The Physics Learning Experience

At SPU, we believe that the most effective way to learn physics is through actively participating in the process of doing physics. We also think it is much more fun to explore physics phenomena and experimentally test ideas than to simply hear about the experiments and theories of past physicists.

In physics classes at SPU, you’ll work collaboratively to investigate physical phenomena using hands-on equipment, computer automated sensors, high-speed video tracking, and simulations. You will use this empirical evidence to construct and test models for synthesizing and describing patterns in the natural world.

Building on the physics you already know

Long before you sign up for a physics class, you understand most of the fundamental principles of physics intuitively. Physics is a process of describing patterns in the physical world. We have all experienced the physical world our entire lives, so we have already experienced many of the patterns described by physics. Therefore, in physics classes at SPU you will draw on your experiences to build and refine models that help you make sense of real-world phenomena.

Learning in community

Lane Seeley teaching

Making sense of complex phenomena often involves trying out new ideas and looking at questions from a variety of different perspectives. Research has shown that most students can reason through challenging physics questions better when they are not working alone. All physics classes at SPU are characterized by active discussion and collaboration in small groups and as a whole class.

Many of our introductory courses are served by undergraduate learning assistants trained to facilitate discussion and support scientific reasoning. These assistants work alongside faculty to provide a dynamic learning community for all students. They are also available to support collaborative physics learning outside normal class hours. The SPU Society of Physics Students hosts a weekly “Physics Tea,” where students and faculty can talk about life and physics over tea and homemade cookies.

Supported physics learning

We believe that time spent in physics classes is precious. Therefore we do everything we can to maximize your classroom learning experiences. The diagram below shows the structures we have created to support the learning experience at SPU.

Physics learning environment

Student research experiences

One of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences you can have as a physics learner involves pursuing your own physics research questions. Opportunities for individual and group research projects begin in your very first course and, if you choose to major in Physics, culminate in a senior physics research project.

Physics Student Matt G. Hall

Matt Hall, Class of 2017, examines claims about Antarctica’s climate.

Physics student Barrett Estep investigating the vegan climate footprint

Are vegan climate footprint claims true? Barrett Estep, Class of 2017, investigates.