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“Why Should I Care?” Teaching Physics to Non-Believers

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Date and time Feb 08, 2007
from 04:10 PM to 05:00 PM
Location McLennan Physics (MP) 102

Robert E. Thorne

Introductory physics courses targeting life science and premedical students are as challenging to teach as they are to take.  Most students enroll in these courses to fulfill a requirement, and are anxious about the challenges that they will face. Many have little idea how these courses relate to their future professional and personal needs and aspirations. 

Faculty who teach these courses feel strong pressure from both the University and their students to deliver a high quality product, and typically invest far more time and energy in them than in their courses for physics majors. Yet these heroic efforts are invariably "rewarded" by far harsher student evaluations.     

 I will argue that these courses are in fact the "canary in the coal mine" signaling the failure of our traditional modes of instruction. Unlike physics majors and other "true believers", who are able to achieve subject mastery with little guidance or motivation, connecting with non-believers requires faculty to actually teach. Traditional instruction may drive many gifted students out of physics, and may account in part for the tremendous attrition of women and minorities from physics between high school and university graduation.

 I will describe a variety of strategies to more fully engage non-believers, to convey to them the power and excitement of physics, and to address common psychological issues that affect student attitudes to and performance in physics.

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Contact Name Dwayne Miller
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