Although physics education research (PER) has improved instructional practices, there are not agreed upon principles for designing effective instructional materials. Here, we illustrate how close comparison of instructional materials could support the development of such principles. Specifically, in discussion sections of a large, introductory physics course, a pair of studies compare two instructional strategies for teaching a physics concept: having students (i) explain a set of contrasting cases or (ii) apply and build on previously learned concepts. We compare these strategies for the teaching of Faraday's law, showing that explaining a set of related contrasting cases not only improves student performance on Faraday's law questions over building on a previously learned concept (i.e., Lorentz force), but also prepares students to better learn subsequent topics, such as Lenz's law. These differences persist to the final exam. We argue that early exposure to contrasting cases better focuses student attention on a key feature related to both concepts: change in magnetic flux. Importantly, the benefits of contrasting cases for both learning and enjoyment are enhanced for students who did not first attend a Faraday's law lecture, consistent with previous research suggesting that being told a solution can circumvent the benefits of its discovery. These studies illustrate an experimental approach for understanding how the structure of activities affects learning and performance outcomes, a first step toward design principles for effective instructional materials.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||Physical Review Physics Education Research|
|State||Published - Apr 5 2016|
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)