‘Good Games’ Inspired Physics Classes Help Attract High School Students to STEM Careers
Watch a group of teenagers immersed in a popular video game like “Among Us” and you’ll see a classic definition of successful engagement. Well-designed games – games with clearly stated goals, an emphasis on storytelling, an allowance for ‘productive failure’, and an emphasis on supportive teamwork and inclusion – can also pave the way for success. a better classroom environment, says University of Alabama Birmingham, Lauren Rast, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the College of Arts and Sciences.
Rast is a UAB pioneer in a teaching mode called play-based learning. Professors in the Department of Physics have already applied play-based learning in their increasingly popular online courses. And in a series of workshops for high school physics teachers inspired by her own work as a computational physicist, Rast has helped teachers share the benefits of play-based learning with teenagers in Alabama. Her coding courses with physics also foster self-efficacy and affinity for science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine in a way that particularly resonates with a diverse student body, she says. .
âWe have so many talented students in our state who are interested in STEMM careers,â said Rast. âTo develop this talent, we need to deliver high quality physics education in a way that promotes self-efficacy in STEMM and empowers a more diverse student body.
A solid foundation for successful careers
Rast leads the distance-accessible physics education project in the Department of Physics. She was certified in playful learning a few years ago and incorporated philosophy for the first time into her physics 201 course accessible remotely in 2016. The department has seen strong growth in registrations in its online offerings over the years. last five years – total enrollment reached 2,803 in 2020, up from 243 in 2015. Rast’s Physics 201 online course had 29 students when it was first offered in fall 2016 and 183 students in the spring of 2019. Meanwhile, DWF rates – the percentage of initially enrolled students who subsequently dropped out or dropped out of the course or received a fail grade – rose from over 22 percent to around 7.5 percent.
In 2020, almost all physics courses, as well as the rest of the university’s offerings, have moved to distant or hybrid status. âWe have found these strategies useful in keeping students engaged in other courses during COVID-19,â Rast said.
Strategies don’t just work with students, as Rast demonstrated. In 2019, the state of Alabama required all public high schools to start offering at least one computer class by the 2020-2021 school year. That same year, Rast expanded his Coding with Physics course and a summer seminar to introduce it to high school physics teachers. The course integrates computer training with effective methods of teaching physics to help students persevere and succeed in a discipline crucial to the success of STEMM courses in college. Physics at the college level is a requirement of medical school and many other health professions, for example.
âStudies show that a solid foundation in introductory physics is extremely important on the path to a successful career in STEMM,â said Rast. “It allows students to better understand how the world works through physical principles. However, it has been shown in the literature that traditional modes of teaching based on lectures and other widely used methods, such as interactive engagement, have a negative impact on the engagement and self-efficacy of women and minorities. “
Beneficial from the early stages
Rast, from Birmingham, who received his Masters and Doctorate in Physics from UAB, is majoring in Computational Physics. After earning her doctorate, she worked at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, where she created computer models of new materials and designed new materials. She drew on her own training to develop coding with physics.
âI strongly believe, based on my own experiences, that the reasoning process used in developing models is of great benefit to students at the earliest possible stage of their education,â said Rast. “Computational physics helps students develop coding and data literacy skills early on, in a way that promotes lifelong learning and allows them to remain agile in the face of the changing world. and technology. “
During the inaugural Coding with Physics workshop in the summer of 2019, teachers learned how to use Python programming skills and online tools such as Jupyter Notebooks and Google Classroom to integrate computational models of physics into their studies. classroom. This successful pilot project led the Alabama State Department of Education to ask the Department of Physics “to develop standards for a new high school physics coding course that would serve as a science credit but meet also the new computer requirements for high schools in Alabama â. Said Rast.
In the summer of 2020, Rast and his colleagues continued their training in coding with physics despite the pandemic. They adapted the workshop to a distance format and attendance doubled, reaching 30 teachers.
âI met the teachers regularly through Zoom during the month of the workshop and helped debug the code at these meetings as well as through the classroom message board and email,â said Rast.
She was inspired by the facilitated approach of peer mentoring used by professors in the Department of Physics in the way she structured the workshop, Rast noted. âAfter a while the teachers – because they’re great people that way – started helping and teaching each other.
âTeachers who have attended the workshops tell me that they continue to use the lessons and materials in their classrooms,â said Rast. âFor example, Shayna Turner at Clay-Chalkville High School and Melanie Dimler at Hewitt-Trussville High School used code and other workshop materials for their students to explore the kinematics, forces, and other concepts of mechanics in class. “
Now, Rast is “focused on scaling the project to broaden participation and maximize the impact of UAB on our community,” she said. Coding with Physics is part of a larger Department of Physics initiative called Interdisciplinary Distance Accessible STEMM Education, or RAISE, which is funded in part by a Faculty Development Grant from UAB. The Faculty Development Fellowship program is sponsored by the UAB Faculty Senate.
âRAISE is a new approach to teaching STEMM through the integration of introductory physics, computer science and playful learning in an online environment,â said Rast. “The project aims to address four areas that are essential for a fair STEMM ramp.” These areas are:
the self-efficacy of physics students,
computer reasoning and
RAISE, in turn, is a major step towards the physics department’s goal of creating a STEM teaching and learning incubator focused on “training and providing practical computing resources for teachers and high school students. Rast said.
The incubator will also study critical research questions, including:
the effect of long-term professional development of K-12 STEMM teachers on the effectiveness of regional STEMM education,
the impact of ongoing support for the implementation and pooling of STEM research resources on student learning of scientific and engineering practices, and
the advantages for higher education establishments of implementing such a âbusiness incubatorâ model for the regional professional development of STEMM teachers.
“RAISE is part of the Department’s efforts for Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning in Birmingham and Alabama more broadly, with a focus on digital literacy and advanced materials,” said said Ilias Perakis, Ph.D., professor and director of the Department of Physics. “The incubator is one part of this overall effort.”
âWe have some really amazing and dedicated teachers in the state of Alabama who need our support,â said Rast.