Teaching physics to life science students - Examining the role of biological context

Catherine H. Crouch, Kenneth Heller

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


We describe a research agenda to inform renovating the introductory physics course commonly taught to life science majors. The theoretical framework of the renovation is the cognitive apprenticeship model, in which learning occurs most effectively in an environment of expert practices so that students can articulate why their learning matters. This model is supported by studies of transfer that suggest for students to successfully apply physics to another field, they need practice making such applications. Guided by this theoretical framework, we have begun to restructure our introductory physics courses for these students around biologically rich contexts - examples in which fundamental physics plays a significant role in understanding a biological system - to make explicit the value of physics to the life sciences. This requires restructuring the course content to reflect the topics most relevant to biology. In this paper we describe our approach to this course, identify research directions addressing (1) the role of biological context in learning for these students and (2) issues in implementing such a course for physics faculty, and summarize preliminary results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2011 Physics Education Research Conference
Number of pages4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012
Event2011 Physics Education Research Conference - Omaha, NE, United States
Duration: Aug 3 2011Aug 4 2011

Publication series

NameAIP Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)0094-243X
ISSN (Electronic)1551-7616


Other2011 Physics Education Research Conference
CountryUnited States
CityOmaha, NE


  • Cognitive Apprenticeship
  • Course Design
  • Introductory Physics
  • Life Science Majors

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