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Implementing Research–Based Instructional Materials To Promote Coherence In Physics Knowledge For The Urban Stem Student.

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Physics Education Research (PER) Relevant for Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.712.1 - 13.712.14



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Paper Authors


Mel Sabella Chicago State University

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Mel S. Sabella is an Associate Professor of Physics at Chicago State University (CSU). His interests focus on improving STEM education for underrepresented students. Sabella is the director of an NSF – CCLI project that integrates research-based instructional material in the introductory urban physics classroom. He is also director of the Physics Van Inservice Institute, part of a project supported by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. Sabella earned his PhD. in Physics Education Research from the University of Maryland in 1999. In September 1999 he began a position as a postdoctoral research associate with the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington. He has published papers in the Physics Teacher magazine and the 2002 and 2003 PER Conference Proceedings and has had a paper accepted for publication in the Physics Education Research Supplement to the AJP.

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Stephanie Barr Chicago State University

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Stephanie A. Barr is currently a graduate student in mathematics at Chicago State University (CSU). She earned her B.S. in mathematics in 2007 from CSU with a minor in physics. She is currently involved in researching student understanding of physics, focusing on student use of representations and gender issues.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Implementing research–based instructional materials to promote coherence in physics knowledge for the urban STEM student


Funding from the National Science Foundation – Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) Program has allowed the physics program at Chicago State University to make major changes to the algebra and calculus-based physics classes through the implementation of innovative, research-based instructional materials. This instructional reform effort seeks to (1) improve learning for all students in the introductory physics classes at the inner-city university, (2) involve undergraduate science majors in the implementation, assessment, and creation of innovative teaching materials, and (3) document the effectiveness of the implementation in promoting student learning through the use of multiple assessment instruments.

Almost all students enrolled in these introductory courses are majors in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. In order for these students to succeed as they move through their academic and professional careers, they require preparation that goes well beyond what the traditionally taught physics course often provides. Rather than developing a skill set that involves pattern matching and formula manipulation, students need to be trained in sense making and need to be challenged by problems that require deep conceptual understanding. In addition, students need to be able to utilize and go back and forth between different types of representations that those in the STEM disciplines regularly use to convey information about physical systems.

In this paper, we provide an overview of the project, discuss the departmental involvement in promoting the understanding of physics for the STEM student and provide an example of the research we are conducting to document the successes and challenges we face as the project progresses. We also highlight our research efforts in identifying the struggle students face in bridging between different types of knowledge and different types of representations.


There are a number of model instructional materials in physics that have proven to be effective in promoting student understanding in the introductory physics course. Despite the fact that these materials are widely used, there is relatively little research documenting the effectiveness of these materials with different populations of students.1 At Chicago State University (CSU), the implementation of research-based instructional materials has served as a vehicle for understanding the issues that the student at a comprehensive university faces when learning introductory physics. Because of the wide range of differences that exist among students at different universities, it is important to document the specific issues that each population faces and determine where specific materials succeed and fail. Our work utilizes the introductory algebra-based physics class (taken mostly by biology majors) and the calculus-based physics course (taken mostly by physical science and engineering majors) as a context for the research on student learning.

Sabella, M., & Barr, S. (2008, June), Implementing Research–Based Instructional Materials To Promote Coherence In Physics Knowledge For The Urban Stem Student. Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3113

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