Spring 2013 Morning Invited Talks

Invited Talk: “Changes in the Teaching of Introductory Physics at Stanford” Chaya Nanavati or Stanford University

Chaya diChayascussed the existing structure that has an instructor that leads lectures and has Head TAs, Discussion TAs and Lab TAs that assist the smaller groups.  Often we encounter several barriers to change: Administration or Colleagues are often resistant to change and need convincing, materials and time are necessary for change. She suggests using the already developed resources from Maryland University, Harvard, CU Boulder, etc. on group work and student-centered learning. Eric Mazur has lots of resources and evidence that interactive engagement increases the post-test gain on the Force Concept Inventory test.

Suggested resources for Discussion problems:

  • University of Washington Tutorials
  • University of Maryland Tutorials
  • Univerity of Minnesota Context Rich Problems
  • CU Boulder PhET Simulations
  • Old exam problems
  • Textbook problems
  • Physics Teacher or American Journal of Physics
  • Compadre

The average discussion section is 50 minutes and is broken down as:

5 minute introduction by the Discussion TA

30 minutes worksheet time in groups

5 minutes for students to share their remaining questions

10 minutes for wrap-up

The students have shifted to this new format well and feedback has been positive Students complain about wanting less introduction time by the TA and that TAs don’t give them enough time to come up with the answer on their own before supplying the answer.

The Stanford format was also changed following the University of Illinois’ model. This shifted the format from “cookbook labs” to more observation and discussion based labs. Resources for lab write-ups that were used including: Gary Gladding at the UIUC, Priscilla Laws (Dickinson), The Physics Teacher, professional meetings for AAPT, FFPER, etc and Physlets.


Invited Talk: “Maximizing Student and Teacher! – Success with Online Homework Systems” Scott Hildreth, Chabot College

Scott will discuss benefits, pitfalls, etc. of the use of online homework systems. Scott has used Mastering Physics and Mastering Astronomy in the last few years but is not limited to them as resources. The initial benefits of online homework systems are that the homework is already graded by the system, the students get automatic feedback and the homework resources are already there. Students do get multiple attempts and hints on the problems on homework but they did not encounter that on the exams.

Scott suggests that you use the homework results to see what students are struggling on. The systems often reveal the most commonly chosen wrong answer as well. Scott is able to tailor his lectures based on the results of the previous assignments. He is able to associate the data with specific students in his small class. He can also reassign problems that were frequently missed in later assignments to check for learning. Scott assigns reading and a pre-lecture introductory assignments before each lecture. He has employed video clips, refashioned his tests and have a homework set for each week post-lecture. Videos can also be linked within the homework assignment to help with engagement.

He suggests adjusting your online system to change how many hints if any, are provided, if they are penalized, and the number of attempts that they have. This gives flexibility to the teacher but beware of “homework score inflation.” Even though the numerical values of questions can be randomized, many students “work together” on homework and they may follow someone else’s work. There is a disconnect between the work necessary to solve the problem and the answer because (1) students copy, (2) students don’t show work and (3) students can google the answer.

There is a technological barrier for students that may not have access to computers at home. Teachers must advocate for more availability of computers for students.

There is not a direct correlation between the time students took to solve the homework problems and the score on their midterms. There is a direct correlation between the score on random homework quizzes given to students on the homework problems and their score on their midterms.

Online homework systems can also be used in classes by grouping students during class time and going through a group assignment. Students have to agree on the answers before they submit. Only one student logs in but multiple students’ scores will be attached to that assignment. Assignments are shorter than the homework sets, often with only one attempt, hints not penalized, etc. Students may debate the process and may disagree with the answer supplied. Because it was an online assessment students have the opportunity to go back and try to complete the assignment themselves after class.

The system can also be used during a lecture for practice problems led by the teacher. This allows the professor to demonstrate equation writing shortcuts, they can show what happens when a wrong answer is chosen and how to fix it and how to brainstorm or read the question for hints. Review questions can also be posted for students to use for prep for an exam. These review assignments can be limited to model the format of an exam, no hints, only one answer, a time limit, etc. Live data as student teams complete the review assignments give the professor additional information. A competitive format and small candy prizes are great incentives.

The handout is available here: Online Tools Handout AAPT April 2013


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