Research and teaching website of David Brookes

Research and teaching website of David Brookes

Updated: 10 September 2020


I am a physicist. My research field is physics education research. My research outlook and approach to teaching are heavily influenced by the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE), created by Eugenia Etkina and Alan Van Heuvelen. The reason for this influence is that, even before I met Eugenia Etkina, I was motivated by one existential question ever since I became interested in the teaching and learning of physics: "What knowledge, skills, abilities, and/or benefits will students take out of our physics courses into the real world with them?" In short: Why do we require so many students to study physics even though the vast majority of them will not become physics majors or physicists? I have never been at all comfortable with the traditional answers to this question which are either a. "To weed out the undeserving" (flat-out unethically disgusting), b. "Students need to know Newton's laws" (wrong), or "c. Teach them some critical thinking skills" (vague, and ill-defined). I have always felt that if we cannot give a well-thought-out answer to this question, there is little point in teaching physics. I believe that ISLE gives me a framework for a justification for why we should require so many students to study physics. As a result it influences every aspect of how I teach: the activities and assessments I design, even the way I interact with students in the classroom.


My research follows two strands:

1. I am interested in cognitive linguistics and embodied cognition and use this general approach to understand how physics students understand language and how they understand physics equations. This is part of a broader approach in which we try to understand how people learn physics, using ideas and results from cognitive science.

2. Human learning is also social and emotional. We cannot hope to understand how people learn without attending to these factors. I am interested in a. designing learning environments so that physics students can teach themselves, acquire scientific abilities/ habits of mind, and develop positive attitudes towards physics. I am particularly interested in using concepts from complex dynamical systems when thinking about how to design learning environments. b. I have developed a new interest in how groups of students collaborate when they work together on open-ended physics activities. It turns out that some groups are far more successful than others, and I study the underlying social factors that lead to a group being successful or not.