Saturday, September 21, 2013

Not Your Mother's Physic's Class

"I love physics!!!!!!!!!!!

That was the response I received from my daughter who started university this fall. As a parent very much aware of the shifting world of post-secondary education, I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear this.

So what's different? Everything!

The class has about 150 students, but right from the beginning the prof organized students into collaborative groups based on their residences so that students would have a support network from day 1.

There is no lecture. The entire course is based on collaborative problem solving. At the start of each class a question or problem is posted and the groups have to collectively solve the problem. The students have clickers and no one in a group is allowed to submit a response until the group has come to an agreement. When groups cannot agree, the prof is there to assist their thinking. The environment is lively and engaging and so very, very different from what I experienced in first year. (Look to your left, look to your right - 2 of you won't be in this course by Christmas. I was one of the students who quit science.)

The labs are dynamic and the prof  and TAs work as a team. When my daughter's computer wasn't functioning, it was the prof who came to her aid.

The final exam will include a section, worth 30 percent of the mark, that will require students to work collaboratively to solve a problem.  Apparently the room dynamics are a sight to behold during that portion of the exam.

I remember reading that this shift to inquiry began in British Columbia when a professor noticed that although students were scoring high marks on exams, they did not actually have conceptual understanding. A decision was made to experiment with inquiry-based learning and the results were so astounding that the entire physics program was revamped. To what degree this is being replicated in other science domains, I don't know. All I know is that I have a daughter who has gone from liking physics to being passionate about physics.

This is such a stark contrast to how she experienced science during high school and as a parent I can't help but wonder why.

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