CHEPRO Education Outreach

CHEPREO’s educational outreach component has been highly successful in growing a learning and research community centered around high-energy physics, with educational reform and cutting-edge science serving as its foundation. The CHEPREO-supported Physics Learning Center (PLC) has become the nucleus for educational reform efforts in the Physics Department at FIU. The PLC supports a multi-level community through the activities housed there and the participants utilizing the space. The centerpiece of the PLC is our studio classroom, in which our undergraduate modeling classes are held, summer three-week modeling workshops are run, undergraduate open labs operate, local modeling teachers alliance (aka FizMo) and undergraduate Society of Physics Students (SPS) hold regular meetings, and high school outreach activities originate. The PLC also includes a lounge area, conference room, office space, and the high-energy physics laboratory. These activities and spaces create an environment where all community members engage each other on a continual basis. Undergraduate CHEPREO fellows and faculty engage the modeling students during class, open labs, and informally as they visit the PLC. Fellows, undergraduate majors, and graduate students take over the space outside of classes to study and work with each other. High school teachers come for meetings and workshops, and find themselves working with FIU students and faculty. Teachers bring their experiences back to the classroom for their students, leading to exuberant student participation in activities at FIU. The outreach activities highlight the PLC and the community as all community members engage the high school students and their parents during open-house and advanced lab visits.

Evidence for the community’s success is seen through multiple indicators. Ninety-one high school teachers have participated in summer workshops and 8 show their commitment through regular meetings and/or taking on leadership roles within the community. At FIU, the modeling courses are overwhelmingly popular, with requests roughly three to four times the enrollment capacity. These courses are turning out increasingly well-prepared students as seen in their Force Concept Inventory (FCI, a common instrument to assess student learning) posttest scores being 30% higher and a DFW rate (rate of students receiving “D” / “F” grades or withdrawing from the class) that is four times lower than those in the traditional classes at FIU. These courses, as well as other support within the physics department, are showing evidence of increased enrollment in the undergraduate physics program at FIU. Modern physics enrollment is up 130% in fall 2007 as compared to enrollment average from previous ten years (96-06.) Graduate rates are steadily rising 25% over the past 15 years, during which time the nationally, there was no increase in number of physics graduates [AIP].

In years 6-10 of the CHEPREO project, the educational outreach efforts will be dedicated to broadening the scope and the reach of the physics learning community and continuing to build and strengthen the partnerships developed over the first five years of the project. The efforts, described individually in subsequent sections, broaden the scope of the community to incorporate students and faculty from community colleges, extend the reach of the community by exporting the research and reform model to other universities, and develop a similar community in a local high school. Simultaneous to extending the reach and scope, we will be looking to enhance the presence of high-energy physics in our existing efforts.