Physics and Astronomy


The large first-year physics courses (PHYS 101 & PHYS 102) include 6 3-hour lab experiments. Because it is so difficult to sync the concepts presented in multiple lecture sections with the experiments, we are trying to convert the lab experiments to self-contained “learning units.” These would include pre-lab exercises and lab activities that contain all the necessary information. Wherever they are in the sequence of lectures, instructors could use these experiments to preview what’s coming next, to reinforce what they’re currently covering, or to wrap up already-covered topics. The development and testing of several activities and pre-lab exercises started in the Summer 2010 PHYS 102 section.

Extensive diagnostic testing by Jim Carolan and Louis Deslauriers uncovered information that will inform curriculum decisions. Extensive testing of first and upper year students using an electricity and magnetism concept survey (BEMA) is providing information on learning gains and retention. The results from the survey are being used in decisions about merging the Eng. Phys and Honours Phys. streams of E&M. These results also feed into decisions about the freshman treatment of E&M concepts. There are also efforts to optimize the way E&M topics are covered in various courses, at all levels, to formulate a set of coherent learning goals for these courses and to insure that faculty will strive to achieve these learning goals in the future.

PDFPoster (CWSEI EOY 2011): Tracking Students' Knowledge of Electricity and Magnetism from 1st to 3rd Year

Widespread deployment of CLASS student attitudes about science surveys in all first year courses, with testing done in September, at the end of the first term, and again at the end of the second term.

Jim Carolan looked at 2008-2014 survey data with a special focus on gender differences. He also looked at FCI, MBT, CLASS, and BEMA results in several courses as a function of time.

Louis Deslauriers has developed a math diagnostic to assess upper-level physics students’ grasp of the math skills needed to succeed in the senior courses. This tool will be used to make judgments about curriculum and will feed discussions with the math department about their curriculum. This complements the math department’s own efforts on entrance-level testing of math skills. A math diagnostic for first-year math has also been automated. The two diagnostics are available online at:
First Year Diagnostic:
Upper Year Diagnostic: