Abstracts for Keynote and Invited Talks

Friday night Keynote speaker:

Ronald K. Thornton

Director and Professor, Center for Science and Math Teaching,
Departments of Physics and of Education, Tufts University

Improving Physics Instruction Using Active Learning Emphasizing Interactive Lecture Demonstrations

Physics education research and research in other science fields has shown that learning environments that engage students and allow them to take an active part in their learning can lead to large conceptual gains compared to traditional instruction. A great deal of work has been done in physics instruction but the methods are applicable to all sciences. Examples of successful curricula and methods include Peer Instruction, Just in Time Teaching, RealTime Physics, Workshop Physics, and Interactive Lecture Demonstrations (ILDs). An active learning environment is often difficult to achieve
in lecture sessions even in the smaller high school classes. This presentation will demonstrate the use of sequences of Interactive Lecture Demonstrations (ILDs) that use real experiments often involving real-time data collection and display combined with student interaction to create an active learning environment in large or small lecture classes. Interactive lecture demonstrations will be done with the audience in the area of mechanics using real-time motion probes. The general method will work in any science field. A video of students involved in interactive lecture demonstrations will be shown. A recent resource letter (1) on Active Learning for the American Journal of Physics has identified elements of active learning that result in student learning. The results of a number of research studies at various institutions to measure the effectiveness of ILDs and guided inquiry conceptual laboratories will be presented.

This work was partially funded by the NSF and by The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE, US Department of Education).

1. Resource Letter ALIP–1: Active-Learning Instruction in Physics, D. E. Meltzer and R. K. Thornton, Am. J. Phys. 80 (6), June 2012, pgs. 478-496

Saturday Invited Speakers:

Jerry Touger

Curry College, Milton, MA

Getting the Picture: Using Imagery and Animations as Bridging Strategies to Improve Student Understanding

Beginning physics students have approaches to learning and expectations about the process of learning that differ substantially from those of practicing physicists.  Whereas physicists’ understanding is dense and richly interconnected, beginning students tend to see the content of their physics courses as discrete elements – often overly formal and abstract — with few interconnections. For them, formal physics concepts are too often adrift in a sea of abstract ideas insufficiently anchored to more concrete, easy-to-picture situations.  Moreover, confronted with the density of information common to textbook prose and figures, they generally lack the wherewithal to bring coherence to it.

For many students, visualization within a coherent story line can be critical to understanding – the mortar that holds the conceptual edifice together. Early PER researchers reported successes with “bridging analogies” 1 and “precursory representations” 2 to anchor student understanding at a more concrete level. I will draw on electronic media examples for an introductory physics course3 to illustrate how imagery and animations can promote “getting the picture” and foster narrative coherence.

1J. Clement, J. Research Sci. Teaching,30, 1241-1257 (1993)

G. Lemeignan and A. Weil-Barais, Int. J. Sci. Educ., 16,99-120 (1994)

3Some of the examples are available at http://bcs.wiley.com/he-bcs/Books?action=index&itemId=0471418730&itemTypeId=BKS&bcsId=2266 , the web site for my physics textbook (or Google Wiley and Touger, then click on the first hit).

Alex Griswold

Executive Producer, Science Education Department
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

New Courses from Annenberg Learner and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

For 25 years, the Harvard-Smithsonian Science Education Department has been collaborating with Annenberg Learner, creating on-line courses and workshops for teachers and other adult learners in all areas of science. This year will mark the release of “Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions,” an introductory chemistry course aimed primarily at students (high school and up). We will preview video segments from the new course as well as take a brief look at other recent offerings: all available free, on-line from Learner.org. Along the way, we hope to address the question: what is the role distance learning in the brave new world of the MOOC – Massive On-Line Open Courses – offered by Harvard, MIT, and other universities?