Course Transformation Projects

Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE): Science and Cognition Combined

NSF Division of Undergraduate Educaiton (DUE) #0088906, 2001-2003, $495,304


PIs and Collaborators 

  • Alan Van Heuvelen (Principal Investigator), Rutgers
  • Eugenia Etkina (Co-PI), Rutgers
  • Suzanne Brahmia (Co-PI), Rutgers
  • Xueli Zou (Co-PI),  California State University, Chico


Physics (13) This project is developing and testing for large enrollment introductory physics courses a unique multifaceted epistemological learning system-Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) - that replicates systematic discovery methods used by practicing scientists. The goal of this system is to bring "a scientific way of knowing" into the process of learning physics. A complete set of curriculum materials (published innovative textbook, student study guide, and instructor's guide including suggestions for experiments) is being developed for the algebra-based physics course taken primarily by biology majors and pre-medical students. In addition, resource materials, feedback formative assessment instruments, and recommendations on practical implementation of the ISLE are being prepared as supplements for this course and for the calculus-based introductory physics courses in which traditional physics texts are used. ISLE is being tested in algebra-based physics courses, in a bridging course for under prepared engineering students, and in regular and honors calculus-based physics for engineering students. The ISLE is based on research in physics education, cognitive science, and learning-outcome requests from the 21st century workplace. It is being used in several institutions-Ohio State University, Rutgers University, Chico State University and a two-year college. Students can be active learners rather than objects of teaching. Students construct the understanding of physics themselves following the same general pattern for each concept-devising and experimentally testing qualitative and quantitative explanations of the phenomena that they observe. Various proven thinking and learning strategies-multiple exposures, multiple representations, and multimedia-enhanced learning-are used. Students are active participants in all parts of the course, and they solve complex problems and apply their knowledge for practical purposes.

After taking the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) physics course, students should be better skilled in the techniques of scientific investigation, experienced in designing their own investigations and in decision making, able to construct their understanding of new concepts, and used to working collaboratively in groups to solve complex real life problems. They leave instruction with conceptual knowledge and procedural knowledge structures.

Publications and Products Resulting from this Research

ISLE Website

Etkina, E.; Van Heuvelen, A., (2001) “Investigative Science Learning Environment: Using the process of science and cognitive strategies to learn physics,” Proc. 2001 Phys. Educ. Res. Conf., 17-20.

E. Etkina and A. Van Heuvelen, "Investigative Science Learning Environment - A Science Process Approach to Learning Physics," in Research-Based Reform of University Physics, edited by E. F. Redish and P. J. Cooney (American Association of Physics Teachers, College Park, MD, 2007), Reviews in PER Vol. 1

A. Van Heuvelen and E. Etkina. "Active Learning Guide", Addison Wesley Longmann: San Francisco, CA., 2005