Physics Colloquium - Friday, April 20th, 2007, 4:00 P.M.


E300 Math/Science Center; Refreshments at 3:30 P.M. in Room E200

Noah Finkelstein
Department of Physics
University of Colorado

The next generation of classroom practice: PER, the Physics Education Technology (PhET) project and learning virtually

This talk explores recent work associated with the Physics Education Technology (PhET) project [1] at the University of Colorado. We demonstrate that under the appropriate conditions students not only learn more but are better able to manipulate real electric circuits after using a simulation than students who only work with real equipment. [2] We have conducted a variety of studies examining the utility of one particular simulation, the Circuit Construction Kit, in order to document where and why it is supportive of student learning. Additionally, I present a complementary, more advanced level simulations in E/M and quantum mechanics (such as radio waves and lasers) to discuss general design features of these simulations, the characteristics of the sims that make them relatively unique and productive tools, and sample applications in typical undergraduate environments. We find that even traditionally advanced level material may be presented in ways that are accessible and useful to both the general public (non-science majors) and advanced students (upper division undergraduates and graduate students). The talk theoretically frames both the design and validation studies of simulation effectiveness in terms of social and contextual use of tools [3] and places the work in the broader framework of recent developments in physics education research.

[1] http://phet.colorado.edu

[2] N D. Finkelstein, K. Perkins, W. Adams, K. Keller, P. Kohl, N. Podolefsky, S. Reid, and R. LeMaster, "When learning about the real world is better done virtually: a study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment," Physical Review, Special Topics: Physics Education Research,1,1, 010103 (Sept 2005).

[3] N.D. Finkelstein, "Learning physics in context: a study of student learning about electricity and magnetism," International Journal of Science Education 27:1187 (Oct 2005).