Your World Is Your Laboratory!

Since Summer of 2013, Mike has been teaching a massive open online course (MOOC) on introductory mechanics. In this course, offered through Coursera, students learn to investigate motion in the world around them. The course is open to students who wish to participate fully in the course (completing assignments, lab reports, and evaluations), as well as those that just want to sample the course activities that interest them cafeteria-style. Students who go through the entire course experience a course that is very different in style but equivalent in core content to a traditional, on-campus, first-semester course in college-level introductory physics that includes a laboratory. At the same time, those who cherry-pick selected course elements (e.g., learning the basics of video capture and analysis of motion in one’s own surroundings) can still advance their understanding of physics. Check out the video below to learn more!

Students learn to understand and to predict motion in the real world using a small set of powerful fundamental principles. Laboratories are the backbone of this course, providing students with opportunities (1) to observe and to analyze motion in their own surroundings, (2) to apply fundamental principles to build explanations of the motion, and (3) to evaluate, in a constructively critical way, their own measurements and models, as well as the measurements and models of their course peers. Other course elements (e.g., lecture videos with “clicker” questions and homework) support and extend the physics explored in the laboratories.

Participants who satisfactorily complete the course are eligible for six (6) Continuing Education Units from the American Association of Physics Teachers. For more information and to enroll, click here!

Hands-On Research in Complex Systems Schools

Since 2008, members of our lab have participated in the Hands-On Research in Complex Systems Schools. These have taken us to such far off places as Gandhinagar (India), São Paulo (Brazil), Buea (Cameroon), Shanghai (China), and Trieste (Italy). These two-week-long schools bring together faculty from top research universities and graduate students and young faculty from developing nations.

The focus of the Hands-On Schools is to introduce participants to topics at the frontier of science that can be studied by small research groups using modest instrumentation. Participants learn to use new tools and techniques, which they can use in their own research, and are introduced to modern pedagogical methods, which they can implement in their classrooms, thus putting them on the road to becoming scientific leaders in their home countries.

In previous Hand-On Schools, members of our lab have held sessions on synchronization of platform-coupled metronomes, Faraday waves, drops bouncing on vertically oscillating liquid interfaces, particle image velocimetry (PIV), and quasi-two-dimensional flows. We have also conducted sessions on the effective use of classroom demonstrations, the implementation of web-based teaching tools and virtual laboratories, and the incorporation of scientific computation into introductory physics courses.

As of 2010, Mike has been appointed Associate Director of the Hands-on Schools and is currently helping to organize the 2016 Hands-On School.

Atlanta Public Schools/Georgia Tech Mathematics and Science Partnership Program

Since summer of 2011, members of our lab have been collaborating with members of Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) to organize and conduct professional development workshops for Physics/Physical Science teachers from Atlanta Public Schools. These workshops consist of intensive two-week-long sessions in the summer, followed by afternoon and weekend follow-up sessions throughout the fall and spring. The focus of these workshops is on improving teacher proficiency in Physics content and introducing them to modern classroom technologies and teaching methods derived from Physics Education Research.

The workshops are loosely based on ideas borrowed from the Arizona State Modeling Instruction curriculum, which emphasizes conceptual understanding, model making, and multiple representations. Within this framework, students formulate models to help them explain physical phenomena. They then evaluate their models by comparing their predictions with empirical data obtained from experiments of their own design.

We have augmented these ideas, by incorporating activities in “computational thinking” developed by the Georgia Tech Physics Education Research Group in collaboration with Jon Burk of the Westminster Schools (now at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware). These activities emphasize the power of using computers for numerical simulations and visualization.

We have also worked with teachers to help familiarize them with the use of computer-based data acquisition using the NeuLog family of sensors. These sensors are available at all Atlanta Public Schools but are rarely used. In our workshops, we instruct teachers in the usage of these sensors in a variety of classroom scenarios, including laboratories, demonstrations, and modeling projects, as well as covering topics in a variety of fields that they may be required to teach, including physics/physical science, chemistry, and biology.