Physicist Talks About Learning and Teaching Science

Published February 11th, 2010 - 09:19 GMT

 Research and techniques that can improve the teaching of science were shared during a presentation today at Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar.

Stamatis Vokos, associate professor of physics at Seattle Pacific University, told high school and university science teachers that simple changes in teaching methods can make a significant improvement in student performance. Professor Vokos was in Qatar to participate in a workshop for science teachers as part of a research study funded by Qatar Foundation’s National Priorities Research Program.

With his colleagues at Seattle Pacific University, Professor Vokos has helped develop new teaching strategies for science teachers with two grants totalling $5.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation in the United States.

“Our research indicates that many students at undergraduate and graduate levels fail to develop a functional understanding of the science material they are studying.  That is, they don’t have the ability to apply what they learn in new situations. Even in advanced courses, many of the students’ difficulties can be traced to a lack of understanding of basic, underlying concepts,” he told the teachers.

Recent research has helped identify crucial stumbling blocks in learning.  “By modifying instruction to address those stumbling blocks, teachers can help students improve their performance significantly,” he said.

Among other things, the research has helped develop specific diagnostic questions for teachers to use to gauge their students’ understanding of the material before and after instruction.  “The questions can help teachers assess their students’ understanding and adjust their instruction so it is more effective. Knowing where your class is at any given time is a critical part of teaching,” he told the teachers.  

“We are all trying to help students learn more effectively,” said Roger Hinrichs, professor of physics emeritus at State University of New York Oswego who is one of the principal investigators on the NPRP grant.  “Professor Vokos blends research on how people learn into specific strategies for classroom teachers.  It helps teachers teach more effectively and helps students learn better.”

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