Improving the Content and Pedagogical Content Knowledge of Physics Graduate Students using Physics Education Research
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 15260, USA
Many physics graduate students face the unique challenge of being both students and teachers concurrently. To succeed in these roles, they must develop both physics content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. My research focuses on improving both the content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge of first year graduate students. To improve their content knowledge, I have focused on improving graduate students’ conceptual understanding of quantum mechanics covered in upper-level undergraduate courses since our earlier investigations suggest that many graduate students struggle in developing a conceptual understanding of quantum mechanics. Learning tools, such as the Quantum Interactive Learning Tutorials (QuILTs) that I have developed, have been successful in helping graduate students improve their understanding of Dirac notation and single photon behavior in the context of a Mach-Zehnder Interferometer. In addition, I have been involved in enhancing our semester long course professional development course for teaching assistants (TAs) by including research-based activities. In particular, I have been researching the implications of graduate TAs’ reflections on the connections between their grading practices and student learning, i.e., the development of introductory physics students’ content knowledge and problem-solving, reasoning, and metacognitive skills. This research involves having graduate students grade sample student solutions to introductory physics problems. Afterward, the graduate TAs discuss with each other the pros and cons of different grading rubrics on student learning and formulate a joint grading rubric to grade the problem. The graduate TAs are individually asked to reformulate a rubric and grade problems using the rubric several months after the group activity to assess the impact of the intervention on graduate TAs. In addition to the intervention focusing on grading sample student solutions, graduate TAs are also asked to answer a variety of questions to help them reflect upon how introductory physics students learn physics and why grading plays a critical role in improving both their content knowledge and their problem solving, reasoning, and metacognitive skills. The implications of these interventions for the preparation of graduate students is discussed.