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Jo Hopp has been teaching in UW-Stout’s Physics department since 2005. She teaches College Physics 1 and 2; Introduction to Physics—a general education course required for Graphic Communications Management; Technical Education, Information Technology majors and the concentrations in Photography and Food Science; the Intro Lab; Biology 470: Advanced Biotechnology—an experience and research-based course; and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab.
Jo tries to address the apprehension students feel about her field. She explained, “I do this preemptively; they have to come to my office and talk to me during the first two weeks of class, and they get credit for doing that. I also try to alleviate the fear of what is involved with math.” To do that, she tries to make it personal; during the one-on-ones, she finds out about their interests, like football, cheerleading, gamers, and then uses those areas in her examples.
She alternates between two writing assignments, every other week. One is Physics journal—students have to observe physics outside of class in every-day situations. When she reads them, she can see their misconceptions. She grades them, three entries, every other week. She also has her students read Science News writing a brief summary on one article in it, telling why they chose that article and what implications it has for society.
Jo reminds students often about why Physics is important in their fields and how it is relevant. She offers an alternative to a final exam by having students complete a project to research and describe physics in a company in their field. She wishes more students would do this; one woman got an internship at the company she based her project on, and told Jo she thought it had an influence on obtaining the internship.
Because her research field is Neuroscience, Hopp incorporates it into her classes when possible. In College Physics 2, the students in Construction, Engineering Technology and Packaging often don’t see a connection between optics and their careers, so she tries to make a connection to something they can relate to—vision, taught as Neuroscience. Surveys at the end of the semester indicate the students really like it, so she is expanding this year to incorporate the Neuroscience “thread” in all her classes. For instance, she has begun to teach the Optics section in her Intro class in the same way; it is not just optics, it is neuroscience.
Jo has also used in-class clickers for peer instruction posing multiple-choice questions to introduce a new topic, and during the unit to check understanding. Students submit their answer with a clicker. During the comprehension check quizzes, they discuss the differences and arrive at a consensus. They may re-vote after the discussion if there were different answers. She also uses the clickers as an attendance and punctuality strategy; she asks a random trivia question at the beginning of class, to make sure the clickers work and that everyone is there on time.
Hopp is interested in expanding this approach. Instructors at MIT have done interesting work with clickers by asking conceptual questions, using the answers to assess student understanding and guide the lecture. If students get the correct answers immediately, then Jo doesn’t have to spend time on that topic. This really helps her adapt her teaching time to focus on class needs.
Jo is in the process of implementing a project to get Physics into the elementary schools. Her students will pick a topic to teach to the elementary kids and will distribute a list of topics for teachers to indicate which ones they would like taught. Wakanda Elementary School has agreed to have Hopp pilot this project.