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Student Writing: An Active Learning Tool In Physics And Engineering Education

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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

Innovations in Teaching Physics or Engineering Phy

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1112.1 - 13.1112.14



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Paper Authors

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Teresa Larkin American University

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Dan Budny University of Pittsburgh

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

Student Writing: An Active Learning Tool in Physics and Engineering Education


The educational benefits of adapting a writing approach in the classroom have been widely documented. Writing can serve as an effective tool to improve the quality of teaching through the promotion of deeper and more meaningful student learning. This paper will explore strategies in which writing can be used to enhance student understanding within introductory physics and engineering curricula. The prominent strategy to be described involves having students research, write, and present a paper at a formal class “conference” held at the end of the term. Throughout this process, students are exposed to all aspects of preparing a professional conference paper including the submission of an abstract, preparation of a paper for review, participation in a rigorous peer review, and presentation of their final paper at the conference. One focus of this paper will be to highlight each of the aspects of the paper writing process, placing particular emphasis on the significance of the peer review process. A discussion involving the rubrics developed and used during the peer review process will be shared. Highlights of the writing curriculum developed in both the physics and the engineering classrooms will be offered. Strategies for effectively dealing with large class sizes will also be presented. It is anticipated that the writing strategies to be described will provide educators within the domain of STEM education with viable tools to assist them in developing and/or enhancing the use of writing within their own classrooms.


The primary purpose of teaching is to facilitate student learning. Traditional teaching methodologies have been shown to put students in a role of passive rather than active learning [1]. In addition, traditional instructional methods have also been shown to be very inadequate in terms of the promotion of deep learning and long-term retention of important concepts. Students in traditional classrooms acquire most of their “knowledge” through classroom lectures and textbook reading. A troubling fact is, after instruction, students often emerge from our classes with serious misconceptions [2] - [6]. A significant body of educational research supports the fact that students must be functionally active to learn [7] - [9]. Furthermore, Koballa, Kemp, and Evans [10] note that "ALL students must become scientifically literate if they are to function in tomorrow's society" (p. 27). Scientific literacy is of critical importance for all students at all educational levels. The National Science Education Standards [11] strongly emphasize that inquiry-based techniques should form the core of what it means to learn and do science. Edwards [12] suggests that the publication of the National Science Education Standards offer reason to be optimistic that inquiry-based learning will become a central part of science education. Inquiry-based learning strategies originate from the constructivist model and encourage an active, hands-on approach to learning [13] - [14]. The constructivist approach embraces the idea that knowledge

Larkin, T., & Budny, D. (2008, June), Student Writing: An Active Learning Tool In Physics And Engineering Education Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4254

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