Plenary Speaker Profile (2002)
Priscilla Laws
Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Dickinson College
Workshop Physics as a Mode of Activity Based Teaching: Reflections on Students Learning and Learning Styles

In this talk I will describe the impact of assessments of student learning on the development of Workshop Physics-—a curriculum in which lectures are replaced by student predictions, observations, mathematical modeling and experiments. After presenting data from case studies on conceptual learning and problem solving, I will reflect on how student's views on the nature of science and their learning styles influence their ability to benefit from activity based teaching methods in physics.

Priscilla Laws received her bachelor's degree from Reed College in 1961 and a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr College in theoretical nuclear physics in 1966. She has taught in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Pennsylvania's Dickinson College since 1965. Laws has published numerous books on the health effects of medical and dental x-rays, the impact of energy use on the environment, and the uses of experiential approaches and computers to enhance learning in physics. As part of the Workshop Physics Project, that she initiated in 1986, she has developed curricular materials, apparatus and computer-based software and hardware for students at the high school and college levels.

Laws has received awards for software design and curriculum innovation in the sciences from EDUCOM/NCRIPTAL, Computers in Physics, the Sears-Roebuck Foundation, and the Merck Foundation. In 1993, she received the Dana Foundation Award for Pioneering Achievement in Education with Ronald K. Thornton and in 1996, the American Association of Physics Teachers bestowed the 1996 Robert A. Millikan Medal to Laws for notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics. She has been a principal investigator on a number of curriculum development projects funded by FIPSE and NSF. She has served on the Board of Directors of FIPSE and currently is a member of the Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers. Laws and five of her colleagues are currently involved in a NSF Teacher Enhancement project to conduct summer institutes, both at Dickinson College and the University of Oregon, for high school teachers who want to conform to new national and local science education standards.