After years of debate and research, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has replaced a large introductory physics course with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive learning–a move that reflects a growing national trend, reports the New York Times. For as long as anyone can remember, introductory physics at MIT was taught in a vast windowless amphitheater known by its number, 26-100. Squeezed into the rows of hard, folding wooden seats, as many as 300 freshmen anxiously took notes while the professor covered multiple blackboards with mathematical formulas and explained the principles of Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism. But now, with physicists across the country pushing for universities to do a better job of teaching science, MIT has made a striking change–and already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent. MIT is not alone. Other universities are changing their ways, too, among them Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Harvard. In these institutions, physicists have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning. The traditional 50-minute lecture was geared more toward physics majors, said Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard who is a pioneer of the new approach, and whose work has influenced the change at MIT. "The people who wanted to understand," Mazur said, "had the discipline, the urge, to sit down afterwards and say, ‘Let me figure this out.’" But for the majority, he said, a different approach is needed…

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