Physics

The Leonardo Project: An Intelligent Cyberlearning System for Interactive Scientific Modeling in Elementary Science Education

The project designs and implements technologies that combine artificial intelligence in the form of intelligent tutoring systems with multimedia interfaces (i.e., an electronic science notebook and virtual labs) to support children in grades 4-5 learning science. The students use LEONARDO's intelligent virtual science notebooks to create and experiment with interactive models of physical phenomena.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020229
Funding Period: 
Sun, 08/15/2010 to Tue, 07/31/2012
Full Description: 

The project designs and implements technologies that combine artificial intelligence in the form of intelligent tutoring systems with multimedia interfaces to support children in grades 4-5 learning science. The students use LEONARDO's intelligent virtual science notebooks to create and experiment with interactive models of physical phenomena. With this technology, students' models 'come alive' as interactive multimedia artifacts that combine animation, sound, and narration. The curricular focus is on physical and earth sciences, and the technology supports multimodal interactive scientific modeling for four curricular units: forces and motion, magnetism and electricity, landforms, and weather and climate. A central feature of this environment is PadMates, which are intelligent virtual tutors that support science learning through interactive scientific modeling.

The PIs investigate the cognitive mechanisms by which learning occurs. Specifically, they study the central issues of problem solving (strategy use, divergent thinking, and collaboration) and engagement (motivation, situational interest, presence) with respect to achievement as measured by both science content knowledge and transfer. With diverse student populations in 60 classrooms drawn from both urban and rural settings, the studies determine precisely which technologies and conditions contribute most effectively to learning processes and outcomes.

The products include technologies and findings that should be the basis of a framework to inform the future development of similar systems. The impact should be substantial on all learners given the potential power of the technology to scaffold learning at an important developmental stage.

Rethinking How to Teach Energy: Laying The Foundations in Elementary School (Collaborative Research: Lacy)

This project is a collaborative effort that aims to develop a grade 3-5 Learning Progression that will provide a coherent approach to teaching energy in elementary school and lay a strong foundation for further learning in middle school. The project will identify a network of core concepts and principles about energy that are fundamental and general enough to be compatible with scientific ideas about energy, yet within reach of 5th graders.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020013
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

This project is a collaborative effort involving scientists, science educators, and teachers from TERC, Clark University, Tufts University,and urban Massachusetts schools that aims to develop a grade 3-5 Learning Progression that will provide a coherent approach to teaching energy in elementary school and lay a strong foundation for further learning in middle school. The work draws on and complements the learning progression and curriculum for matter developed and tested in the Inquiry Project (NSF award 0628245). The project will identify a network of core concepts and principles about energy that are fundamental and general enough to be compatible with scientific ideas about energy, yet within reach of 5th graders.

This project explores the hypothesis that, while the scientific concept of energy is too abstract and difficult to understand in early grades, useful foundations can be established early on by elaborating a learning progression for energy. Clinical interviews will be administered to 24 pairs of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders recruited from urban after-school programs, to identify precursors to the core ideas as well obstacles to learning them. This research will help the investigators design key learning experiences that could allow students to progress from initial ideas toward a scientific understanding of energy. Those learning designs will then be tested in teaching interviews with 3 small groups of students in the same settings.

The result of the project will be an outline for a grade 3-5 learning progression for energy taking into account the project research findings as well as relevant standards, curricula, and science education literature.

Bridging the Gap Between High School and College Physics: An Exploratory Study

This project will bring together two promising innovations: a high school course entitled Energizing Physics and the BEAR assessment system. The goal of this study is to develop and test a formative assessment system for Energizing Physics that has the potential to enable all students to learn physics, so they can succeed in college.

Project Email: 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020385
Funding Period: 
Sun, 08/15/2010 to Tue, 07/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Myron (Mike) Atkin
Full Description: 

This exploratory research study will bring together two promising innovations that have the potential to help more students meet high standards and prepare for college and 21st century careers. One innovation is a new high school course entitled Energizing Physics, designed to help students with a wide range of capabilities by applying best practices and presenting a relatively small number of key concepts in depth. Another is the BEAR assessment system, designed to provide frequent formative assessment data to students and teachers. The goal is to develop and test a formative assessment system for Energizing Physics that has the potential to enable all students to learn how to learn physics, so they can succeed in their first physics course in college. Partners include course authors Aaron Osowiecki and Jesse Southworth from Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts, Cary Sneider and graduate students at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, and assessment specialists Mark Wilson and Karen Draney at the Graduate School of Education, University of California at Berkeley.

