Podcast Episode 65: Modeling Instruction with Eric Brewe

- - posted in episode, physics, podcast

Modeling Instruction (MI) is a curriculum and pedagogy based on the idea that science learning involves creation, use, validation, and revision of conceptual models. Our guest, Eric Brewe, is a physics education researcher at Drexel University who develops, studies, and uses MI in higher education. In this episode, Eric explains what Modeling instruction is and how it differs from other highly active ways of teaching science. He goes on to share research on how MI increases test scores, reduces drop out, and substantially improves student attitudes toward physics. Eric also tells us how he got started in education research working with the David Hestenes, the creator of modeling instruction.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:43 Welcoming Eric Brewe. What is modeling instruction? Teaching the way scientists actually work and think. Using multiple forms of representation: equations, diagrams, graphs, charts.

5:19 The origins of modeling instruction: David Hestenes

8:15 Eric shifts from experimental physics and neutron back-scattering to physics education. Seeing “beautiful lectures” followed by exams where 30% was an A and thinking ‘There’s gotta be a better way.’

12:51 Remembering our dissertation titles. Physics content as equations vs. a coherent body of knowledge.

14:19 The first thing about physics pedagogy that made sense to Eric: active learning. Starting with high school teachers. Other Hestenes doctoral students included Ibrahim Halloon and Malcolm Wells. Still the biggest professional development program for high school teachers. Developing an equivalent for college professors with Dwain Desbien. Making college physics education more about models; integrating lab, lecture, and recitation.

18:54 When students get frustrated with new teaching methods. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School (National Academies Press 2000). Who freaks out the most. It’s hard for faculty to change too.

22:41 Distributed mental representations. 2012 Rissman and Wagner. “Distributed Representations in Memory: Insights from Functional Brain Imaging” Annual Review of Psychology 63:101-128. Knowledge is physical, too.

25:04 Teaching conceptual understanding and getting improvements on the Force Concept Inventory. Twice the learning gains compared to traditional teaching methods!

29:07 Measuring changes in attitudes towards learning physics. 2009 Brewe, Kramer, and O’Brien. “Modeling instruction: Positive attitudinal shifts in introductory physics measured with CLASS.” Physics Education Research 5. Students taught using the are more likely to go on to major in physics and do better in later physics courses even with lower SAT Math scores. 2013 Bruun and Brewe. “Talking and learning physics: Predicting future grades from network measures and Force Concept Inventory pretest scores.” Phys. Rev ST Phys. Educ. Res. 9. Intro physics courses are very good at making students not want to take any more science courses. The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS). Being told by Carl Wieman to publish these results.

34:48 The importance of pattern-recognition for learning. 2010 Kellman, Massey, and Son. “Perceptual Learning Modules in Mathematics: Enhancing Students’ Pattern Recognition, Structure Extraction, and Fluency.” Topics in Cognitive Science Vol. 2, No. 2. 285-305.

36:41 Relying on peers and using group exams. Developing collaboration skills.

39:30 Is the improvement because of model-building or active learning? Comparing modeling instruction, flipping, POGIL–and others. A grant to compare six pedagogies and two measures (observation protocols and social networks formed in the classroom). The challenges of the IRB (Institutional Review Board) process. In psychotherapy, they compare common factors, not just treatment methods. 2015 Wampold. “How important are the common factors in psychotherapy? An update.” World Psychiatry 14:3 October 270-277. Modeling as one of a number of very good teaching methods in physics.

48:22 The challenges of professional development for teachers. Teach a specific method? Or re-engineer their teaching? Modeling Instruction is also a curriculum for download. Like POGIL. Modeling Instruction is a bigger change than flipping your classroom. The curriculum reduces barriers to adoption. Even instructors who do flipping can point to the importance of models.

51:16 Scaling up to a larger class size: from 30 students to 96 students using one professor. Increasing students reduces costs and still yields the same benefits in pass rates. Scaling up under more constraints: 1,000 students in three terms.

54:46 Eric’s teaching mistake: changing horses midstream. Trying again when it doesn’t work right. Modeling being imperfect.

58:05 Thanks and signing off.