Asee peer logo

Physics + Writing = A Match Made In Heaven?

Download Paper |


2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.781.1 - 6.781.13

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

P. Kelly Joyner

author page

Teresa Larkin-Hein

Download Paper |

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

Session 3280

Physics + Writing = A Match Made in Heaven?

Teresa Larkin-Hein & P. Kelly JoynerTeresa Larkin-Hein, P. Kelly Joyner American University Washington, DC


During the fall 2000 semester, a joint study was undertaken between the Physics and Literature Departments at American University. The study involved the linking of an introductory physics class for non-majors with an introductory college writing class. One goal of the study was to provide more content-specific writing assignments within the college writing class by linking them to material being covered in the physics class. The writing assignments given in both classes formed the basis of the data collected during the study. The underlying questions involved the assessment of student learning in physics as well as in college writing. The primary research questions were: (1) could this course linkage serve to enhance student motivation to think more deeply and critically about the physics-specific content they were writing about in each class? (2) If so, could this enhanced motivation be linked to increased student understanding in physics? During this presentation, highlights of the curricula developed for the linked classes will be provided along with a summary of the data collected. Results related to the assessment of student learning in physics will be presented. In addition, the results of a student feedback questionnaire will be shared. This study should have broad-based applications for other educators within the domains of SMET (Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology) education, particularly those interested in integrated curricula.

I. Introduction

The primary purpose of teaching is to facilitate student learning. However, many traditional teaching methods have clearly been shown to encourage passive rather than active learning 1. In addition, traditional instructional methods have proven inadequate in promoting deep learning and long-term retention of important concepts. Students in traditional classrooms acquire most of their knowledge through classroom lectures and textbook reading. Good teaching involves a great deal more than simply pouring information into the heads of students. Students do not enter the classroom with a tabula rasa. Instead, students bring with them their own worldviews which have been developed and formed over their lifetimes 2. Furthermore, students’ worldviews often differ greatly from that of scientists and engineers. Often, due in large part to these differences, students emerge from our classes with serious misconceptions 3 - 7.

In recent years, a number of writing techniques have evolved that make use of various writing- to-learn strategies within the domains of engineering, mathematics, and the sciences 8 - 15. The use of writing in introductory physics classes for non-majors may help students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition, writing can assist students with the

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Joyner, P. K., & Larkin-Hein, T. (2001, June), Physics + Writing = A Match Made In Heaven? Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2001 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015