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The study reported here was designed to substantiate the findings of previous research on the use of inquiry-based laboratory activities in introductory college physics courses. The authors sought to determine whether limited use of inquiry activities as a supplement to a traditional lecture and demonstration curriculum would improve student achievement in introductory classes for preservice teachers and general education students. Achievement was measured by responses to problems designed to test conceptual understanding as well as overall course grades. We analyzed the effect on selected student outcome measures in a preliminary study in which some students engaged in inquiry activities and others did not, and interviewed students about their perceptions of the inquiry activities. In the preliminary study, preservice elementary teachers and female students showed significantly higher achievement after engaging such activities, but only on exam questions relating directly to the material covered in the exercises. In a second study we used a common exam problem to compare the performance of students who had engaged in a revised version of the inquiry activities with the performance of students in algebra and calculus-based classes. The students who had engaged in inquiry investigations significantly outperformed the other students.
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