Improving student's problem-solving ability as well as conceptual understanding without sacrificing the physics content of a class
Four sections of introductory physics for physical scientists and engineers (about 180 students each) are compared. One section, treatment group, was organized so that students worked to learn the classical ideas connecting forces and motion over the first 6 weeks of the 10 week quarter and then used the final 4 weeks to apply those principles to algebraically complicated problems. The other sections learned ideas at essentially the same time as calculations over the entire 10 weeks of the quarter. The treatment group and one of the control sections were taught by the same instructor, had identical curricular materials and this instructor was blind to the comparison measure, the final exam. After controlling for GPA as well as for incoming conceptual understanding, the treatment group was found (with greater than 99% confidence) to perform better on the final exam than the control group taught by the same instructor and, by a similar measure, the treatment group performed significantly better than any other section. The treatment group also had higher conceptual learning gains and so should be better prepared for later learning.