Physics lab renovation guided by instructional research

This summer the physics lab in Frable Building at Penn State Greater Allegheny will be undergoing a major renovation and upgrade.

Beth Lindsey, assistant professor of physics, drew on research in physics education in designing the new look for what has been a traditional and increasingly outdated facility in Frable 223. Lindsey's proposal upgrades the lab into a Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs (SCALE-UP) style classroom (see www.ncsu.edu/PER/scaleup.html and scaleup.ncsu.edu).

SCALE-UP is research-based learning environment developed by the Physics Education Research Group at North Carolina State University and since then successfully implemented at scores of other universities, including Penn State Behrend.

The new design will allow instructors to reduce lecture content of the physics courses and instead format the courses to be more interactive, integrating lecture, laboratory, and problem solving components. A SCALE-UP environment has repeatedly been shown to lead to improvements in students’ conceptual understanding, problem solving skills, and attitudes about physics (Beichner et al., 2007).

Recently, Lindsey and her colleagues Hsu, Sadaghiani, Taylor and Cummings published research in "Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research" (2012, vol. 8) in which they showed improvements in student attitudes about physics and problem solving when taught using curricula based on the principles of guided inquiry. Lindsey et al. (2012) describe this method as involving small groups of students doing experiments, developing models to try to explain the results, and then doing further experiments to test and refine their models.

Lindsey has also published research with colleagues Heron and Shaffer in the "American Journal of Physics" (2012, vol. 80, no. 2) demonstrating improvements in students’ conceptual understanding of specific physics topics associated with the use of tools that promote interactive engagement.

The redesigned physics lab will facilitate the use of such methods in the courses offered at Greater Allegheny, such as PHYS 211 and PHYS 212. The anticipated completion date for the lab is the start of Fall 2012.

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Last Updated April 03, 2012