries guidelines under the Quick Links at the Disability Services website and discuss your needs with your professor.

Religious Awareness:
Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance.  In this class, consult with me about missing sessions.  We will not hold class on Sept 22 in observance of Yom Kippur
See full details at

Student Identity/ Classroom Culture:
Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, color, culture, religion, creed, politics, veteran's status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression, age, disability, and nationalities.  Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student's legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.  See policies at   and at

The University of Colorado at Boulder Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Procedures, the University of Colorado Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures, and the University of Colorado Conflict of Interest in Cases of Amorous Relationships policy apply to all students, staff, and faculty.  Any student, staff, or faculty member who believes s/he has been the subject of sexual harassment or discrimination or harassment based upon race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) at
303-492-2127 or the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) at 303-492-5550.
Information about the ODH, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding discrimination or harassment can be obtained at

More Ethics:  Go Vote. Really. Vote.

From Steve Pollock’s 2004 website yet impressively relevant (and I wholly concur):
 “I firmly believe that we can take individual actions that will make the world we live in a better place. One obvious thing YOU can do is vote. Here is a link to some information if you haven't registered ( I know it's so easy to blow this off, and yet almost equally simple to register and vote. The number of young people voting has gone  down  over time, but it's YOUR life and YOUR future that are impacted. Take a stand! Convince your friends to participate! I would never consider suggesting which way you should vote - but WOULD ask that you use the powers of critical thinking, reasoned argument, inference by evidence, and basic logic you learn in physics and apply them to issues of political significance. (Which means, among other things, don't  just  listen to your parents, or one TV channel) Dig a little, think about what matters, make rational and ethically sound decisions. Argue and discuss, groupwork helps everywhere in life, not just in physics class. And then  vote, it's empowering!”