By Elizabeth H. Simmons, November 28, 2016
Lyman Briggs College is committed to engaging all students in the most active, experiential learning environments possible. We know that students grasp and retain concepts far better when given the opportunity to explore ideas freely, discuss them with peers, and compare theory to experiment themselves. This holds across all the different scientific and humanistic disciplines we teach in the college.
Until recently, our physics classes were taught in relatively traditional settings: larger lecture-style meetings in our tiered classroom, Holmes C106, and smaller recitation/lab meetings in the physics laboratory, Holmes E26a. While both the lecture and lab/recitation sessions were made as interactive as possible, the fixed seats in C106 and the separation of the two kinds of sessions imposed significant constraints.
I'm delighted to report that our Physics Group has had the opportunity to design a new Physics Studio classroom in room Holmes E5 and launch a redesigned studio-style offering of our physics courses, LB273/274. We are grateful to Residential and Hospitality Services for releasing room E5, to Facilities Planning and Space Management for allocating the space to LBC along with funds to help renovate it, and to Infrastructure, Planning and Facilities for undertaking the renovations.
As of fall 2016, physics faculty Dr. Vashti Sawtelle and Dr. Katie Hinko are teaching the first iteration of the classical mechanics course LB273; their colleague Dr. Gerd Kortemeyer will join them in the studio classroom for the electromagnetism course LB274 in spring semester.
The photos and video show several groups of students undertaking experiments in the new Physics Studio. These are done interspersed with mini-lectures and worksheet/debate sessions, so that the conceptual, computational, and experimental aspects of physics get blended together in the class just as they are in actual physics workplaces. Note especially how the students are using small multipurpose sensors to take data and classroom laptops to record details of their investigations; adding mobile technology to the Physics Studio was an essential part of making it possible to do flexible experiments, including some designed by students on the fly.
My recent visit to the Physic Studio found the room abuzz with speculation and debate about friction (the mechanical kind). The half dozen students at each workstation were comparing their thoughts about how much static frictional force was required to hold various hypothetical boxes in place against a wall, without letting them start to slip down. As I visited with the tables, some students shared their conclusions about which boxes would be subject to the greatest amount of friction while other peppered me with questions about the degree to which the composition of a box's exterior surface would impact the frictional force the wall exerted on it. I had an absolute blast and the students seemed to be having a pretty good time as well—which is exactly what we want to be true in every Briggs classroom.
Please stop by to see the Physics Studio in action!
Your dean and avid physicist,
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