Monday, December 10, 2007

Required Reading: CAE's Winter Reading List

CAE's December 2007 Teaching Strategy is an expanded astro ed research reading list.

For those of you who have not looked at the Center for Astronomy Education site this month, I recommend looking at their December teaching strategy. It's a good reading list of astronomy and physics education research articles. The education theory & practice book How People Learn is also on the list. The articles include Janelle Bailey's recent paper on a stars concept inventory, and the amazing review of astro ed research by Bailey & Slater. All of the articles are required reading. Reading between semesters is a good way to refresh yourself after the burnout that comes from teaching for fifteen weeks (I'm not the only one, right?). It's also a good way to get ideas for the next semester.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Web Videos, Pre-med Students: TPT Dec 2007

The December 2007 issue of The Physics Teacher contains some interesting and relevant pieces for astronomy teachers: the challenges of teaching pre-med students and a great suggestion concerning web videos.

Gerd Kortemeyer's article entitled "The Challenge of Teaching Introductory Physics to Premedical Students" is worthwhile reading for teachers of any intro science course. The articles discusses a study of students in physics courses for non-majors that are populated mainly by pre-med majors. Kortemeyer presents the reasons why pre-med students take physics and discusses the satisfication level that these students have with intro physics.

It probably is not surprising that such students are taking physics so that they can acquire knowledge required to answer questions on the MCAT. These same students would probably benefit from courses in intro physics classes designed specifically for them, with applications to medicine. An analytical physics class, that is heavy in mathematical derivation, may help them in the short term with MCAT questions. However, once pre-med students go into medical practice, they often wish they had learned more physics. A course designed for them could help them to see the applications to their work, and possibly retain that knowledge longer (at least, that is my thinking). Kortemeyer ends the article with an annotated listing of textbooks useful for such courses.

In the Websights section, Ralph McGrew writes about a surprisingly wonderful place to find web videos demonstrating physics: America's Funniest Home Videos. The AFV website has a massive online catalog of their clips, sorted into sections (though the search function is faster for finding a specific clip). I won't re-list all of McGrew's favorites, but I do have to point to my own favorite: Dorm Chair Hit, a painfully funny demonstration of Newton's 3rd Law. Here's one more: Crib Blanket Teamwork. Search through the AFV website, and comment below with your favorites that demonstrate some physics concept. What a cool way to show the physics of everyday life :-)

Cool physics videos on the web are not new. McGrew points to a few other neat videos, such as the hilarious demonstration of a water-bottle jet pack, from a Japanese tv show.

The Wohba blog regularly posted amazing videos, such as the Ruben's Tube demonstration. Of course, I can't mention physics web videos without pointing to my own contest-winning video on insulation.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Resource Post: Lecture Tutorials

Below, I give a review of the lecture-tutorial activities that are becoming popular in astronomy (and to a lesser extent, physics) teaching. Links and bibliographic information are given on the books and associated materials, to help teachers find the tutorial material without having to search all over of the internet. I have also included links to three tutorial activities I have written. If you have classroom tested tutorial activities that you have written, and would like to have them listed here, comment below with a link.

Lecture Tutorials

In the past few decades, one of the clear, reproducible results in in physics and astronomy education is that the traditional lecture format is inadequate in achieving the the highest possible student learning gains (for example, see Hake, R.R., 1998; references listed below).

Better results are obtained when active learning is implemented within the course structure. Rather than lecture-alone, students can be asked to work on processing activities in small groups. Lecture-tutorials are guided sets of questions that lead students through difficult concepts, focusing on those that ellicit the most misconceptions, and force a cognitive confrontation by the end of the activity. The activities often involve students reading debates between fictional peers, and evaluating who is correct, if at all.

Lecture tutorials were first developed in physics and then later in astronomy. Other fields have started to catch on to the idea as well (see geology activities below). For introductory astronomy, the tutorials developed by Arizona's CAPER team are the clear standard. Their research with the tutorials has been implemented in large lecture sections. Students given a pre-test in basic astronomy concepts typically score an average of 30%. The CAPER team has demonstrated that with a traditional lecture format, student acheive a statistically significant (but pedagogically disappointing) post-test average of 50%. With the lecture plus lecture-tutorial approach, the CAPER team has demonstrated that students achieve a post-test average of 70% (Prather, et al, 2003). Clearly, using lecture tutorials gives a superior learning experience than the traditional lecture format.

A very good discussion of how to implement lecture tutorials, given with an appropriate background in learning theory, is presented by Erik Brogt in a recent issue of Astronomy Education Review (Brogt, 2007).

In this resource post, I will list citations for the lecture-tutorial books for students, in both astronomy and physics. I recently corresponded with Karen Kortz of the Community College of Rhode Island, who pointed me to a set of lecture-tutorial activities for geology that she has developed with Jessica Jager Smay of San Jose City College. Links to Kortz's activities are given below.

