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Fishing with Broken Net: Predicament in Teaching Introductory Physics

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.779.1 - 26.779.5



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Paper Authors


Yumin Zhang Southeast Missouri State University

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Yumin Zhang is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, Southeast Missouri State University. His academic career started in China; in 1989 he obtained master’s degree on Physics from Zhejiang University and then was employed as technical staff in the Institute of Semiconductors, Chinese Academy of Sciences. After receiving PhD degree on Electrical Engineering from University of Minnesota in 2000, he started to work as a faculty member in University of Wisconsin-Platteville and then in Oklahoma State University-Stillwater. His research fields include semiconductor devices and electronic circuits. Since joining Southeast Missouri State University in 2007, he also investigated in the field of Engineering Education.

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David K. Probst P.E. Southeast Missouri State University

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David Probst is Professor and Chair of the Physics and Engineering Physics Department at Southeast Missouri State University. Prior to joining Southeast, he was with McDonnell Douglas Corporation (now the Boeing Company) in St. Louis, MO.

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Fishing with Broken Net: Predicament in Teaching Introductory PhysicsThe algebra based Introductory Physics course is offered to all students majoring in Biology,Chemistry, and technology. There has been extensive research on teaching Introductory Physicsover the past four decades, and many people have investigated different aspects, such as theknowledge structure and procedural thinking in problem solving. From our experience teachingthis course, we find that there is another intrinsic issue that has attracted little attention.In most universities, Introductory Physics is taught in two semesters. In the first semester thebulk of the course deals with Newtonian Mechanics, which is an excellent topic for students tolearn how to solve problems with a systematic knowledge base. However, for many students, thistopic is just a collection of equations. We believe that what is lacking is an integration processafter teaching the individual chapters. In the current semester, students will spend three weeksintegrating the individual chapters into a web of knowledge. By using this integration process,we hope students will be less likely to view Newtonian Mechanics as simply a collection ofdiscrete, unrelated topics and equations.This approach can also help students understand mechanics conceptually. For example, whenkinematics was learned at the beginning of the semester, many students believed that there wasan impetus force on a projectile flying in the air. Such a misconception can be corrected moreeasily after momentum and kinetic energy have been covered.The result of this approach to teaching Introductory Physics will be assessed in two ways. First, alarge portion of the final exam problems from last year will be reused this semester and the testscores will be compared and analyzed. Second, a set of conceptual problems will be given beforeand after this integrating period, and the gain measured can show whether it is statisticallysignificant.

Zhang, Y., & Probst, D. K. (2015, June), Fishing with Broken Net: Predicament in Teaching Introductory Physics Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24116

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