Yogesh N. Joglekar and Ricardo Decca, Purdue School of Science

Principal Investigator: Yogesh N. Joglekar, assistant professor, Department of Physics, Purdue School of Science

Co-principal Investigators: Ricardo Decca, professor of physics, Department of Physics, Purdue School of Science

Project Title: How to Solve a Problem Without Solving It: Student Learning Through Connecting the Dots

Funding Level: $10,000

Abstract: A primary obstacle to success for students entering STEM fields is that many of them start with an inert, fragmented database of scientific ideas. They do not connect the substantial textbook knowledge that they have acquired with ubiquitous, real-world situations where it is applicable. For example, students who are familiar with friction and radial acceleration are not necessarily able to estimate the size of a cloverleaf interchange between highways; students familiar with biology may be stumped by questions such as, “Do bees see in color?”. In both cases, the students have enough information, acquired through their classes and real-world experiences, that, when analyzed and evaluated properly, leads to the answers.

The curriculum for freshman and sophomore years is weighted towards the students acquiring new information, understanding it, and learning to apply it to a set of well-defined problems. However, like the examples mentioned above, a wide variety of real-life phenomena can be addressed by constructing models using the database of ideas that the students have already acquired in their earlier training.

The aim of this project is to develop a sequence of two one-credit-hour courses that teach and instill the connect-the-dots approach in these students. The students will attend and participate in a weekly discussion that correlates the textbook knowledge that they have with its applicability in daily life; in addition, each student will carry out a self-defined research project in an area of his or her interest.