The project will proceed in five phases. Phase I: During the summer of 2010 project teams from Massachusetts and Oregon will meet with assessment experts in California for training in the BEAR assessment system. Phase II: During the subsequent year the team will collaborate remotely to embed the BEAR system into the course materials, and recruit eight teachers (four in Massachusetts and four in Oregon) who will test the new materials in a variety of high school settings. Phase III: Weeklong workshops will be held in Oregon and Massachusetts during the summer of 2011 to familiarize teachers with the course and assessment system. Phase IV: Teachers will present the course to their students, collect pre-post test data on students' conceptual understanding and problem solving abilities, as well as work samples, and report on successes and challenges. Teams will conduct classroom visits and interview teachers at school sites. Phase V: During the summer of 2012 the teams will analyze the results, modify the course materials as appropriate, and report on findings.

Given the substantial body of research on the value of formative evaluation for supporting learning, this exploratory study has the potential to develop a physics course that could help teachers support learning among students with a wide diversity of capabilities. Further, since this research builds on a similar study of the high school course Living by Chemistry, which also uses the BEAR formative evaluation system, it may be possible to generalize ways that high school science courses can be designed to help more students succeed in college science.

CAREER: Changing the Landscape: Towards the Development of a Physics Identity in High School

This project will contribute to the understanding of how high school physics can have a positive impact on students' self-perceptions, impacting important educational outcomes in this subject matter. Its focus is on the development of a positive physics identity (self-perceptions with respect to physics in terms of competence, performance, interest, and recognition by others) among high school students, particularly females, as a means to increase current and future engagement with the subject.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1431846
Funding Period: 
Thu, 07/01/2010 to Thu, 06/30/2016
Full Description: 

The purpose of this study is to contribute to the understanding of how high school physics can have a maximum positive impact on students' self-perceptions, thus noticeably impacting their outcomes in this subject matter. Its focus is on the development of a positive physics identity (students' perceptions of themselves in relation to this field in terms of competence, performance, persistence, interest, and recognition by others) among high school students, particularly females, as a means to increase their academic performance.

Preliminary data analysis from an ongoing NSF-funded project (GSE/RES 0624444) suggests a strong correlation between the physics identity construct (e.g., Do you see yourself as a physics person?) and the study's proposed physics identity measures (i.e., performance, competence, recognition, and interest). Although most students, especially females, conveyed depressed attitudes toward themselves as physics learners, as well as toward the discipline, those who expressed favorable perceptions toward physics learning identified a set of activities that appear to affect the development of a positive physics identity: (a) focus on conceptual understanding, (b) frequency of laboratory activities that address their beliefs, (c) frequency of opportunities to share and interact, (d) teacher encouragement, and (e) holding discussions on current relevant science topics.

The PI hypothesizes that students in general, and females in particular, develop depressed attitudes toward physics, and negative perceptions of themselves as physics learners due to the lack of personally meaningful learning experiences. Thus, she submits the following research questions: (1) What high school physics teaching practices predict physics identity development?; (2) How do these strategies influence physics identity development, especially mediated by perceptions of their performance, competence, recognition, and interest?; (3) What is the long-term impact of these experiences on physics identity as students traverse their undergraduate careers?; and (4) What is the most appropriate pedagogical plan for high school physics teachers to ensure adequate development of positive physics identity?

The study's proposed methods consist of case studies, a longitudinal study, development of a pedagogical plan, and the implementation of this plan. Classroom case studies of successful teachers draw on the previously referred survey of which 348 (90 females) finished high school physics with a self-rating as a physics person (5 on a 0-5 scale), including positive perceptions of instructional and leaning experiences. The longitudinal study aims at understanding the long-term impact of specific pedagogical practices on students' physics identity,including 15 students (8 females) who will be tracked over 3 to 4 years through surveys and interviews at the end of each academic year. Development of the pedagogical plan will include 15 sample lesson plans with detailed activities that connect physics content to real-world contexts, counter stereotypes about physics, analysis of underrepresentation in physics, and physics identity formative assessments. The plan will be tested through a quasi-experimental study with four teachers using the same physics course with at least two groups. Each teacher will implement the plan in one of the groups; the other group will be used as control. Of the 180 physics classes, approximately 15 (one every two weeks) will use the education plan. A physics identity scale will be administered at the beginning and end of each course. Classroom observations will be conducted while the plan is implemented.

This project is associated with the project number 0952460 with the same title.

