In Fall 2010, the UNC department of Physics and Astronomy began teaching some sections of the Physics 116 and 117 in the SCALE-UP format that integrates lecture, lab, and recitation activities in an interactive and cooperative learning environment. SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) was developed by physics Professor Robert Beichner at NC State University in 1997 and has since been implemented in a variety of departments at over 100 institutions worldwide. Duane Deardorff (UNC Director of Undergraduate Laboratories for Physics and (Astronomy) did his graduate work under the direction of Dr. Beichner and gained experience teaching in this environment, which provided the motivation for implementing this teaching strategy at UNC. Alice Churukian (UNC Lecturer in Physics Education), shared a similar graduate research experience at Kansas State University where introductory physics courses are taught in a Lecture/Studio format. With their combined experience and the support and leadership of department Chair, Art Champagne, and former Chair, Laurie McNeil, the department faculty agreed to try this new teaching approach for our introductory calculus-based physics courses.
With support from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for Faculty Excellence, and Information Technology Services, Phillips 208 was renovated in the summer of 2010, while Phillips 206 was renovated in the summer of 2011. Both rooms were originally outfitted as traditional labs room that seated up to 24 students. Each SCALE-UP room now has 5 seven-foot diameter round tables each seating nine students for a total of 45 students in each room. This classroom design allows students to effectively work in teams of three while instructors can move freely about the room to interact with the students. Although these rooms were designed for the SCALEUP methodology, they have already been used by several other physics and astronomy courses, as well as courses from other departments.
Analysis performed by department members and in cooperation with the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence indicates that most introductory physics students prefer the SCALE-UP format, especially the fact that the lab and recitation activities are integrated, over the traditional format. Perhaps more importantly, SCALE-UP students perform as well or better on classroom assessments (tests and quizzes) compared with students in the traditional course sections. With more experience and resources, we hope to expand this interactive teaching strategy to benefit all of the introductory physics courses at UNC.