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About HPP

About The Humanized Physics Project

We are a group of college physics faculty who have a long-standing interest in the algebra-based introductory physics course. There were several issues that we felt needed to be addressed, and still need to be addressed, concerning this course taught at most colleges and universities in the U.S..

  1. The students in the algebra-based course differ in some significant ways from the students in the calculus-based introduction. The algebra-based students come from a wide variety of majors with a high percentage of health-science students. The gender representation is quite different, with women being a much higher percentage of the algebra-based student body than the calculus-based student body.
  2. The available curriculum materials that emphasized an active engagement pedagogical style were developed with the calculus-based introductory course in mind and did not adequately meet the interests and needs of the algebra-based students.
  3. The approach to structured problem solving and mathematical modeling in existing curriculum materials did not represent adequately what was known about successful strategies to help students develop these skills.

These issues led us to develop several versions of the algebra-based course which used the human body and human-oriented topics as a context for learning physics and used consistently formal problem-solving and mathematical modeling strategies. The curriculum materials developed were used in both traditional lecture/lab format and in the studio or Workshop Physics format.

Pedagogical Underpinnings

The course materials developed for this project were based upon the conviction that students learn best and are led to more mature reasoning patterns if a strategy of guided discovery is followed in the classroom and students are working in cooperative groups. The fundamental concepts underpinning these materials were first expressed in the physics education community by Robert Karplus, University of California Berkeley, in the 1970s.

Two features of Karplus’s work merit special mention:

• Physics Teaching and the Development of Reasoning.

Karplus worked with colleagues in the American Association of Physics Teachers to develop a workshop to help physics teachers understand the basic ideas of the development of reasoning, primarily based on the work of Jean Piaget. The results of this work were published in 1975 and is available as a pdf download from the University of Nebraska Digital Commons website:

• The Karplus Learning Cycle.

As a way to translate his understanding of the development of reasoning by students, Karplus developed a Learning Cycle structure for classroom instruction. The Learning Cycle is well described in a variety of Karplus articles, especially Chapter 4, The Learning Cycle in A Love of Discovery Science Education – The Second Career of Robert Karplus edited by Robert G. Fuller, ©2002, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York.
A teachers guide to the Learning Cycle is available at .

The Karplus materials have been revised and published in 2009 by Fuller, Campbell, Dykstra and Stevens. For further informatioin go to IAP.

The final project evaluation report can be found here: Report .


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