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New Methods For Teaching Introductory Physics To Non Majors*

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.468.1 - 5.468.11

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Teresa L. Hein

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

Session 1380

New Methods for Teaching Introductory Physics to Non-Majors

Teresa Larkin-Hein American University Washington, DC


Physics for a New Millennium is a recently developed second-tier course in the Natural Sciences portion of the General Education core of courses at American University. Students enrolled will have first completed a one-semester foundation course in introductory physics, Physics for the Modern World. The content of the new course includes the topics of Electricity & Magnetism, Light & Color, and Quantum Physics. In this paper a brief overview of the curriculum developed for both courses will be outlined. Emphasis will be placed on the interactive teaching and learning strategies developed and employed in the second-tier course. Selected strategies used to assess student understanding will also be described. These strategies include a unique writing activity that allowed students to participate in all aspects of preparing a formal paper for publication and presentation at a professional conference. Finally, feedback from students pertaining to their perceptions regarding the course will be highlighted.

I. Introduction

Traditionally, physics is taught in a typical lecture-style format in which the instructor provides information to the students by talking to them. Visual stimulation in a traditional classroom typically includes notes written by the instructor on a chalkboard or overhead projector and occasional demonstrations of the phenomena. This style of instruction focuses on the instructor, the only active participant in the class. Hence, in a traditional classroom, students are often passive participants. Although optimum for some students, this mode of instruction is deficient in many ways for others. One outgrowth of much research in physics learning is the basic idea that in order for meaningful learning to occur, the learner must be given an opportunity to actively interact with the material to be learned 1 – 3.

What do we want our students to know and be able to do after a semester or two of introductory physics? This question may sound simple, but is actually quite challenging. Once we have determined what we want our students to know, we must figure out a way to help him/her learn it. The issue is not as simple as describing the motion of an object from point A to point B! Tobias 4 suggested that for the physics community as a whole, the question really becomes “what works?” In answering this question, Tobias described as one of the most challenging issues discovering what works best, first theoretically and then practically, as curricular and instructional strategies.

When students enter the physics classroom, they bring with them their personal world views. Individuals form their understanding of the world around them based on their own personal life

Hein, T. L. (2000, June), New Methods For Teaching Introductory Physics To Non Majors* Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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