U21 Fellowship—Kate and Maria visit University of British Columbia

Dr. Kate Wilson and Dr. Maria Hunt, U21 Fellowship recipients

In November Maria Hunt and Kate Wilson received a Universitas 21 fellowship to visit another Universitas 21 university with the purpose of exchanging ideas on teaching on learning and investigating other teaching methods. We visited the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, to investigate their Science One program. The Science One program is an integrated first year science course in which lecturers from Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology teach a cohort of around 120 extremely able students. The program is of interest because it may provide a model for the redevelopment of our Advanced Science program. The Science One course is a high level, challenging course, the graduates of which have a high completion rate, and high rate of participation in postgraduate studies.

For two weeks, we sat in on lectures and tutorials, watching the interactions between students, between the students and the lecturers, and between the lecturers. It was an interesting and inspiring experience seeing a group of students constantly eager to ask questions and participate, and relating ideas from physics to biology, maths and chemistry. The students have all their classes in the one classroom, next door to their common room. After lectures, rather than disappearing rapidly, students clustered around sections of blackboard to discuss ideas, surrounded the lecturer to ask questions, and discussed the material amongst themselves.

The interaction between the lecturers, who sat in on each other’s classes, frequently interrupting to make connections between different subjects, helped the students in their understanding of the relationship between the different sciences. These students are developing a picture of science as a whole, with ideas learnt in a physics lecture applicable to what they learn in a chemistry or biology lecture, and the mathematics in particular being the underlying tool for approaching the three sciences. It has often been pointed out that students compartmentalise their knowledge, and just because they can use an idea in physics, doesn’t mean they transfer it to chemistry—this has particularly been noted with thermodynamics and quantum physics. For these students, it was natural to try to fit the pieces together.

At the end of the two weeks, in the week prior to the student’s final exams, we participated in the “Quantum Physics Play”, in which Kate played James Maxwell and Maria played Max Planck. It was good practice for teaching electromagnetism this year, and an excellent conclusion to our visit.

Included in our visit was an investigation of the general First Year Physics teaching laboratories. Some of the laboratory courses at UBC are run with quite a different philosophy to what is usually found, with a heavy reliance being placed on computer software and technology. This investigation has given us much food for thought and some wonderful ideas as we continue with restructuring our own First Year laboratory courses.

Kate Wilson and Maria Hunt


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