Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Course Design for an Introductory Science Course

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Course Design for an Introductory Science Course

Article excerpt


This paper presents a course design for an introductory science course that encourages students to take greater responsibility for constructing their own knowledge of science with their professor and fellow students. The course includes two writing activities and a conceptual-conflict activity. (A conceptual-conflict activity, is, one in which two or more opposing viewpoints are discussed.) All of the students became more involved in constructing their own understandings of the subject.


It is difficult for students who believe that learning consists of memorizing facts, a position that many students bring to introductory science courses at a university (Meichtry, 1993), to appreciate the conceptual framework of the introductory science course. Some students can dismiss the conceptual basis of the problems, because their epistemology is formula driven and they accept calculated answers as a goal in itself. Early in a course, Lelanna [1] one of the students whom we interviewed, [2] referred to the discussion of concepts this way: oIt clears some things that are really not clear but like helping me actually do physics problems, no it doesn't. You have formulas and you've just got to figure out which formulas to use, you don't need it.o One means of overcoming this is through a combination of instructional activities, which actively engage students to take greater responsibility for constructing knowledge of science with their professor and fellow students.


The course (Mechanics) is the first one-semester course in a sequence of three courses covering an introductory calculus-based introduction to Physics. Typically, there are approximately 100 students in each section. The student population ha the course is multicultural and multilingual and ranges from freshman in university to graduate students. Students in this course include science majors, humanities majors and engineers. At this university, there are typically many foreign students including at least 20% from Middle Eastern countries. Additionally a significant fraction of the students is returning to school often after having completed a degree in another discipline.


The activities used in the course were; reflective writing each week about information found in the text before this material is covered in class, conceptual-conflict exercises in class, and a writing activity called a ocritiqueo completed one or two weeks later. Class discussions were also generated using a reflective-write-pair share activity that has been discussed elsewhere (Kalman, 2002a). Some of these activities (or variations on them) have been used in other courses. (For example, Physics for non-Science majors see Kalman, 1999, several higher level courses see Kalman, 2002b. The activities have also been the subject of many workshops given by the author and professors in many different disciplines in Science, Engineering, Medicine and the humanities have reported favourable results.). Through participating in these activities, students seemed to become aware of the importance of concepts in solving problems:

   Alexei: Physics it's more like a combination of problem solving and
   understanding the material. a For physics, the problem solving a
   first, you have to understand the concept and everything, for
   mathematics, it's more like templates [3]

Students were requested to hand in their reflective writing, at the latest, at the beginning of the first class of the week. Students receive 4 points if they hand in an adequate amount of reflective-writing (roughly 3/4 page for each section of the textbook). As a follow-up activity, before the first class of the following week, they had to write three separate sentences about three important concepts discussed in class that week. Students receive up to two points for each concept sentence. The nine best submissions (out of 12) for the combined assignment were worth 15% of their total marks for the course. …

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