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The Introductory Physics Lab as a Consulting Firm

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1554.1 - 26.1554.13



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Paper Authors


Daniel Ludwigsen Kettering University

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Dr. Daniel Ludwigsen pursued research in Musical Acoustics while completing the Ph. D. in Physics from Brigham Young University. After joining Kettering University in support of the acoustics specialty within Applied Physics, Dr. Ludwigsen has broadened his professional interests to include physics education research and instructional design. In addition to an overhaul of the introductory physics laboratories, partially supported by NSF CCLI funding, Dr. Ludwigsen has written two courses at the sophomore/junior level, and coauthored a senior level laboratory in acoustics. He recently served as an AP Reader for the AP Physics exam, and is interested in developing materials to help K-12 teachers with units on sound and waves, and to incorporate crash safety topics into their physics curriculum.

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THE INTRODUCTORY PHYSICS LABORATORY AS A CONSULTING FIRMMany students in our calculus-based introductory physics courses plan to pursue careers in hightechnology industries. The laboratory curriculum entitled Mechanics, Inc. is designed toresemble the typical work environment of an R&D consulting firm. Upon entering, studentsbegin a series of training activities focused on applications of physics topics to situations ofinterest to ersatz clients. These physics topics are chosen to complement the usual sequenceencountered in the classroom. Inspiration for the instructional design of the curriculum comesfrom Modeling Instruction, a well-known approach disseminated to science teachers inworkshops across the country, and from Cognitive Apprenticeship, which is less well known inphysics pedagogy but widely used in language instruction and other areas. Students are coachedand guided in the development of laboratory skills, application of physics concepts, and in thecommunication of laboratory work in a formal report. During the training activities, componentsof that formal laboratory report are added sequentially; the initial emphasis is on readable figuresand captions. After several activities that each focus on another section of a conventional report,the final training activity brings all sections together in a full, formal laboratory report. With afew weeks remaining in the course, the students apply what they have learned in trainingactivities to tasks needed by another ersatz client. These present somewhat ambiguous problemsthat students must first clarify. Their responses to the client’s challenges are presented in aformal laboratory report.The explicit emphasis on communication skills, recognition of impact in a client-consultantrelationship, and freedom given to students to develop their own solutions requires very clear,intentional facilitation. Training for instructors is critical to implementation of this instructionaldesign, as indicated in preliminary assessment of initial pilot terms. Surveys of student attitudestoward physics are also being brought into the assessment structure of Mechanics, Inc. Theoverarching goals for this curriculum are to shift the mindset of students taking the introductoryphysics laboratory toward curiosity, and provide them with the practical tools used by scientistsand engineers in a variety of contemporary workplaces.

Ludwigsen, D. (2015, June), The Introductory Physics Lab as a Consulting Firm Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24891

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