Simplifying the complex with familiarity: An approach to effective physics education at all scales

There are many challenges to the clear communication of physical principles, concepts, and calculation techniques at the university level, not the least of which is the sheer volume and complexity of the materials that we are required to convey to our students. Over the past number of years, an underlying principle that I have found to be particularly useful in my efforts at effective physics education is the importance of basing my efforts in the familiar, providing the students with a comfortable starting point from which we can journey into the new and at times complex worlds of physics. I have found that this principle is applicable at all “length scales” of education, including but not limited to the design of program structure, course content, class-time organization, lecture demonstrations, and even assignment problems. This presentation will elaborate on my ideas and applications of this familiarity approach to physics instruction, with examples such as the inclusion of orientation courses in physics curricula, the importance of the order of material presentation in undergraduate quantum mechanics, and the use of a structured “front end” component in physics classes, and will attempt to quantify the success of many of these ideas based on student performance and course evaluation.