Communication in Science Inquiry Project (CISIP)

CISIP is a professional development program that enables English and science teachers to help students to learn content and communicate scientifically. The CISIP program: Translates How Students Learn Science in the Classroom and Common Core State Standards for student success; targets learning within a classroom discourse community that focuses on argumentation; and takes a team of science and English teachers at schools from middle level through university who collaborate.

Project Email: 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0353469
Funding Period: 
Thu, 07/01/2004 to Fri, 12/31/2010
Project Evaluator: 
M. J. Young

Problem-Based Learning Designed for Science and Mathematics Professional Development

This project aims to: (1) develop, implement and study the impact of a subject matter-focused, Problem-based Learning professional development model; and to (2) design ways of incorporating Problem-Based Learning (PBL) into key subject matter and teacher preparation courses taken by pre-service teachers, and study the impact on pre-service teachers' learning. This project is designed with and for teams of K-12 science and mathematics teachers from school districts of mid-Michigan.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0353406
Funding Period: 
Sun, 08/01/2004 to Sat, 07/31/2010
Project Evaluator: 
SAMPI Western Michigan University

The Scientific Thinker Project: A Study of Teaching and Learning Concepts of Evidence and Nature of Scientific Evidence in Elementary School

Current curriculum materials for elementary science students and teachers fail to provoke the following essential questions during science instruction: What is evidence? Why do you need evidence? The goal of this project is to identify whether and how elementary school students formulate answers to these questions and develop concepts of evidence and understandings of the nature of scientific evidence.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0918533
Funding Period: 
Sat, 08/01/2009 to Sat, 07/31/2010

PUM (PhysicsUnionMathematics) Exploration

The PuM project develops and conducts research on a learning continuum for seamless instruction in middle school physical science and high school physics. The ultimate goal is to use physics as the context to develop mathematics literacy, particularly with students from underrepresented populations and special needs students. The research component analyzes the effects of the curriculum on students' learning while simultaneously investigating teachers' pedagogical content knowledge in a variety of forms.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0733140
Funding Period: 
Sat, 09/01/2007 to Tue, 08/31/2010

Honing Diagnostic Practice: Toward a New Model of Teacher Professional Preparation and Development

This project is developing a science teacher education model focused on the establishment of a diagnostic learning environment through formative assessment as a powerful instructional practice for promoting learning of all students (grades 5–12) on the topic of energy with the goal of increasing the understanding of the processes through which teachers develop the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions for effective deployment of a formative assessment instructional cycle.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0822342
Funding Period: 
Mon, 09/01/2008 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Horizon Research Inc.

Undergraduate Science Course Reform Serving Pre-service Teachers: Evaluation of a Faculty Professional Development Model

This project focuses on critical needs in the preparation and long-term development of pre-service, undergraduate, K-6 teachers of science. The project investigates the impact on these students of undergraduate, standards-based, reform entry level science courses developed by faculty based on their participation in the NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics processional development program to identify: short-term impacts on undergraduate students and long-term effects on graduated teachers; characteristics of reform courses and characteristics of effective development efforts.

Project Email: 
Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
0554594
Funding Period: 
Tue, 08/01/2006 to Sun, 07/31/2011
Full Description: 

The Undergraduate Science Course Reform Serving Pre-service Teachers: Evaluation of a Faculty Professional Development Model project is informally known as the National Study of Education in Undergraduate Science (NSEUS). This 5-year project focuses on critical needs in the preparation and long-term development of pre-service, undergraduate, K-6 teachers of science. The goal is to investigate the impact on these students of undergraduate, standards-based, reform entry-level science courses developed by faculty in the NASA Opportunities for Visionary Academics (NOVA) professional development model. Twenty reform and 20 comparison undergraduate science courses from a national population of 101 diverse institutions participating in NOVA, stratified by institutional type, were be selected and compared in a professional development impact design model. Data is being collected in extended on-site visits using multiple quantitative and qualitative instruments and analyzed using comparative and relational studies at multiple points in the impact design model. Criteria for success of the project will be determined by conclusions drawn from the research questions; including evidence and effect sizes of short-term impacts on undergraduate students and long-term effects on graduated in-service teachers in their own classroom science teaching; identification of characteristics of undergraduate reformed courses that produce significant impacts; identification of characteristics of effective faculty, and effective dissemination.

Project Publications and Presentations:

Lardy, Corrine; Mason, Cheryl; Mojgan, Matloob-Haghanikar; Sunal, Cynthia Szymanski; Sunal, Dennis Wayne; Sundberg, Cheryl & Zollman, Dean (2009). How Are We Reforming Teaching in Undergraduate Science Courses? Journal of College Science Teaching, v. 39 (2), 12-14.  

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