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Changing the Culture of Introductory Science

Brown Campus

We seek to introduce evidence-based, high impact practices in first and second year STEM courses at Brown University with a primary focus on improving the mathematical competency among STEM majors.

As we proceed with the implementation of these new practices, we hope to spark curricular change across STEM departments at Brown toward a more student-centered approach that will reduce attrition from science and improve students’ identification with science as a career.


During the Fall 2013 semester, we created group problem-solving sessions in two courses at Brown, Chemistry 100 and Physics 50. Drawing from the student outcomes and feedback from those courses, we have modified these problem-solving sessions and expanded the program to three courses in the Winter 2013: Chemistry 330, Physics 60, and Applied Mathematics 350. Problem-solving sessions in all three courses are voluntary, but well attended by students.

Students work in groups of three to solve conceptually relevant, context rich problems that extend beyond the bounds of a single course and expose students to interdisciplinary thinking and learning, even in these early courses. Instructor and student buy-in is high in regard to continuing improvement of these problem-solving sessions and courses at Brown in general.

Assessment of students’ course specific mathematical competency outcomes will help to guide our future efforts in the iterative process of curricular change.