Spotlight on physics education

Sept. 29 lecture part of of the Teaching and Learning in Science Seminar Series


Jose Mestre, PhD, a distinguished scholar of physics learning and a highly regarded researcher in physics education, will deliver a talk titled “Physics Learning and Classroom Practice: Clinical and Classroom-Based Studies of Physics Cognition” on Wednesday, Sept. 29, at Washington University in St. Louis. The talk will take place at 4 p.m. in Crow Hall, Room 201.

Mestre, professor of physics and educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will describe two studies in physics cognition. One study explored what students looked at when learning from worked examples by tracking their eye-gaze patterns. The second compared different methods for teaching basic physics concepts by way of preparing students for interactive lectures that focused on concept refinement rather than the basics.

Mestre earned a bachelor’s and a doctorate in physics from the University of Massachusetts in 1974 and 1979, respectively, and remained there until 2005, rising rapidly through the ranks from research associate to full professor.

He came to Urbana in 2005 as a full professor of physics and of educational psychology. Although trained as a nuclear physicist, his academic interests shifted more than 20 years ago to the question of how students learn physics. He has adapted tools from cognitive and educational psychology to investigate the top issues in the development of scientific knowledge and instruction.

On his website, he writes, “My research interest focuses on the organization and deployment of physics knowledge by experts and novices. In my research, I address questions such as: What is the mechanism by which a beginner develops expertise in a complex domain such as physics? Why is it that the problem solving skills for traditional textbook physics problems often develop faster than conceptual understanding? Why is appropriate transfer of knowledge, even across the same domain and across remarkably similar contexts, so difficult to achieve?”

The lecture is part of the Teaching and Learning in Science Seminar Series sponsored by the Education of Undergraduates in the Life Sciences Committee.

The committee came out of the task force on the life sciences commissioned by Provost Edward S. Macias, PhD, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, and chaired by Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and Ralph S. Quatrano, PhD, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science and the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts & Sciences.

Mestre’s talk is also part of the Wednesday colloquia series in the Department of Physics in Arts & Sciences.