Forum on Education of the American Physical Society
Fall 2007 Newsletter

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Pedagogy in Action: On-line resources for physics faculty and teachers

Cathryn A. Manduca and Bruce Mason

To be an effective teacher requires bringing together two fundamental bodies of knowledge: a deep understanding of the topic you are teaching and a practical knowledge of teaching methods and their application in your classroom. Nowhere is this more true than when you are teaching teachers who are trying to learn both physics and physics teaching.

In this context, it is interesting to consider how we make decisions in designing our courses. What expertise do we bring? What body of knowledge do we turn to for guidance? Faculty, who receive little education about teaching, have long been stereotyped as teaching only as they were taught. Of course this is an overstatement; at a minimum faculty draw upon both their experience as students and their experiences in their own teaching. Faculty focus groups indicate that they also draw extensively on conversations with their colleagues, often looking for examples of how a particular topic is taught (McMartin et al, 2006; Manduca et al., 2005). Teachers, who are educated about teaching as part of their credentialing, know that the fields of education and cognitive science have much to say about the design of effective learning experiences. Physics is a leader in recognizing the importance of discipline-based education research on physics teaching and learning. Ideally, when we put together our courses, we would draw on our own experiences as students and as teachers; on the experiences of our colleagues; and on the research addressing teaching and learning. This can be a daunting task for either a faculty member or a teacher.

ComPADRE, the physics education digital library of the AAPT, APS, AAS, and SPS, and the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College have joined forces to make it easier to access a rich body of expert teaching experience. The new pedagogic portal at ComPADRE brings together information about effective teaching methods and examples of ways in which teachers and faculty use these methods for specific physics concepts. Each teaching method is described in peer-reviewed websites that are written by faculty known for their teaching (in physics or other disciplines). Two critical aspects of these websites are a well-referenced discussion of why (and when) the method is useful in teaching and a practical guide to how to implement the method. Each method is linked to examples that capture the experience of faculty teaching physics in their own classroom. Each example both describes how the method is being used for a specific concept and provides practical information for educators wishing adapt or adopt the example for their own classroom. Where appropriate, these examples are linked to the resources provided by the ComPADRE collections. Teachers and faculty searching for help on ComPADRE (or the web) will find, all connected together, clearly cataloged learning resources, examples of using these resources from experienced colleagues, and background on the pedagogies that can help make those resources effective. This integration facilitates the sharing of physics and astronomy educational resources and experience through ComPADRE.

The physics pedagogic portal currently contains information on and examples of five teaching methods: Interactive Lectures (including ConcepTests), Just in Time Teaching, Teaching with Mathematical and Statistical Models, Teaching with Interactive Lectures, and Using Indoor labs. Based on a model developed for introductory geosciences (serc.carelton.edu/introgeo), the physics portal is part of a larger project (Pedagogy in Action: serc.carleton.edu/sp) that is creating and sharing effective pedagogies and practices across the STEM disciplines and beyond. Pedagogy in Action collaborators create a pedagogic portal by selecting methods and examples of high interest to their community (for example physics educators, or faculty at a specific college or university). They can also contribute methods and examples to the collection for use by others. In this way, physics can draw on the experiences of geoscience in teaching about seismic waves or geoscience can learn from mathematics about strategies for teaching unit conversions or derivatives. In addition to ComPADRE, current collaborators include digital libraries in statistics education, geoscience, biology, and mathematics, projects seeking to disseminate information on specific teaching methods, and on-campus centers of teaching and learning.

You can view the full collection of teaching methods at the Pedagogy in Action website (serc.carleton.edu/sp/pedagogies.html). Faculty and teachers use this collection to learn more about pedagogic methods and to teach courses about methods to future science teachers.

Generating a robust collection of examples which reflect the experience of faculty and teachers has been the most challenging aspect of the project to date. A culture of sharing information about teaching is just beginning to emerge in higher education (Huber and Hutchings 2005; Bok 2006). Fostering this culture is a high priority for the NSF program on Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement. This summer at a workshop in association with the Greensboro AAPT meeting, physics faculty authored about 30 new examples of their teaching experiences. You are invited to add to this collection via an on-line submission process that includes the peer review of the submitted examples.

The Pedagogy in Action project is one of several approaches that the Science Education Resource Center has taken to help improve teaching in the sciences. While much of their work has been in the geosciences, their collection of web resources (serc.carleton.edu) includes topics of interest to physics educators including teaching with data, visualizations, and models. There are also resources on observing and assessing student learning and collections of references on different aspects of research on learning.

Acknowledgement: This is sponsored by the National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education (Grant DUE-0532768) as part of the National Science Digital Library (nsdl.org).

References

Bok, D., (2006). Our Underachieving Colleges, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

M. Huber, P. Hutchings (2005). The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Manduca, C.A., Iverson, E.R., Fox, S.P., McMartin, F. (2005). Influencing User Behavior through Digital Library Design: An Example from the Geosciences, D-Lib, 11(5).

McMartin, F., Iverson, E., Manduca, C, Wolf, A., Morgan, G. (2006). Factors Motivating Use of Digital Libraries, JCDL '06 p. 254-255.

Dr. Cathryn A. Manduca is director of the Science Education Resource center at Carleton College. She received her PhD in Geology from the California Institute of Technology. She served as coordinator for the Keck Geology Consortium undergraduate research program from 1994-2000. She is editor of a new book “Earth and Mind: How Geologists Think and Learn About the Earth” and has co-authored several reports mobilizing action in the geoscience and digital library communities.

Bok, D., (2006). Our Underachieving Colleges, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

M. Huber, P. Hutchings (2005). The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Manduca, C.A., Iverson, E.R., Fox, S.P., McMartin, F. (2005). Influencing User Behavior through Digital Library Design: An Example from the Geosciences, D-Lib, 11(5).

McMartin, F., Iverson, E., Manduca, C, Wolf, A., Morgan, G. (2006). Factors Motivating Use of Digital Libraries, JCDL '06 p. 254-255.

Dr. Cathryn A. Manduca is director of the Science Education Resource center at Carleton College. She received her PhD in Geology from the California Institute of Technology. She served as coordinator for the Keck Geology Consortium undergraduate research program from 1994-2000. She is editor of a new book “Earth and Mind: How Geologists Think and Learn About the Earth” and has co-authored several reports mobilizing action in the geoscience and digital library communities.

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