June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Engineering Physics & Physics
13.707.1 - 13.707.13
Implementing and Assessing a Modern Introductory Physics Course at a Large University
Since 2006, the Georgia Institute of Technology has offered sections of an introductory physics course for scientists and engineers using the Matter & Interactions curriculum. Matter & Interactions (M&I), developed by R. Chabay and B. Sherwood at North Carolina State University, is an innovative introductory physics curriculum that emphasizes fundamental physical principles, the microscopic structure of matter, a more coherent formulation linking classical and modern content, and modeling complex systems through computation. We discuss our motivations for introducing the curriculum, implementation issues, and ongoing assessment.
The calculus-based introductory physics course is a key component of the educational mission of the Georgia Institute of Technology, due to its status as one of the nation’s leading universities in engineering education, and due to the sheer number of students that take the course. Nearly every student at Georgia Tech is required to take the two-semester introductory physics sequence, which has a combined enrollment of nearly 1700 students each semester. In recent years, significant shortcomings have been identified in the introductory physics sequence. In many cases, course GPA in the introductory physics courses has been significantly lower than other introductory courses at Georgia Tech. The fraction of students receiving D’s or F’s in the course has been approximately 25%. Consequently, the course is unpopular with students, and it receives frequent criticism in the campus student newspaper. In addition, an external review committee criticized the structure and outcomes of the introductory physics courses.
Aside from the specific problems with the introductory physics course at Georgia Tech, there are broader questions about what topics should be taught in the class and the proper sequencing of those topics. The calculus-based introductory physics course at most U.S. universities has typically followed the same sequence of the same topics for many decades. The traditional physics course is focused entirely on classical, pre-20th century physics, addresses only macroscopic systems, and deals only with problems that can be solved analytically. One can question whether the traditional content and pedagogy of introductory physics is meeting the needs of modern science and engineering students, many of whom will pursue careers that are becoming more dependent on understanding matter at the microscopic level (e.g. nanotechnology, material science) and that will require computer modeling as well as analysis for solving complex problems.
As a result, faculty in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech became interested in modernizing both the content and pedagogy of the introductory physics course. Beginning in Summer 2006, the School has been offering sections of its introductory physics course for scientists and engineers using the Matter & Interactions1,2 curriculum. Matter & Interactions (or M&I), developed by R. Chabay and B. Sherwood at North Carolina State University, is an innovative introductory calculus-based physics curriculum. It has several key features:
Kohlmyer, M., & Schatz, M., & Catrambone, R., & Marr, M. (2008, June), Implementing And Assessing A Modern Introductory Physics Course At A Large University Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3715
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