Lecture Tutorials in Introductory Astronomy

Lecture Tutorials in Introductory Astronomy, 2/E
Authors: Edward Prather, Tim Slater, Jeffrey Adams, and Gina Brissenden
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Year: 2007
ISBN: 0132392267
Description: The revised edition of this book contains thirty-eight ready-to-use activities, covering topics from the night sky to universal expansion (here’s a topic list) This edition adds several activities to the light & spectroscopy section, an especially good unit of this book. The book is designed mainly for one-semester surveys of astronomy that focus on stars and galaxies. There are only a few activities directly related to comparative planetology (however, an intro planets class could make use of Karen Kortz's geology tutorials linked below). The authors have openly expressed that the activity topics reflect their own curriculum preference. I would like to see more activities in stellar evolution and cosmology, but perhaps those will be in a future edition.

Two additional CAPER tutorials, as yet unpublished, in Galactic Rotation Curves and the Greenhouse Effect, are available as locked-downloads to participants of the NASA CAE Teaching Excellence workshops.

Instructor’s Guide for Lecture Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, 2nd Edition
Author: Ed Prather, Jeff Adams, Daniel Loranz, Gina Brissenden, Timothy Slater, and Larry Watson
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Year: 2008
ISBN: 0321558243
Description: So you've got a copy of the Lecture Tutorials book and you want to use it in your class. How do you effectively implement the activities. What are the common difficulties that students have with the questions? That what this guide is for. It is a protected download from the publisher's website, so you need to get a login from your Addison-Wesley book representative. Do it now! I am always amazed at the number of people who don't know about this resource. The book contains answers to the questions, but more importantly it has pre- and post-questions for the activities in the multiple-choice "clicker" format, ready to use in lecture.

EDIT, 12.17.07: The above link and description has been updated to reflect the availability of the updated instructor's guide.

Astronomy Active Learning In-Class Tutorials
Author: Marvin L. De Jong
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Year: 2006
ISBN: 0805382968
Description: Before the physics and astronomy books from the Prentice Hall division was absorbed into Addison-Wesley (I’m only speaking half facetiously when I say that all academic book publishers will turn into one eventually), Addison-Wesley published this odd little book, as a supplement to Bennett’s Cosmic Perspective text. My general impression is that this title was produced to compete with the CAPER tutorials book when it was part of Prentice Hall. It contains FIFTY activities, which are described by the author as “lecture tutorials”, however I find them to be a higher difficulty level than the CAPER book. The font of the book is small and there is barely any room for students to write in the spaces meant for “explanations.” Many of the tutorials ask for mathematical calculations. Many of the questions are not useful for higher-level processing, because they are just asking for declarative knowledge. That said, I have found several of the activities useful as LAB activities, if adapted properly. One particularly well presented activity is the one on using Cepheid Variables as standard candles. Another good activity is the one on finding the center of the galaxy using the distribution of globular clusters. I do like how De Jong uses real observational data in the activities. If you can get a copy of this book, you too might be able to adapt some of the activities to a workable classroom tutorial or lab.

Tutorials by P.E. Robinson
Year: 2006-2007
Description: To fill in the gaps of the CAPER tutorial book, I have written a few tutorials. Main Sequence Stars is an activity that leads students through the process of a main sequence star becoming a red giant. Early Universe Light is a tutorial that examines the production of the CMB. Interplanetary Travel is an activity on using least-energy orbits to send spacecraft to other planets. Interplanetary Travel is most suited to more advanced groups (it involves a few basic calculations). I give permission to print and copy these tutorials, provided that they are not changed and retain my authorship. If you do use these activities, please give me feedback! They are works in progress, and I am still modifying them after implementing them in the classroom. I am working on other tutorials, and will post them here when I have tested them with students.

Introductory Geology Lecture Tutorials
Author: Karen M. Kortz and Jessica J. Smay
Year: 2007
Description: Geology instructor Karen Kortz has developed a set of thirteen tutorials, modelled after the CAPER activities, for introductory geology. Several of these could help fill the gaps in planetary science in the CAPER book. I have not used these in the classroom, but after reading through them, I think they appear well written and class-ready! If you have used them, comment below with your experiences.

Lecture Tutorials for Physics

Tutorials In Introductory Physics and Homework Package
Authors: Lillian C. McDermott, Peter S. Shaffer, and the Physics Education Group of the University of Washington
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Year: 2002
ISBN: 0130970697
Description: The Physics Education Group at the University of Washington developed a comprehensive set of lecture tutorials for a two-semester sequence in introductory physics. Topics range from kinematics to E&M. The main tutorial book has an accompanying book with homework exercises that can be used to reinforce the tutorial concepts. Several of the activities require the use of some simple equipment, such as kinematic "ticker-tape" for acceleration concepts.

Instructor's Guide (for Tutorials in Introductory Physics)
Author: Lillian C. McDermott
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Year: 2002
ISBN: 0130662445
Description: Like the instructor’s guide to the astronomy tutorials, this book contains sample pre-test and exam questions and information about how to best run the activities.

References Mentioned Above

Prather, E. E., Slater, T. F., Adams, J. P., Bailey, J. M., Jones, L. V., & Dostal, J. A. 2003, "Research on a Lecture-Tutorial Approach to Teaching Introductory Astronomy for Non-Science Majors," Astronomy Education Review, 3(2), 122.

Brogt, Erik. 2007, “A Theoretical Background on a Successful Implementation of Lecture-Tutorials,” Astronomy Education Review, 6(1), 50-58.

Hake, R.R. "Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses ". American Journal of Physics, 66, pg.64-74