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And

what’s the next step in learning something? You need coaching. You need to try it yourself with someone giving you

Ken Heller, professor of physics, and his colleagues in the School of Physics and Astronomy are changing the way physics courses are taught by introducing students to cooperative problem solving.

feedback in

jayme halbritter

real time.

–ken heller

about innovation in the teaching not just of Introduction to Physics, but many of the courses in the department. In structuring his own lectures for Introduction to Physics, Heller draws upon a theory of learning called Cognitive Apprenticeship. It is premised on the notion that part of teaching is a matter of a master teaching apprentices through the use of modeling behavior; by making the implicit processes involved in carrying out a complex task visible, students can observe and then practice those skills under the coaching guidance of a teacher or teaching assistant. He likens this approach to the steps you would take to teach someone how to play baseball. “What’s the first thing you do? You take the person to a baseball game,” he said. “You don’t start with an explanation of the aerodynamics of a spheroid.” “And what’s the next step in learning something?” he asks. “You need coaching. You need to try it yourself with someone giving you feedback in real time.” In different forms, coaching is built into all three components of his Introduction to Physics

16 INVENTING TOMORROW fall 2012

classes—lectures, discussion groups, and labs—all with the use of a group to provide mutual coaching to solve a problem. “In both the discussion groups and the labs, the emphasis is on cooperative problem solving,” explains Evan Frodermann, a teaching assistant in Heller’s Introduction to Physics class geared specifically toward pre-medical students. “There is a tendency for people to solve problems on their own and then compare their answers with other people in the team rather than solving the problem cooperatively—which is actually a much more efficient way to solve problems.” And making that conceptual leap is an invaluable lesson explains Anne Doering, a post-baccalaureate student who has returned to school in order to apply to medical school. “The approach to problem solving I’ve acquired in Introduction to Physics has changed the way I think about and approach problems,” she said. “As professor Heller has said, a problem is a question you have no idea how to solve. Today, because of him, I find myself much better equipped to deal with such unfathomable questions.” n

Inventing Tomorrow, Fall/Winter 2012 (vol 37 no 1)  

University students mentor First robotics team. Faculty are transforming the college classroom. The "Greatest Generation" share tales of WWI...

Inventing Tomorrow, Fall/Winter 2012 (vol 37 no 1)  

University students mentor First robotics team. Faculty are transforming the college classroom. The "Greatest Generation" share tales of WWI...