Guide to Upper-Level Physics Curriculum

Version 1. January 27, 2021

This section describes how to design and assess upper-level courses, curricula, and classroom and departmental environments that support collaboration, articulation of ideas, conceptual understanding, technical skills, mathematical and computational proficiency, and development of advanced physics problem-solving skills. This section provides guidance on developing and improving your upper-level physics curriculum to meet student, department, and institutional needs; providing support for

and students, including students from ; and promoting the creation of student communities. Because the goals, needs, and resources of physics programs vary widely, the EP3 Guide does not address what content should be covered in a physics program or in particular physics courses. Instead, this section addresses the design and use of and , design of course content and pedagogy, and the student learning environment. See Resources below for links to materials for teaching specific upper-level courses. The section on Implementing Research-Based Instructional Practices provides general pedagogical guidance as well as guidance on how to design and assess courses based on course-level student learning outcomes. The sections on Instructional Laboratories and Experimental Skills and Computational Skills provide guidance on designing courses that address these skills and integrating these skills throughout the curriculum. The section on How to Create and Sustain Effective Change provides guidance on how to structure and sustain curricular change.


A well-designed upper-level curriculum provides opportunities for students to engage deeply with the discipline of physics and its excitement and challenges, develop identities as physicists, and prepare for a diverse range of careers as well as post-graduate study. A coherent curriculum that is consciously designed to support your

ensures that students in each track in your program can achieve those outcomes. A well-designed upper-level curriculum supports the development of diverse skills such as problem-solving, critical-thinking, mathematical, computational, experimental, and communication skills; working in teams; planning and completing long-term projects; and placing physical problems and solutions in larger contexts. A strong upper-level curriculum supports retention of undergraduate physics majors.

Effective Practices

  1. Design and assess a holistic upper-level curriculum around program-level and course-level student learning outcomes

  2. Design upper-level course structures to meet your department’s goals, students’ needs, and institutional constraints

  3. Use research-based instructional practices and inclusive pedagogy in the upper-level physics curriculum

  4. Establish and sustain support for instructional staff teaching upper-level courses

  5. Establish and sustain support for students enrolled in upper-level courses

  6. Promote the creation of communities for students in upper-level courses

  7. Establish and sustain support for the upper-level curriculum in and beyond your institution

Programmatic Assessments

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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