Western Kentucky University
Department of Physics and Astronomy


Dr. Emily Smith

Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics
Cornell University

"Transforming labs to engage students in critical thinking"

April 08, 2019 @ 4:00 pm in EST 260

About the Speaker

Emily is a postdoc at Cornell University working on the redevelopment and evaluation of six introductory physics labs through an Active Learning Initiative grant from the Cornell College of Arts and Sciences. Her group is incorporating research-based strategies to assist students in achieving departmental learning objectives for introductory laboratory experiences and is developing ways to evaluate studentsí progress toward these learning objectives. Previously, she was a postdoc working with Leon Hsu and Ken Heller at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities involved with the development of the Customizable Computer Coaches for Physics Online (C3PO) program and completed graduate work with Corinne Manogue at Oregon State University with research into middle-division physics studentsí understanding of mathematics in the Paradigms in Physics Program.


At Cornell University, we are in the process of transforming the labs for our calculus-based introductory physics sequences. The redesign aligns with the Laboratory Guidelines by AAPT and has focused on shifting the labs from ones that reinforce physics content to ones that emphasize experimentation and engage students in critical thinking. In this talk, I will discuss results from a single course where all students attended the same lecture and discussion sections, had the same homework and exams, but attended one of the two types of labs. I will describe how we compared these two lab curricula on the impacts on studentsí physics content knowledge, how students spent their time in lab, and studentsí attitudes and beliefs about experimental physics. We find that labs designed to engage students in critical thinking through experimentation did not impact studentsí knowledge of physics content, and, encouragingly, engaged students in critical thinking behaviors and improved their attitudes and beliefs about experimental physics. Additionally, I will discuss preliminary results into studentsí expectations as they enter their first physics labs and how their expectations affect their decision making during experiments.