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Introductory Physics and Thriving Undergraduate Physics Programs. Robert C. Hilborn Amherst College. National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics. Support from American Association of Physics Teachers, American Physical Society American Institute of Physics The ExxonMobil Foundation.

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introductory physics and thriving undergraduate physics programs

Introductory Physics and Thriving Undergraduate Physics Programs

Robert C. Hilborn

Amherst College

National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics

Support from

American Association of Physics Teachers,

American Physical Society

American Institute of Physics

The ExxonMobil Foundation


Calculus-Based Introductory Physics

  • Current statistics
  • Some history
  • Brief survey of recent CBIP efforts
  • SPIN-UP and the role of CBIP in physics departments
  • Some provocative thoughts
  • Discussion
bachelor s degree production
Bachelor’s Degree Production

Source:AIP Statistical Research Center: Enrollments and Degrees Report, and *NCES Digest of Education Statistics

facts and figures
Facts and Figures
  • 27-28% of high school students take physics. The % is growing! 50:50 men/women!!
  • 70-75% of high school students go on to 2-year, 4-year colleges and universities.
  • 350,000 students take college/university intro. physics each year (25-30% in 2-year colleges). About 50% of those take CBIP.
  • Only 3% of those taking calculus-based physics ever take another physics course.

SOURCE: AIP Statistics Division

the changing role of physics
The Changing Role of Physics


20th Century

21st Century

summary of the new environment


Summary of the New Environment
  • Changing role for physics in the universe of science
  • Changing student population
    • demographics
    • preparation
    • interests
  • Changing National Focus
    • emphasis on K-12
some history of cbip via textbooks
Some history of CBIP via textbooks
  • Curry, Street, and Purcell 1950s
  • Halliday and Resnick 1960s
  • The clone era 1960s-1990s and on…
  • Outliers: Berkeley Series and Feynman Lectures
  • Recent developments – see Joe Amato, Physics Today, Dec. 1996.
the standard model of introductory physics
The Standard Model of Introductory Physics


1. Large amount of material favors recipes and memorization techniques, often without long-term retention.

2. Emphasis on pre-20th Century physics often doesn’t inspire students.

3. Isolated from the rest of physics and other sciences.

4. Students have changed since we were in college.


Thermal Physics





Atomic Physics

Condensed Matter Physics

Nuclear Physics

High Energy Physics


Your Favorite Subject Here

general philosophy for cbip
General Philosophy for CBIP
  • A thorough and rigorous coverage of a limited number of topics is more effective than an encyclopedic and show introduction to a wide range of subject matter.
  • Physics should be taught as a growing subject and the student should be given illustrations of problems on present frontiers.
  • Senior and experienced staff members should engage in the teaching of introductory physics courses, in the training of teaching assistants, and in experimentation directed at the improved teaching of physics.
  • Carleton Report, Am. J. Phys. 25, 417 (1957).
innovative delivery
Innovative Delivery
  • Workshop Physics - P. Laws et al.
  • Interactive Lectures-Peer Instruction - E. Mazur (Harvard), J. Mestre, W. Gerace (U. Mass.), T. Moore (Pomona),…
  • Interactive Demos – R. Thornton, D. Sokoloff
  • Studio Physics - J. Wilson (UMass), K. Cummings (S. Conn) , Cal Poly SLO, U. New Hampshire, …
  • SCALE-UP – B. Beichner (NCSU), J. Saul (UCF),…
  • Dynamic Physics - P. Sokol (Penn State)
innovative delivery 2
Innovative Delivery - 2
  • Overview--Case Study - A. van Heuvelen (Rutgers)
  • “In-line” text exercises, take-home experiments - R. Chabay and B. Sherwood (NCSU), J. King et al (MIT).
  • Complete PPT and WWW package: G. Gladding, (Illinois)
  • WWW – JiTT- E. Patterson, G. Novak (Air Force), A. Gavrin (U. Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis)
  • Tutorials - L. McDermott, P. Heron, J. Redish
  • Context-Rich Problems -Heller (Minn.)
  • Computer-Intensive - R. Fuller (U. Nebraska), W. Christian (Davidson)
innovative ideas texts
Innovative Ideas: Texts
  • Joe Amato, Physics Today, Dec. 1996.
  • R. Knight, Physics: A Contemporary Perspective (Addison-Wesley)
  • R. Chabay and B. Sherwood, Matter and Interactions, (Wiley)
  • Tom Moore, Six-Ideas that Shaped Physics (McGraw-Hill) IUPP
  • J. Rigden, L. Coleman, J. Barojas, Physics In Context (IUPP)
  • Relativistic Mechanics first, J. Reichert
  • J. Amato, C. Holbrow, J. Lloyd, Modern Introductory Physics (Springer)
  • L. McDermott, P. Heron, et al, Physics by Inquiry (Prentice Hall)
  • Eric Mazur … (Prentice Hall)
  • Cummings,Laws, Redish, Cooney, Understanding Physics, PER Revised HRW (Wiley)
  • …..
cbip and thriving departments
CBIP and Thriving Departments

