CU Modern Physics Curriculum

Developed by: Carl Wieman, Kathy Perkins, and Sam McKagan at the University of Colorado Boulder

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Modern / Quantum
Lecture - Large (30+ students)  Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Lab  Homework  Studio

What? Curriculum for a large-lecture modern physics class for engineering majors. Focus on reasoning development, model building, and real-world applications. Includes lectures, clicker questions, homework, exam questions, PhET simulations, learning goals, and discussion of common student difficulties.

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Making real-world connections
  • Using multiple representations
Can be adapted for:
  • Lab skills
  • Metacognition

Instructor effort required

  • Medium

Resources required

  • Projector
  • Computers for students

Developer's website: CU Modern Physics Curriculum
Intro Article: S. McKagan, K. Perkins, and C. Wieman, Reforming a large lecture modern physics course for engineering majors using a PER-based design, presented at the Physics Education Research Conference 2006, Syracuse, New York, 2006.

You can download all course materials for free, including lecture slides, clicker questions, homework, exams, and solutions from the developer's website (you'll need to ask for a password to access solutions):

Silver Validation
This is the second highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 2 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 4 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

This curriculum was studied by the developers in four semesters of the same course, including two semesters taught by another professor who was not one of the developers. In each semester, students took the Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS), test of conceptual understanding of modern physics, and the Colorado Learning and Attitudes of Science Survey (CLASS). Scores on these surveys were compared to scores in similar classes at the same university taught using more traditional methods. Students in reformed classes scored higher on the QMCS than students in traditional classes. Students in the reformed classes had no declines in expert-like beliefs on the CLASS, compared with students in the traditional classes who had declines of about 10%.

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication