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‘Energy-First’ Curriculum is the Best Way to Teach Physics to College Students

Researchers at the University of Kansas have developed a curriculum that makes understanding physics easier for college and university students.

Through its “energy-first” approach, the new curriculum, helps students – especially those with lower core math abilities – in introductory physics courses by developing their calculus skills.

Christopher Fischer, engineering physics director and associate chair of physics & astronomy at the university, along with other researchers, devised two sets of curriculum for two introductory physics classes who had the same ACT math scores.

“We sought to compare, as best we could, apples to apples,” Fischer said. “In other words, we compared students who had the same ACT math scores but who took different physics courses to determine what effect our new physics curriculum had on student outcomes.”

The outcome of the experiment found that “energy-first” curriculum was a more effective way of teaching physic than the traditional approach where students were taught about forces before teaching them about energy.

The study found that students who took “energy-first” scored well in the subsequent classes. Those with the lower math ACT scores who took the curriculum also registered biggest gains in terms of scores.

“Engineering students who had lower ACT math scores had larger benefits from taking this new curriculum, which got us thinking maybe tasking students with solving more problems using calculus in this physics class is helping them with their applied math skills in general, as well as their physics skills,” Fischer added.

Researchers are now looking forward to modifying the curriculum of other classes in the department using the same approach.

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