While COVID-19 may have changed the way we work, socialize, and learn, problem solvers like Patricia Shiebler ’21 have tapped their creativity to make the most out of the challenging “new normal” created by the pandemic.
A physics major with minors in math and education studies, Shiebler worked with Assistant Professor of Physics Kristen Burson to overcome the obstacles to learning and research in a COVID-era science classroom. Their ultimate goal was to maintain the strong learning community and rich firsthand experiences that characterize a Hamilton physics education, an aim they accomplished through the creation of a digital collaborative problem-solving space (CPSS).
“I was wrestling with how to redesign my introductory physics course and how to mentor physics thesis students during ‘COVID-normal’ while also upholding the type of learning community and in-depth senior research experiences that characterize a Hamilton physics education,” Burson said. “Simultaneously, Patricia was contemplating her post-graduate plans, with high school teaching as one option. We worked together to develop a teaching-oriented thesis and to bring innovative approaches to my introductory physics course.”
According to Burson, Shiebler assisted with the design of several elements of the course, including the CPSS, a group presentation assignment that helped students develop teamwork, problem-solving, and oral communication skills.
Major: Physics; Minors: math and education
Hometown: Blue Point, N.Y.
High School: Bayport-Blue Point High School
The CPSS was a central fixture of last semester’s Physics 190, The Mechanical Universe. Shiebler and Burson were able to evaluate the success of the new tool in tandem with the introduction of assignments and course materials meant to raise awareness of career and internship opportunities within the field.
“At a school like Hamilton where the community aspect is such a large part of the experience, it was amazing to see how students could reach some of the community-based learning objectives of the course in the modified format, while simultaneously continuing to excel academically,” Shiebler said.
Shiebler was recognized for her innovative work on the CPSS at the American Association of Physics Teachers 2021 Winter Meeting, where she presented to an audience of peers and physics educators from around the country. She noted that the meeting was an excellent opportunity to answer questions and receive feedback on the course design, after going through extensive preparation work with Burson.
Although the CPSS was designed to meet the needs of the reduced-capacity pandemic classroom, Shiebler believes the problem-solving space will still have value in post-COVID lessons. “There is the opportunity to continue to ‘flip’ the class space with some [students] watching lectures virtually and using organized class time to do work that would typically be done later,” she explained.
As for her plans after Hamilton, Shiebler plans to continue to pursue physics education. “I actually went into this project, and my entire physics thesis, knowing that I wanted to teach high school physics post-grad,” she said. “This was definitely a nice affirmation of my goals, and I have been spending my break working on graduate applications, so I can earn the necessary teaching certifications.”