Wilson, M. T., Streeter, L. V., Seshadri, S., & Scott, J. B. (2018). Teaching physics concepts without (much) mathematics: View through a concept-index, threshold concept lens. In Proceedings of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference 2018. Conference held at University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12243
CONTEXT In 2018, the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Waikato has introduced an option for first-year physics study that does not require achievement at high-school physics and mathematics. This offering uses a style of teaching physics newly introduced to the University of Waikato that features minimally-mathematical teaching, hands-on exploratory experiments, and concept-index-style assessment. The course is one adapted from work pioneered at Rutgers University. In this work we report on its implementation and its success. PURPOSE We are looking to see if students ‘get the ideas’, and staff are able to assess this understanding, without substantial mathematical problem-solving and numerical assessment questions. We are also interested in engagement and satisfaction on the part of the students. APPROACH In addition to a few simple numerical examples worked in tutorials and numerical results measured using instruments in lab classes, students are asked to answer “What happens if…” and “How do I get…” questions through educated trials carried out in laboratory groups. The work emphasizes the process of scientific enquiry as much as the ideas themselves. We tested students with multiplechoice, non-numeric questions in the style of “concept indices” such as the Force Concept Index (FCI) and the Signals and Systems Concept Index (SSCI). We interviewed students to obtain their reaction to this style of physics teaching, and to discover if they felt they were learning and understanding. We interviewed teachers to obtain comparative impressions with “old-style” physics teaching. In order to improve gender diversity, the material in the course used female names for fictitious characters and highlighted the work of female physicists. RESULTS It appears that student engagement is significantly improved. Teacher satisfaction is surprisingly increased. Initial impressions from student feedback suggest that the process of scientific enquiry through experiment is actually alien to some of the students, despite many being enrolled in science degrees. In a post-course test, students achieved 60% of the maximum possible gain from a similar pre-course test, a result consistent with the best interactive approaches. Approximately 20% of the participants were female, higher than other physics papers offered in recent years at the University of Waikato. CONCLUSIONS While it remains to be seen if the concept-based education delivered in this style of course proves to be sufficient grounding for successful progress in engineering and scientific degree streams, it is already clear that student satisfaction increases.
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