WINONA, Minn. — Saint Mary’s University is announcing that a science proposal of close to $100,000 has been funded by the National Science Foundation for 2017-19. The grant will support a project to create new hands-on learning tools and corresponding curriculum for upper-level physics students.
The proposal, “Collaborative Research: Raising Physics to the Surface,” was submitted in collaboration by Dr. Elizabeth Gire of Oregon State University; Dr. Robyn Wangberg, associate professor of physics at Saint Mary’s; and Dr. Aaron Wangberg of Winona State University. The three-year exploratory project seeks to improve STEM education by enriching upper-division physics courses with tangible 3-D models of multivariable functions.
The NSF funding begins March 1, 2017 and ends Dec. 31, 2019.
Physical systems almost always include quantities that depend on multiple variables. Visualizing these quantities and how they vary is important for a deep understanding of physics, yet this visualization is often difficult. The use of tangible surfaces aids students in visualizing these concepts.
“The idea is to promote active engagement, instead of lecture-based learning,” Dr. Robyn Wangberg said. “We want students to discover the relationships instead of just telling them the relationships.”
Dr. Robyn Wangberg said the project builds on the recent successes of the current NSF-funded “Raising Calculus to the Surface” project. In that project, her husband, Dr. Aaron Wangberg, constructed 3-D clear plastic surface models that have been effectively used at 34 institutions across the U.S. This project expands on his initial idea and creates surfaces that correspond to physics problems.
Dr. Gire, Dr. Robyn Wangberg, and Dr. Aaron Wangberg will work together to create open-ended interactive activities utilizing the surfaces designed for upper-division physics courses. Specific models will represent systems studied in mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and thermal physics.
Dr. Robyn Wangberg will use the surface models in her class studying electricity and magnetism this spring at Saint Mary’s. And in summer of 2018, a workshop funded by the grant will train instructors to use the new materials; the event will be held at Saint Mary’s new Science and Learning Center.
Photo caption: Dr. Robyn Wangberg displays surface models that have been used in math classes. Similar learning tools will be developed for upper-level physics students.