Beginning in 2002, I have been making a major reorganization of the Physics 3310-3320 sequence that makes it ideally suited to the inclusion of a strong writing component. Since the course is intended as an introduction to all aspects of physics, I have de-emphasized the traditional inductive approach, which forces the student to retrace the historic misconceptions and the experiments that subsequently refuted them. Instead, I developed a deductive approach, beginning with conceptual models that reflect our latest unifying perceptions of the nature of the physical universe, and obtain from them the physical consequences.
My new approach has been well-received in the professional physics community, and a graduate level textbook that I have written which employs this approach was published by Cambridge University Press in November 2003. I have found that, with some modifications, the first five chapters of my graduate textbook provide an introduction that is suitable for use as a textbook for this undergraduate course.
Clearly a presentation that relies heavily on conceptual pictures that exist in the mind of the student is difficult to test, and is particularly ill-suited to the standard mathematical problem-solving examinations that have been the mainstay of Physics Courses since the time of Newton. I have found that word exchanges are the most effective way of probing and enhancing this type of student knowledge. For that reason, I have sometimes conducted individual oral examinations for students in Physics 3310. By requesting oral expository descriptions I was able to identify student insights, as well confusion and misconceptions. I believe this can be greatly enhanced by frequent expository writing.
One approach involves requiring a daily journal in which the student concisely synthesizes my lectures, the textbook, the material placed on the course website, and outside reading assignments. Short impromptu essays and research papers can also be helpful. I have obtained good results (or at least stimulated fruitful discussions) by asking students to prepare their own written version of the course, with the proviso that it be directed to a lower level, eg, to serve as a lesson plan for an elementary school or high school teacher, or as an explanation to a young child. Thus the students are not simply parroting my statements, but are internalizing, reorganizing, and reformulating the information.
problem I have noted among students is "blank-sheet-of-paper writers
block." I have tried overcoming
this by use of "Dragon Naturally Speaking Voice-to-Text"
computer software. In this way the
break the writing block by first reciting or dictating an impromptu draft of an
exposition, which is converted directly to computer text by the software. The text is then printed out, and the
student and I can critique, manipulate, and polish the text on this already
existing written draft. This is
particularly valuable for persons who think much faster than they can
write. As an example, all of the text
of this narrative summary was prepared by dictation using Dragon-Speak.
Students interested in receiving Writing Intensive Course credit (presently a graduation requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences) for this course can either register for it directly, or contact me for more information.