Inquiry Based Learning

Results from research on the learning and teaching of physics have demonstrated that students learn most effectively when they are active participants in the learning process.

In 2003, the SPU Physics Department was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation: Course, Curriculum, Laboratory Implementation grant to integrate seamlessly the following research-based materials into the physics curriculum:

Tutorials in Introductory Physics

Activity Based Physics

RealTime Physics

This project, which was supported in part by NSF grant DUE-0310583 and the SPU Science Initiative, had as a goal the improvement of student learning in the introductory algebra- and calculus-based course sequences.  In close collaboration with the University administration, the Department is institutionalizing the dramatic learning gains obtained during the grant-funded period.

Learning Assistant Program

The most important legacy of the NSF CCLI project is the SPU Learning Assistant (LA) program.   Reformed teaching requires small student-instructor ratios.  To help achieve this goal in a sustainable way, the Department invites students with special promise who have already participated in the reformed courses to receive special preparation in facilitating learning through questioning (rather than through telling).  This in-depth weekly preparation distinguishes LAs from many lab teaching assistants. 

In Autumn 2006, the Department started to offer an additional special course, separate from the PHY 4511, 4512, and 4513 courses in which the LAs receive their preparation, which concentrates on more general issues of teaching and learning.  The design of this special course has benefited greatly from input from colleagues in physics and education at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the University of Arkansas. 

The SPU LA program extends beyond physics majors and minors and encompasses talented undergraduates from other sciences and engineering.  In this way, it also serves as a natural recruiting setting for future science teachers.

Student Research

Physics students at Seattle Pacific University begin conducting independent investigations during their very first course in physics. Our hands-on approach to teaching physics allows students to design and carry out experiments as part of their initial encounter with the subject. Students who choose a major or minor in physics will continue their inquiry into experimental methods with our advanced lab course. This course provides students with the opportunity to learn some of the fundamental techniques of experimental physics including computer automation of experiments.

All physics majors are required to complete a senior project.  The topic may be theoretical, experimental, computational, or in physics education research.


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Physics Department

Seattle Pacific University Physics Department: 206-281-2000 Otto Miller Hall 3307 Third Avenue West, Seattle, WA 98119-1997