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NSF Grant Revamps Introductory Physics Courses

Posted: November 8, 2007
The Physics Department at Buffalo State College has received a $48,810 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the final year of a collaborative project to improve students’ conceptual understanding in introductory physics courses.

The project, directed by Assistant Professor Luanna Gomez, will develop a research-based curriculum that will not only challenge math and science majors but also create a learning environment that accommodates a diverse student population, including students who do not plan to pursue math or science careers.

“While students in science-related majors rely heavily on equations and formulas to comprehend theories, those who are taking these classes to solely fulfill requirements interpret concepts in a variety of ways,” said Gomez, who began working on the grant in 2003 while at Arizona State University. “Since these introductory courses serve both groups, the curriculum needs to reflect a diverse learning population.”

Gomez, along with researchers at New Mexico State University and California State University, Fullerton, created a set of 15 innovative laboratory sessions to be used in lieu of standard physics recitation sections. The new laboratory sessions are based on recent research into student understanding of three areas: conservation of energy and momentum, vectors, and torque and rotation.

“We have been surprised with the students’ willingness to reason verbally,” Gomez said. “Unlike traditional physics students, who rely on quantitative methods of learning, non-science majors often do a better job of interpreting and explaining concepts, such as motion, qualitatively.”

Currently, the curriculum is being tested at six universities: Buffalo State, Cal State Fullerton, Chicago State University, Grand Valley State University, New Mexico State and Seattle Pacific University.
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