Physics, especially at the introductory level, is not a subject that can be learned passively. In fact, recent results from Physics Education Research have clearly shown that engaging students in the classroom is critical to successful learning. When Larry Weinstein and Charles Sukenik became familiar with the SCALE-UP (Student-Centered- Active-Learning-Environment for Undergraduate-Programs) method pioneered by Dr. Robert Beichner at North Carolina State University, they decided to take a road trip to visit NC State, participate in a SCALE-UP class, and assess whether to adopt the program at ODU. They were very impressed with what they saw and soon SCALE-UP was introduced at ODU.
In SCALE-UP, students work on interesting activities in carefully structured groups of three, sitting around large round tables with white boards for working out problems and laptops for simulations and web access. While the students work, the instructor roams the classroom--asking questions, sending one team to help another, gently guiding a group, and building relationships with students. Unlike a traditional class, most of the class time is spent on group activities that may include working problems at a whiteboard, answering "clicker questions" which test qualitative and quantitative understanding, and working on "mini-labs" which demonstrate the physics topic being learned. These hands-on activities, simulations, and interesting questions and problems improve students' problem-solving abilities and increase their conceptual understanding. Lecturing is done only to provide motivation and a view of the "big picture," which is difficult for students to see when they are not familiar with the entire course. And, of course, the popular lecture demonstrations are still an important component of the course.
Recently, the original SCALE-UP classroom which seated 36 students was expanded and now can accommodate up to 90 students. The classroom is presently equipped with thirty MacBook laptops, 4 data projectors, a document camera, and a sound system.