Gordon Research Conference on Physics Research and Education 2010

Experimental Research and Laboratories in Physics Education

Chandralekha Singh and Enrique Galvez

The "Physics Research and Education" (PRE) series of Gordon conferences focus on how research in physics and research in physics education can be integrated to improve the teaching of physics primarily at the undergraduate level. Special attention is given to areas of current research and technological interest, physics education research in the focus area, and innovative curricular materials and approaches. The goal is to bring together workers who are doing cutting-edge research in physics, researchers in the field of physics education, and physics teachers so that they can all benefit from each other's expertise. In this way physics education researchers, curriculum developers and others interested in teaching physics get an opportunity to learn about and incorporate contemporary research in physics. Similarly, researchers in physics learn about physics education research, issues in pedagogy, curriculum development, and communicating and teaching physics to students at all levels.

Contemporary teaching methods developed from physics education research have been successful in improving student learning when they have been applied correctly. However, many faculty members are not using these methods beyond the introductory courses. Most workers actively involved in cutting-edge research have little interaction with those who are developing new curricular materials and the newly emerging group of physicists specializing in physics education research. The conferences in this series bring together all three groups so that novel ideas about physics teaching, learning, and research emerge.

The focus area of the PRE Gordon conference changes each time. In 2010, the Conference focused on Experimental Research and Laboratories in Physics Education. The goal was to gather educators and researchers for presentations and discussions on ways to improve the role of experimentation in the physics curriculum.

The conference gave the physics community an opportunity to rethink these ideas and learn of success stories. The format of the conference involved morning and evening plenary sessions followed by discussion periods. Afternoons free of scheduling offered opportunities for informal interactions and exchange of ideas. Poster sessions offered participants a forum for presenting their own work. College and university faculty, laboratory instructors, post-docs, graduate and undergraduate students, and equipment developers participated in the conference.

The participants brainstormed how the technological advances and the focus on assessment have led to numerous changes in the physics curriculum. Since laboratories and role of experimentation have not received the comprehensive attention that they deserve, the following were some of the many topics discussed at the Gordon conference: How should we best use laboratories in the introductory sequence? Are there new ideas and models that work better than the conventional approach? What is the right balance between experimentation and simulation? What new types of experiments are available due to modern technology? What innovative laboratories for upper-level courses have been developed? Should the advanced laboratory be a research experience? What table-top technologies provide the best settings for modern advanced laboratories? What research problems have found their way into the advanced lab? What is the value of a capstone research experience, which in most cases is dominated by experimental projects? How can we effectively involve undergraduates in scientific research as part of the undergraduate physics curriculum? Should we make innovation a part of the undergraduate physics curriculum?

Chandralekha Singh and Enrique J. Galvez were co-chairs of the 2010 Gordon Conference on Physics Research and Education. Chandralekha Singh is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh and the chair-elect of the APS Forum on Education. Enrique Galvez is a professor in the Department of Physics at the Colgate University.

Disclaimer- The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.