BA Harpur College, State University of New York at Binghamton
PhD The Johns Hopkins University
At the present time, my primary interests are in physics pedagogy. A brief description of these interests follows:
During the past 10-15 years, many studies by numerous physics education researchers have shown that students enter physics classes with many preconceived ideas. These preconceptions are often misconceptions in that they do not provide a correct description of the behavior of the physical world that are consistent with the laws of physics. For example, a common misconception is that "motion implies force". In this view, when an object is acted upon by a force, it receives something called "impetus" and it will continue to move until the impetus is "used up". A larger force means that more impetus is imparted to the object and the object moves further until its impetus or "stored force" is used up. Thus, a ball thrown into the air moves upward until it runs out of impetus (at the peak of its motion) or a box that is given a brief push will continue to slide along the floor until its impetus is used up. Of course, in these examples, there is no need for gravity or frictional forces that, in fact, provide the deceleration.
The interesting thing about this research is the realization of how resistant these ideas are to change in the physics classroom. Students will do or say what they have to do to "learn" Newton’s Laws, etc. to do well on exams, but extensive research has shown that, as soon as students walk out of their final exam, they revert back to their original beliefs.
In addition to these ingrained misconceptions, recent research has begun to show that student beliefs about the nature of physics as a discipline, the nature of learning, their role as students, the professor’s role as teacher, etc. also significantly affect physics students’ approach to learning the subject. Research in this area has recently produced a Master’s Thesis by Vincent Smith entitled: A Study of Attitudes and Perceptions Held by Students in a Guided Inquiry-Based Physical Science Course for Future Elementary Teachers. The research focused on a course for prospective teachers in which the traditional lecture mode of instruction is replaced by an inquiry-based, student-centered approach that engages students in an active learning experience. Vince studied the effects of this non-traditional pedagogy on student attitudes and expectations about their learning of the course content and examined their general attitudes about science.