Resources and community for teaching physics for life sciences


Workshop at Swarthmore College

March 29, 2019 at 4:00pm - March 30, 2019 at 4:30pm Eastern Time
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA

Making physics personally meaningful and coherent with life science students’ other STEM knowledge

Date & Time: March 29-30, 2019
 Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
Organizing Team: Chandra Turpen, Mary Chessey, Catherine Crouch, Benjamin Geller, and Mary Ann Klassen

Description: This 1.5 day workshop hosted by Swarthmore College’s Physics & Astronomy Department immerses instructors in re-thinking and adapting introductory physics courses and lab activities for life science students to emphasize interdisciplinary connections. Instructors and lab managers will be exposed to practical changes they can implement at their home institutions that put students’ experiences and learning at the center of classroom interactions. Workshop participants will also join a growing network of highly-engaged physics instructors who share curricular materials and troubleshoot instructional challenges. The experiences of learning, re-thinking, changing, and networking are tied together within the Living Physics Portal, an NSF-funded online resource for instructors of introductory physics classes for life science majors. Instructors, lab managers, community college faculty & staff and those with varying degrees of familiarity with physics for life scientists or active learning are welcome!

The goals of the workshop were to:

  1. Enable and excite participants to (a) make curricular or lab changes, (b) focus on students’ experiences and learning, and (c) make physics personally meaningful and coherent with students’ other STEM knowledge.
  2. Build local and regional communities of highly-engaged physics educators to communicate about instructional, curricular, or laboratory changes.
  3. Familiarize participants with (a) specific curricular and lab examples of developments in introductory physics for life scientists (IPLS) courses, and (b) using the Living Physics Portal to share resources and collaborate with other physics educators.

Cost: $75 (scholarships were available for instructors with financial need)

(from Left to Right: Ilia Gogoladze, John Shaw, Edmund Nowak, Matthew DeCamp, Jessie Taylor, Benjamin Geller, Chandra Turpen, Cody Goolsby-Cole, Lili Cui, Robert Cohen, David Buckley, Mary Chessey, George Keiser, David Schaffner; Not pictured: Catherine Crouch, Mary Ann Klassen, Tianran Chen, Patrick Johnson, and Chuck Adler)

Workshop Agenda

Friday, March 29nd: 4:00-9:00pm

4:00pm – Registration & Sign-in Open

4:30pm – Welcome & Opening Remarks

5:00pm – Why Change?

  • Educators experienced with physics course transformation will describe the national landscape calling for reform and student-driven reasons for change. A description of local constraints and decision-making will illustrate specifically how physics educators may respond to the call for more student-centered, engaging classrooms and labs.

6:30pm – Dinner

7:30pm – Curriculum Swap

  • Activity: In this session, educators will share and get feedback on a classroom activity and hear about others’ innovative materials in groups of 3-5 people. Participants will explore shared materials through various lenses, including student engagement, interest for life scientists, and a range of potential learning outcomes.

Saturday, March 30th: 8:30-4:30pm

8:30am – Breakfast (+Sign-in open)

9:00am – Experience the curriculum: Using Voltage and Current to Understand Neurons (Lab)

  • The neuron lab implemented at Swarthmore College will be available for participants’ hands-on exploration. Developers will explain the design logic behind the activities and share their experiences with student reactions to this lab.

10:00am – Q & A with a Panel of Swarthmore Life Science Students.

  • Activity: Finding inspiration for your own change efforts

11:00am – Break (with coffee & tea)

11:15am – Modeling & Practicing Pedagogical Skills

  • Participants will get a window into classroom implementation of an interdisciplinary physics course through the study of video clips. Participants will work together to (a) anticipate students’ thinking, (b) notice students’ thinking during in-class discussions, (c) assess an activity’s “group-worthiness,” and (d) improve facilitation of group work.

12:15pm – Lunch

1:15pm – Experience the curriculum: Using Geometrical Optics to Understand Microscopes (Lab)

  • The microscope lab implemented at Swarthmore College will be available for participants’ hands-on exploration. Developers will explain the design logic behind the activities and share their experiences with student reactions to this lab.

2:15pm – Setting intentions for instructional changes

  • Variability of physics classrooms and labs across institutions will be discussed as participants imagine adaptations to the curricular ideas shared at the workshop.

3:00pm – Break

3:15pm – Planning for local change efforts

  • Semi-structured activities, guided discussion and deliberate networking will supply participants with individual support and connections to potential collaborators on continued instructional transformation.

4:15pm – Closing Remarks 

Additional Resources


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