My project is centered around interest and commitment patterns in introductory physics courses, namely PHYS 160 (University Physics 1), so the category my project falls in is Physics Education. As a physics major, I went through the University Physics 1-3 sequence and saw firsthand how my classmates would slowly lose interest in the course and eventually stop coming to class, stop doing the homework, and begin to fail the class. When I became a Learning Assistant for PHYS 160, I continued to see this decline in my students. Since I intend to become a high school physics teacher, I set out to discover precisely why these declines occur and how we, as educators, can keep the students engaged, interested, and learning. The results of this project will directly influence how I run my classroom when graduate.
I was lucky with my project in the sense that most of my research is done while I’m working as a Learning Assistant. I attend three PHYS 160 lectures a week, one from the traditional section of the class and two for the alternative learning section, in addition to holding office hours for students to come to me with questions. Each time I enter the classroom, I note attendance and general attitudes from the students throughout the class. At four times throughout the semester, I sent out surveys to my students to assess their thoughts on the course as well as invite them to interview with me regarding their feelings about PHYS 160 and physics in general.
I learned this semester just how much of an impact an educator can have on his or her students. I’ve seen students who become disheartened when confronted with a challenging professor and try less as a result. Likewise, I’ve seen students who are inspired by the professor, who discover a newfound love for physics that drives them to succeed. If there’s anything I want to take from this experience, it’s that how I relate to my future students can affect their lifelong perception of physics.