Teaching physics in context for environmental science and policy majors

Monday 4:30pm-6:00pm Quad
Poster Session Part of Monday Poster Session


Julie Ferguson, University of California-Irvine
Elizabeth Crook, University of California-Irvine
It is common for traditional geoscience majors to take at least a year of core STEM courses, including chemistry, physics, biology, and mathematics. At UC Irvine, these introductory courses are often large (400+ students), enroll students from all other STEM majors, are highly competitive, and lack applications specifically related to geoscience and sustainability. Without context, it can be difficult for students to understand why these concepts are important for their geoscience degree and this may result in retention issues. When designing the curriculum for UC Irvine's Environmental Science and Policy (ENSP) major, this was a major concern. The ENSP major often attracts students who would not pursue a traditional geoscience degree, and who may not have much prior preparation in these traditional STEM subjects. In response, we created three new classes for incoming students – Earth System Chemistry, Earth System Biology, and Earth System Physics. These classes aim to introduce the fundamental scientific principles of these disciplines in contexts that are relevant to our students' interests and future careers, including topics in sustainability and environmental policy. Here, we focus on the Earth System Physics class, which will be taught to approximately 130 students in the spring of 2023. We discuss the design of the class, and use survey data, academic performance, and student demographics, to examine whether taking this class changes students' 1) attitudes to physics, 2) perceptions of the relevance of physics to their future careers, and 3) self-efficacy related to quantitative problem-solving.