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.

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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.

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