Using Concept Building in Optics to Improve Student Research Skills

Document Type


Presentation Date

Summer 7-2013

Conference Name

Education and training in optics and photonics

Conference Location

Porto, Portugal


The typical two semester calculus-based introductory physics course sequence explores Newtonian Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electricity and Magnetism, DC and AC circuits, and Geometric and Physical Optics. There is usually a concurrent laboratory that often consists of hands-on demonstrations of the material being covered in class. Of particular interest to us is the success of optics instruction in the second semester of this sequence. Typically, all of optics (geometric and physical) is covered within 3-4 weeks of lecture (at best) and perhaps three laboratory investigations that ”show” or “expose” students to optical phenomena. In our intermediate optics course and laboratory, we have found that this level of exposure to optics is insufficient for the students to develop any foundational skills of critical subject matter. This, in turn, impacts their understanding in more advanced optics classes. Our present investigation explores the feasibility of replacing the traditional mechanics investigations entirely with optics activities in the first semester laboratory sequence. The optics activities are designed to help the students develop a deep understanding of geometric optics through observation and investigation while avoiding recipe-type instruction the students are expected to make observations and build upon those observations to develop an optics “framework.” Simultaneously, the lecture component of the second semester course will not include optics instruction at all. In this presentation we will describe our optics laboratory sequence and show our assessment results of whether this change in curriculum has an impact on student understanding of Optics and Newtonian Mechanics


Optics | Physics

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