Helping physics students learn how to learn


Andrew Elby

Dept. of Physics, University of Maryland

College Park, MD 20742-4111



Student’s "epistemological" beliefs–their views about the nature of knowledge and learning–affect how they approach physics courses. For instance, a student who believes physics knowledge to consist primarily of disconnected facts and formulas will study differently from a student who views physics as an interconnected web of concepts. Unfortunately, previous studies show that physics courses–even ones that help students learn concepts particularly well–generally do not lead to significant changes in students’ epistemological beliefs. In this paper, I’ll discuss instructional practices and curricular elements–suitable for both college and high school–that helped students develop substantially more sophisticated beliefs about knowledge and learning, as measured by the Maryland Physics Expectations Survey (MPEX) and by the Epistemological Beliefs Assessment for Physical Science.