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
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