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Teaching Physics in the Investigative Science Learning Environment (I). Marina Milner-Bolotin, Richard Fiorillo, Eugenia Etkina, Alan Van Heuvelen Rutgers University. Goals of ISLE for Students. To help the students: learn to think like physicists

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teaching physics in the investigative science learning environment i

Teaching Physics in the Investigative Science LearningEnvironment (I)

Marina Milner-Bolotin, Richard Fiorillo, Eugenia Etkina, Alan Van Heuvelen

Rutgers University

goals of isle for students
Goals of ISLE for Students
  • To help the students:
    • learn to think like physicists
    • become aware of the process of doing science: IF-THEN MODE
    • develop self-confidence, ownership and motivation
    • become independent (non-authoritative) thinkers
    • enjoy doing physics
goals of isle for instructors
Goals of ISLE for Instructors
  • To help the instructors:
    • use the science processes and IF-THEN MODE in the instruction
    • rethink the role of experiments in instruction
    • move away from teaching by authority
    • implement assessment matching teaching goals
what is isle

Observational experiments



Physical model:



Non-working model


Testing Experiments:

Can we verify our predictions?

Predict the outcome



The results of the testing experiments suggest how we proceed…

Predictions are based on the proposed model

More testing Experiments

  • Practical applications:
  • Problem solving; Everyday life applications
  • Predictions of new phenomena


What Is ISLE?
physics for the sciences
Physics for the Sciences
  • Introductory algebra-based course
  • About 170 students enrolled (~70% women)
  • Weekly activities: two 50-min lectures; one 3-hour lab and one 80-min recitation
  • TAs are teaching the labs and recitations
  • Traditional lectures and ISLE-based labs
  • Mixture of traditional and formative assessment
  • Webassign was used for routine hw problems
isle based labs
  • Example: Scaling lab
    • Observations
    • Modeling
    • Testing
    • Applications
    • Exit interviews
    • Formative assessment: conceptual questions, design questions
lab assessment
Lab Assessment
  • Labs are 20% of the final grade (effort and exit interviews)
  • Hands-on and heads-on practicals – two practicals during the semester (10%x2)
  • Practicals are graded thoroughly with extensive written and oral feedback
practical format
Practical Format
  • Open book (the students can use labs, textbooks)
  • All questions are from the exit interviews
  • Heads-on part (individual) questions:
    • Convincing; agree-disagree; what if…
    • Why did you do so and so in the lab?
    • How would you measure/estimate/evaluate?
  • Hands-on part (group work)
    • Design an experiment to test your model …
example newton 2 nd law
Example: Newton 2nd Law

1.1.A lot of people will formulate the 2nd law as F=ma. Give at least two reasons why this is not an accurate description and propose how you would improve it.

1.2.Why in the 2nd law what experiment??? Observations or testing??????experiment was it more convenient to keep the sum of M and m constant? What would happen if we changed the sum of the masses? Support your explanation with a graph.

1.3.We have found that acceleration of the object depends on the net force exerted on it by other objects on it. Can we say that the force exerted on the object depends on its acceleration? Why or why not?

instructor observations
Instructor Observations
  • 1st practical was tough for the students:
    • Didn’t know what to do, how to do and how to prepare; didn’t understand grading
    • Performance: from 50%-100%, 70% average
  • 2nd practical was much better for the students:
    • Prepared in groups; design new experiments;
    • Put more effort into exit-interview question analysis
    • Performance: from 70%-100%, 80%+ average
student feedback
Student Feedback
  • Student A (one of the best)
    • ???
  • Student B ()
    • ???
examples of student ideas
Examples of Student Ideas
  • Scaling laws
    • Estimate the volume of a baby hippo after measuring the volume of a large hippo: test your prediction how can you practically do this? May be a different example?
  • 3d law testing
    • Predict the shape of the F(t) graphs for two colliding carts
    • Collide to carts with the force probes mounted on them, measure the forces and test your prediction
  • Hooke’s law:
    • Predict the Knet for a system of springs of known K
    • Measure the Knet and see if your prediction was correct
practical challenges
Practical Challenges
  • Physics practicals are very different from the ones in biology and chemistry etc.
  • Some students do not like to have an exam where memorization is not required
  • The design part requires immediate feedback from the instructor
  • Practical preparation requires a different type of effort from the student
  • TA have to be prepared for the practicals
conceptual challenges
Conceptual Challenges
  • ISLE labs require very different pedagogy:
    • TA training is crucial
    • Lab design has to fit the ISLE cycle
  • It took about 3 labs for the students to get used to the IF-THEN mode of thinking
  • Experimental design for the practical requires creativity & real understanding of the concept
  • During the design student thinking and difficulties become transparent