Thinking in Physics

The main student goals:

I  Develop favorable values about learning
Many of the students initially have poor attitudes and beliefs about learning.  For example, many are not very independent in their approach to learning, and many don’t appreciate the coherence of scientific knowledge.

II  Develop the necessary reasoning cognitive and metacognitive skills
We often use games and non-physics activities for problem solving practice. In these simple exercises, and throughout the various activities of the course, TIP encourages metacognition, self regulation, and the development of strategic thinking about learning.  Students also are asked to regularly reflect on their learning in journals, some of which are open-ended and others include specific prompts.

III Understand variables and their relationships
A proper understanding of variables and their relationships is of great importance in science.  Many students in the TIP program are deficient in this area.  The ten questions on the Lawson test that deal with identification and control of variables and proportional variables are the questions that show the greatest correlation with FCI normalized gains.  Various TIP activities are designed to develop understanding of the meaning of a variable, how variables can be related and controlled, and the kind of relationships between variables, such as proportional relationships.  We also consider algebraic and graphical representations of relationships between variables.

IV  Develop effective problem solving strategies
TIP promotes the four step method of problem solving first proposed by Polya.  The steps are: 1) formulate the question; 2) plan a solution; 3) execute the plan; 4) review the solution.  The specific implementation of each step depends on the problem.  For example, part of formulating the question often involves drawing a sketch.  We use worksheets with designated places for students to indicate each of their four steps.

Only those students who already show some signs of struggling, such as low SAT scores or low GPA (particularly in STEM courses), are invited to participate.* In an effort to determine what course structure would be most beneficial, we set up several different tracks:

• TIP I is an intense summer course taken by students prior to their introductory mechanics course. Students meet 12 hours per week for
two weeks.
• TIP II is a 12-week course taken concurrently with introductory mechanics . In addition to normal physics class meetings, students meet 2 hours per
week.
• TIP III is a track in which some TIP materials are integrated into a regular section of introductory mechanics.
• TIP IV is a course that is taken before introductory mechanics. The course satisfies students' critical thinking general education requirement.

Most class periods are comprised of group discussions and inquiry-based activities. The science context of the activities can be anything from Newton's Laws to circuits to optics.