Research Papers in Physics and Astronomy


Date of this Version

March 2000


Copyright © 2000 American Association of Physics Teachers. This article may be downloaded for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the American Association of Physics Teachers This article appeared in The Physics Teacher 38 (2000), pp. 165-167, and may be found at. .


Physics education research indicates that interactive instruction techniques improve student performance. 1 A variety of methods have been developed to promote interactivity, including peer instruction, 2 tutorials, 3 ranking tasks, 4 and in-class worksheets.5 These techniques are attractive because they are adaptable to classes of all sizes and rarely require the instructor to make radical changes in the course content or pedagogical approach. Our Physics 151 is a one-semester algebra-based course for which the primary audience is architecture, construction management, natural resources, and business majors. Eighty to 140 students are in each section. The course has three hours of lecture and one hour of recitation each week, but no laboratory component. I had twice used peer instruction as popularized by Mazur,2 where the instructor poses a multiple-choice question and students are given a minute or two to choose and display their answers using flashcards6 or an electronic response system. One to two minutes are allotted for students to discuss the problem in small groups, and a second show of answers is requested. I found this technique to be a significant improvement over “passive” lectures, but I had concerns. Mazur’s questions are tailored to the traditional two-semester physics course and were too abstract for many of my students. Writing “good” questions— those that stimulate thought and identify misconceptions—is not easy. My questions met with varied degrees of success and took a significant amount of time to write. Furthermore, about a quarter of the students refused to participate in the show of answers using flashcards. A smaller percentage did not want to participate in group discussions. The primary reason for their reluctance (cited by the students) was embarrassment that others would see if they were wrong. Most significantly, feedback with the peer instruction method told me when students didn’t understand a concept, but couldn’t always indicate why they were confused. Adapting a different technique would be worthwhile only if the new technique offered significant improvements. The alternative that appeared most likely to meet these demands was using in-class worksheets. Worksheets are very versatile and can be tailored to meet specific goals. For the spring 1998 offering of Physics 151, we completed one worksheet each week. The 11 worksheets counted for 1/8 of the total class grade. Students were not allowed to make up the worksheets, were not told in advance when the worksheets would be handed out, and although students worked in groups of three or four, each person was required to turn in his or her own worksheet. They were graded and returned, to be compared with posted solutions.

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