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Physics In The Integrated First Year; Second Attempt

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.351.1 - 1.351.4

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Paper Authors

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William H. Bassichis

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

Session 2630

Physics in the Integrated First Year; Second Attempt

William H. Bassichis Department of Physics Texas A&M University College Station, TX 77843


Texas A&M University is part of a seven school program, supported by the National Science Foundation, called the Foundation Coalition, FC. One of the goals of the FC is to integrate the freshman year courses taken by engineering undergraduates. The First Year Integrated Program at Texas A&M University was implemented in 1994 and initially combined the study of engineering, graphics, calculus, physics, and English. Later, the first course in chemistry was added to the program. The first semester then consisted of 2 credits in engineering, 2 in graphics, 4 in mathematics, 2 in physics and 2 in English. The second semester consisted of 1 credit in engineering, 1 in graphics, 4 in mathematics, 2 in physics, 1 in English and 4 in chemistry. Two sections of about 50 students each were chosen somewhat randomly from those entering freshman who were judged to be calculus ready. After completing the Freshman year the performance of these students was compared with that of students enrolled in the traditional program and in all aspects they either equaled or surpassed the performance of traditional students. Since the FC students had also greatly enhanced their teaming skills, another goal of the program, it was decided to continue the program the second year and to double the number of first year students participating.

The Need for Modification

There were a number of changes that had to be made in the program if it were to continue and if the size were to be increased to 200 students. It was deemed uneconomical to maintain a class size less than one half that in the traditional program, therefore the classes would each need to have at least 100 students. Thus the room which had been rather laboriously designed for optimal teaming and use of technology, and which had been considered a rather vital element of the program, was abandoned. A traditional lecture hall was slightly modified so that teaming was at least possible, if inconvenient. The content of the physics course had to be modified because in the design of the second year curriculum it was assumed that students had been exposed to the concepts of charge and current and could solve simple circuit problems. As this material was needed in the beginning of the first semester of the second year and is not covered in the beginning of the usual course in E&M, it had to be included in the first year. However, requiring that first year students take two semesters of physics, the traditional mechanics followed by the usual E&M, is simply not consistent with an integrated curriculum that begins with beginning calculus. This presented a major problem.

The fact that in the first attempt at an integrated curriculum there was only one half of a physics course per semester had other deleterious effects. The material was often too diluted in time which led to difficulties in comprehension. Furthermore students often ignored physics in order to concentrate their efforts on those subjects that counted more. This was an entirely reasonable behavior having disastrous consequences since other courses relied on the students’ mastery of the material covered in physics.

The final reason for modifying the rather successful physics component was financial. If, as part of a teaching load, a faculty member were assigned one traditional physics course for engineering students, the number of students involved is approximately 100 per semester. If instead that person taught in the integrated program, even at the level of 100 students per class, it would take two semesters of teaching the half courses to obtain the same number of credit hours. Thus, to service the same number of students would require either twice the ,L,,g c,,,

Bassichis, W. H. (1996, June), Physics In The Integrated First Year; Second Attempt Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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