This is a sample syllabus from the course, which can be offered for 1-3 units, these requirements are for the 3-unit course. An undergraduate student trying to get a leg up on teaching might sign up for one hour, and not have total responsibility for a lab, or have to develop a new activity, just assist.

PHYS 400V---Lab and Classroom Practices in Physics

Course Content: The weekly readings will be from physics education research literature. The classroom time will give you experience in using classroom methods that are measurably effective in promoting student learning.

A Partial List of Topics

Preparation for classroom presentations

Testing and grading

Addressing student alternative conceptions

Effective use of classroom demonstrations

Interactive classroom techniques

Course Structure and Grading Policy

Four hours a week in an apprentice teacher role, 1 unplanned absence = 1/2 of a letter grade

Before semester begins: Ten half-days of meetings on topics essential to classroom experience, 10-25 pages of reading per day.

Remainder of the semester, a 1-hour meeting each week to discuss the week’s reading (20-25 pages).

Performance in class is observed.

First 4 weeks, observations provide feedback.

Remainder of semester, results graded.

New topics given 2-week period before evaluation. Progressively more responsibility given.

The work in class will be 1/2 of grade.

Assignments accompanying weekly reading, 1/3.

Final: develop a lesson or activity (1/6).


Partial Bibliography:

Section 1 -- General

  • Arnold Arons, A Guide to Introductory Physics Teaching (John Wiley, NY 1990)
  • Reinderf Duit, Fred Goldberg, and Hans Niedderer, editors, Research in Physics Learning,

Institute fur die Padagogik der Naturwissenschaften, 1992.

  • David Hammer, "Two approaches to learning physics," The Physics Teacher, December 1989, pp. 664-669.
  • Robert Karplus, "Educational aspects of the structure of physics," American Journal of Physics, Volume 49 Number 3.
  • Seymour -- Gender differences in attrition rates.

Section 2 -- Alternative Conceptions

  • David Hestenes and Malcolm Wells, "A mechanics baseline test," The Physics Teacher, March 1992, pp. 159-166.
  • David Hestenese, Malcolm Wells and Gregg Swackhamer, "Force concept inventory," The Physics Teacher, March 1992, pp. 141-158.
  • McDermott, L. C. (1984). Research on conceptual understanding in mechanics. Physics Today, 37 (7), 2-10.
  • Wandersee, Mintzes, & Novak --Research on alternative conceptions in science
  • Reif, F., J.H. Larkin, and G.C. Brackett, "Teaching General Learning and problem-Solving Skills," Amer. J. Phys. 44:212-217 (1976).

Section 3 -- Labs and Cooperative Grouping

  • Toothacker -- A critical look at lab instruction...
  • Smith, Johnson & Johnson -- Handouts

Section 4 -- Problem Solving and Grading

  • Larkin, J.H. , McDermott, J., Simon, D.P. and H.A. Simon, "Expert and Novice Performance in Solving Physics Problems," Science 208:1335-1342 (1990).
  • Larkin, J.H., "Processing Information for Effective Problem Solving," Eng. Educ. December:285-288 (079).
  • Larkin, J.H., McDermott, J., Simon, D.P., and H.A. Simon, "Models of Competence in Solving Physics Problems," Cog. Sci. 4:317-345 (1980).
  • Larkin, J.H. and F. Reif, "Understanding and Teaching Problem Solving in Physics," Eur. J. Sci. Educ. 1: 191-203 (1979).
  • Reif, F.R. and J.I. Heller, "Knowledge Structure and Problem Solving in Physics," Educ. Psych. 17:102-127 (1982),


McDermott, L. C. (1984). Research on conceptual understanding in mechanics. Physics Today, 37 (7), 2.

This article summarizes many studies conducted to determine common physics alternative conceptions held by students. The article also makes recommendation for instruction intended to overcome these difficulties.

Reading Questions:

1.     What are some preconceptions about passive forces?

        2.     What are some preconceptions about the gravitational force?

3.     What are some preconceptions about velocity and acceleration?

4.     What are some preconceptions about force and motion?

5.     What are some implications of the research on traditional instruction?