PHYS 3740: Introduction to Relativity & Quantum Mechanics (Modern Physics)

Working and Learning in Groups:

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that group learning strategies are very effective for improving student learning outcomes (see for example: L. Deslauriers, E. Schelew, and C. Wieman, Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class, Science 332: 862 (2011)). In this course, we will learn the fundamental concepts underlying Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics primarily through guided, group problem-solving activities. The background information related to these concepts will not be presented using a conventional “stand and deliver” lecture approach. Rather, you will be responsible for incorporating this information via self-directed inquiry using all credible sources at your disposal, especially the textbook and the posted YouTube lectures, and also via consultation with the course instructor and teaching assistants. This frees up class time, which will be spent almost exclusively on group problem-solving activities.

The idea behind the group problem-solving approach is that through vigorous and respectful discussion and debate, students are more likely to eliminate logical inconsistencies in their understanding. This is thought to occur because a student whose logic is based on proper understanding of fundamental physical principles, is more likely to convince others than be convinced by others. Through the process of debate, therefore, logically inconsistent arguments tend to be eliminated. At the same time, incorporation of alternative perspectives tends to broaden the comprehension of all students, leading to a more integrated, cohesive understanding of fundamental principles. The process just described is also employed by practicing scientists in pursuit of knowledge through scientific research.

Note that this approach to learning, even when implemented well, is uncomfortable for some students. As evidence, check out my Fall 2010 student evaluations for this course, which was the first time I used this method. While some of the negative comments therein can probably be chalked up to poor class management on my part, they do reveal a level of discomfort on the part of some students with the method itself. Please be aware that this course is taught in both the Spring and Fall semesters by two different instructors (currently I teach in the Fall and Prof. Stephan LeBohec will teach in Spring 2012). Typically, Prof. LeBohec teaches this course in a more traditional fashion, so if you feel the group-learning approach is not for you for whatever reason, you have the option of deferring until the Spring.


Prof. Jordan Gerton | James Fletcher Building | Room 314 | 115 South 1400 East | Salt Lake City, UT | 84112
Office: +1-801-585-0068 | Email: jgertonphysics.utah.edu