Texas Tech Physics Professors Earn NIH Grant to Study Best Teaching Practices for
Undergraduate Physics Instruction
October 23, 2009
Beth Thacker and Kelvin Cheng will test several different areas of introductory physics
Two professors at Texas Tech University’s Department of Physics received $809,700
in funding from the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) to analyze different teaching methods of introductory physics and determine
which methods work best for student understanding of the material.
Beth Thacker, an associate professor of physics, and Kelvin Cheng, a professor of
physics, received the two-year Challenge Grant from the NIH’s National Institute of
General Medical Sciences through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
(ARRA). Their award is one of 19 to researchers in 12 states.
Cheng and Thacker will compare a course taught completely by hands-on, lab-based instruction
to the standard textbook-lecture-and-lab course, and test newly developed course materials
designed to enhance student understanding. They will compare student learning outcomes
from teaching assistants who have received teacher training to those who have not
and compare courses taught with lecture-lab synergy to those without integrated lecture-lab
Also, they will assess both the algebra-based and calculus-based introductory physics
“This funding is to make a large-scale assessment of these different types of instructional
methods,” Cheng said. “It is interesting that this has not been done before on a large
scale. I’m hoping this will involve the whole department in a collaborative effort.”
Thacker said many instructors tend to teach the way they were taught and are hesitant
to adopt new curricula and teaching methods, even though physics education research
is beginning to indicate a number of non-traditional methods may be more successful
at increasing students’ understanding.
“Very few large universities have researched teaching methods to see which are more
effective,” Thacker said. “We are going to do a systematic study of students understanding
with a number different assessment tools that will allow us to compare the effectiveness
of different teaching methods.”
The Challenge Grants seek to jump-start a range of research projects that will address
critical gaps in the basic biomedical and behavioral sciences, including science,
technology, engineering and mathematics education. Because introductory physics is
a requirement for pre-health profession undergraduates, Cheng and Thacker hope to
discover the most effective way to teach physics to these students.
More information about NIH’s ARRA grant funding opportunities can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/recovery/
. To track the progress of HHS activities funded through the ARRA, visit www.hhs.gov/recovery
. To track all federal funds provided through the ARRA, visit www.recovery.gov
CONTACT: Beth Thacker, associate professor of physics, Department of Physics, Texas
(806) 742-2996, or firstname.lastname@example.org; Kelvin Cheng, professor of physics, Department of Physics, Texas Tech University,
(806) 742-2992 or email@example.com.