Curriculum that has been developed on the basis of physics education research has been demonstrably effective at improving student understanding of many physics concepts. Several simplifying assumptions have contributed to this success. The first assumption is that students in introductory courses at the universities where the research was conducted can serve as proxies for the students in courses where the curriculum is implemented. That is, the difficulties encountered by students at the university that is implementing PER-based curriculum are assumed to be roughly the same as the difficulties uncovered through research. The second assumption is that a large fraction of the students within a population share common misconceptions about physics concepts. As long as these misconceptions are identified, and a strategy for addressing these misconceptions is reached, it is assumed that it is possible to design instructional materials that will improve student performance on questions relating to these misconceptions.
In this talk I would like to describe a physics education research and curriculum development project intended for the introductory algebra-based mechanics laboratory. Then I would like to describe the ways in which this project has called into question the assumptions described above.
Supported by NSF grants DUE-0341333, DUE-0341289, and DUE-0341350