The role of CBIP in building a “thriving” undergraduate physics program.

strategic programs for innovations in undergraduate physics
Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics


Supported by

ExxonMobil Foundation

American Institute of Physics

American Association of Physics Teachers

American Physical Society


National Task Force

on Undergraduate Physics

J. D. Garcia (U. Arizona)

S. James Gates (U. Maryland)

Robert Hilborn (Amherst College), Chair

Ruth Howes (Marquette), Co-Chair

Ken Krane (Oregon State)

Elizabeth McCormack (Bryn Mawr)

Laurie McNeil (U. North Carolina-Chapel Hill)

Jose Mestre (U. Massachusetts)

Tom O’Kuma (Lee College)

Doug Osheroff (Stanford)

Joe Taylor (Princeton)

Carl Wieman (U. Colorado)

Ex Officio:

AIP- J. Stith, J. Hehn

APS-J. Franz, F. Stein

AAPT-B. Khoury, W. Hein

PKAL – J. Narum



  • Site Visits to 21 “thriving” undergraduate physics programs.
  • Survey (with AIP) all 761 bachelor’s degree granting physics programs in the US (74% response).
  • Report and Analysis.

See AAPT web site

Ask your department chair for the report!

Physics Today, September, 2003.

site visit departments


Site Visit Departments
  • Lawrence University
  • North Carolina State Univ.
  • North Park University
  • Oregon State University
  • Reed College
  • Rutgers University
  • SUNY Geneseo
  • University of Virginia
  • Whitman College
  • Site visit teams employed about 65 physics volunteers.
  • Angelo State University
  • University of Arizona
  • Bethel College
  • Brigham Young University
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Cal State San Luis Obispo
  • Carleton College
  • Grove City College
  • Harvard University
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse

20 +/- other possibilities

what makes an upp thrive conclusions from the task force site visits
What makes an UPP Thrive?Conclusions from the Task Force Site Visits
  • Strong and sustained departmental leadership
  • Well-defined sense of mission
  • Recruit and retain students
    • Challenging and supportive program
    • Multiple-tracks/options
    • Prof. development and mentoring
    • Introductory courses
    • Career information - alumni
  • Emphasis on the entire program of the department, including interactions with other departments
spin up and cbip
  • Most of the site visit departments have experimented with CBIP – mostly pedagogy and not content.
  • Departmental effort (not just junior faculty or just senior faculty w/o research programs).
  • CBIP often used as a recruiting tool for physics majors.
  • Designed to serve the appropriate audience.
  • Department continually works to improve the course(s).
the survey 74 response rate
The Survey: 74% Response Rate
  • Thanks to Ken Krane and Roman Czujko:
  • 60% report “significant” curricular change in the past several years.
  • Of those 71% report changes in CBIP.
some difficult questions
Some Difficult Questions
  • Why haven’t the innovations been widely adopted?
  • Why is there resistance to educational change?
why don t innovations stick
Why Don’t Innovations Stick?
  • Innovations are no good?
  • Innovations good, but no documentation of their success. Assessment is difficult (paceMike Zeilik and Bob Beichner).
  • Large upfront investment of resources required.
  • Lack of faculty development and reward.
  • Difficult to make the effort a ‘departmental project’ with long-term sustained focus.
  • Student resistance.

How to make them stick: G. Gladding and R. Lopez – Sunday.


The Resistance

To be discussed Saturday afternoon.

  • I was hired to do research.
  • My evaluations are great – of course my students are learning!
  • “Reform” is just dumbing down the curriculum. (see quote from Lloyd Taylor, 1938)
provocative thoughts
Provocative (?) Thoughts
  • The goals of CBIP are often ill-defined, if defined at all.
  • An improved CBIP by itself will not save your undergraduate physics program.
  • Energy and enthusiasm and concern count. Details of content and pedagogy are of secondary importance.
  • One size does not fit all. Local details are important.
  • A departmental effort is crucial. (The “energetic hero” model does not work in the long run.)
  • Continuous experimentation and feedback are crucial.
  • Don’t underestimate the “tyranny of the textbook.” Textbooks do matter, and the net effect is usually negative.
conference survey
Conference Survey

Please fill out CBIP survey form (one form per department) before the end of the conference.