University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy
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Kenneth Heller

Introductory physics in biological context: An approach to improve introductory physics for life science students
C. Crouch, K. Heller, Am. J. Phys. 82, 378 (2014)

Abstract

We describe restructuring the introductory physics for life science students (IPLS) course to better support these students in using physics to understand their chosen fields. Our courses teach physics using biologically rich contexts. Specifically, we use examples in which fundamental physics contributes significantly to understanding a biological system to make explicit the value of physics to the life sciences. This requires selecting the course content to reflect the topics most relevant to biology while maintaining the fundamental disciplinary structure of physics. In addition to stressing the importance of the fundamental principles of physics, an important goal is developing students' quantitative and problem solving skills. Our guiding pedagogical framework is the cognitive apprenticeship model, in which learning occurs most effectively when students can articulate why what they are learning matters to them. In this article, we describe our courses, summarize initial assessment data, and identify needs for future research.