program_wb_i - page 62

Monday afternoon
novation Hyperlab provides access to a broad range of the tools of applied
physics and engineering in a single location and can disseminate resources
to schools around the Colorado region.
Session BD: Teaching Advanced/
Honors Students
Location: Tate Lab 131
Sponsor: Committee on Physics in Undergraduate Education
Date: Monday, July 28
Time: 1:30–2:40 p.m.
Presider: Juan Burciaga
1:30-2 p.m. Keeping it Fresh: An introductory Physics
Sequence for any Background
Invited – Dwight L. Whitaker, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711-6301;
One of the biggest challenges with serving a diverse population of students
with a range of high school preparations is to structure an introductory
course sequence that doesn’t repeat subjects for the well prepared or
alienate the less prepared. At Pomona College we have restructured our
first-year physics majors’ sequence so that all students start with the same
course. To keep the material fresh and challenging for all the students,
they start with a course that covers material usually reserved for a third
semester “modern physics” course (special relativity, quantum mechan-
ics, and statistical physics). By pitching these subjects at a level that all
students can grasp, we create a cohort of majors that all start in the same
place, which we believe improves our retention of majors. After their first
semester, students then take a semester of mechanics and E&M, which the
most advanced students can place out of and move onto our upper-level
offerings. We are now in our fifth year of this experiment and have seen an
increase in majors compared the previous model. The student feedback has
also been positive.
2-2:30 p.m. Lower Division Honors Physics at UC Davis
Invited – Joseph Kiskis, University of California at Davis, Department of Phys-
ics, Davis, CA 95616-5270;
The Department of Physics at the University of California at Davis offers
a five quarter lower division honors physics course. This is in addition to
the two non-honors sequences of large courses—one for students majoring
the biological sciences and one for those in engineering and the physical
sciences. The honors course is primarily for physics majors and others in
the latter group, but all majors are welcome. I will describe the origin of the
course about a dozen years ago, its structure, texts, and teaching methods.
One of the main course goals is to introduce students to special relativity
and quantum mechanics during their first year.
2:30-2:40 p.m. Honors Labs within Traditional Lectures
Contributed – Matt Evans, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, 105 Garfield
Ave., Eau Claire, WI 54701;
Erik Hendrickson U of WI - Eau Claire
Supplying a University Honors experience in physics is difficult due to the
limited numbers of students seeking this option and constraints on faculty
time. Our solution is to have all students participate in the same lecture,
but supply the honors students with a separate laboratory. This enables us
to craft more open-ended labs, dive deeper into the material, and challenge
these exceptional students without disenfranchising our regular students.
Examples of labs, assigned papers, and various grading methods will be
Session BE: PER in Upper Division
Physics II
Location: STSS 230
Sponsor: AAPT
Date: Monday, July 28
Time: 1:30–3 p.m.
Presider: Hunter Close
1:30-1:40 p.m. Upper-Division Student Difficulties with
the Dirac Delta Function
Contributed – Bethany R. Wilcox, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80302;
Steven J. Pollock, University of Colorado Boulder
The Dirac delta function is a standard mathematical tool used in multiple
topical areas throughout the undergraduate physics curriculum. While
delta functions are often introduced to simplify a problem mathematically,
students often struggle to manipulate and interpret them. To better under-
stand student difficulties with the delta function at the upper-division level,
we examined responses to traditional exam questions and conducted mul-
tiple think-aloud interviews. Our analysis is guided by an analytic frame-
work that looks at how students activate, construct, execute, and reflect on
the Dirac delta function in physics. Here, we focus on student difficulties
using the delta function to express charge distributions in the context of
junior-level electrostatics. Challenges include invoking the delta function
spontaneously, constructing two- and three-dimensional delta functions,
integrating delta functions in different coordinate systems, and recognizing
that the delta function has units. We also discuss possible implications of
these findings for instruction.
1:40-1:50 p.m. Investigations of Spin First Instructional
Approach in Teaching Quantum Mechanics
Contributed – Homeyra R. Sadaghiani, Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona, CA
We are investigating student learning of quantum mechanics in two dif-
ferent contexts. In one approach, postulates of quantum mechanics are
introduced in the context of the wavefunction of a particle in a box with
continuous bases of position probability densities. The second approach
uses the context of Stern-Gerlach experiments with discrete spin bases. We
have measured student learning of the core concepts in courses using these
approaches with common exam questions and a standardized conceptual
instrument. Preliminary data suggest a small but positive impact on stu-
dents’ scores on topics related to quantum mechanical measurement in the
classes taught using the discrete bases in the second approach. Preliminary
data also suggest that using the discrete bases approach may shift student
focus from computation to more sense making by providing concrete
experimental evidence and simplifying the mathematical calculation pro-
cesses. We will discuss the implications of this study for choices of initial
context, the order, and emphasis of content being taught.
1:50-2 p.m. Student Reasoning about Superposition in
Quantum Mechanics
Contributed – Gina Passante, University of Washington, Department of Phys-
ics, Seattle, WA 98195-0001;
Paul J. Emigh, Peter S. Shaffer, University of Washington
Superposition is at the heart of quantum mechanics, and yet we have found
that many students struggle with this idea even at the end of instruction.
Although most students can successfully use the idea of superposition to
calculate probabilities of different measurement outcomes, we have found
that they often fail to recognize how a superposition state differs from a
mixture or from a system whose initial state is unknown. This distinc-
tion is one of fundamental importance in quantum mechanics and has
implications for more complex topics such as entanglement. We present
data from undergraduate and graduate-level quantum mechanics courses
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