Exploring relevance for life-science students in introductory physics

Authors: 

Abhilash Nair, Paul Irving, Vashti Sawtelle

Introductory physics courses can serve as gatekeepers for many non-physics STEM pathways including life-science and pre-health undergraduate degrees. Introductory physics is a requirement for many STEM degrees and is a required course for admission to many pre-health professional programs. Physics remains a foundational component of the revised Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). In addition, national policy recommendations for the integration of content knowledge across the disciplines continue to position physics reasoning and content knowledge as being essential. Program requirements and policy recommendations highlight physics as being relevant to a degree in STEM or a career in the health sciences. Interviews I’ve conducted in the beginning weeks of a studio-format introductory physics course designed with explicit connections to the life-sciences have suggested that students largely do not share the belief that physics is relevant to them. In this work-in-progress presentation I motivate why relevance may be a critical construct, discuss the issues of investigating relevance in an introductory physics course, and explore the unique considerations that need to be made to apply these ideas to life-science students.

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