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Solving Complex Problems - An Innovative and Integrated Approach to Physics

December 15, 2014
The Mendel Center’s summer 2014 renovations included an open-concept, innovative space for teaching Physics. The new space was introduced along with a new model for the Introductory Physics curriculum.

The new integrated classroom and lab space features mobile furniture such as laptop stations and rolling chairs tables, and whiteboards which have been more conducive for group work.  The blended lab and lecture is considered by the faculty as “better time for learning”.

“The students have been able to engage in problem solving activities, experiential activities, conceptual questions, and small group discussion in the integrated space,” says Craig Looney, Chair of the Physics Department.  The faculty has also been utilizing YouTube to create flipped lectures, allowing for students to learn some of the traditional lecture component of the material at their own pace. The flipped lectures allow for more time for collaborative group work in the lab.

Assistant Professor Christopher Duston has had experience with the combined
classroom/lab model and, along with Assistant Professor Aaron Adair, has aided in the facilitation of the lab lectures. Duston, during his time as a graduate student, was a Teacher’s Assistant in a classroom very similar to this integrated physics lab. With this first-hand, relevant experience, Duston was able to see the success of this classroom model.

Adair, having written his doctoral dissertation on Physics education research, has a wealth of information applicable to innovative physics education. One of Adair’s professors in graduate school developed and implemented a clicker system using an app for smartphones which Adair plans on using at Merrimack.

He also an advocate of integrating project-based learning into the curriculum, which, says Adair, “forces students to build their own understanding, developing their ability to solve complex problems.”

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