APS News

ComPADRE Brings Digital Resources to Physics and Astronomy Education

By Ernie Tretkoff 

ComPADRE (Communities for Physics and Astronomy Digital Resources in Education), a digital library of physics and astronomy education resources, has been running for over two years, and is continuing to expand.

"In general, there is a lot of material out there, from simple lesson plans, to simulations, to problem- based learning experiences, to reference material," said comPADRE principle investigator Bruce Mason of the University of Oklahoma. ComPADRE makes all these materials accessible from one website (www.compadre.org).

ComPADRE, an effort in which APS is collaborating with several other societies, currently comprises six collections of online resources on astronomy and physics. The collections each include links to and descriptions of resources such as online simulations, lesson plans, student activities, reference material, tutorials, and education research.

The six collections under the ComPADRE umbrella are:

  1. PSRC (Physical Science Resource Center), the original collection, which contains all types of physical science resources;
  2. The Nucleus, a collection by and for the AIP/Society of Physics Students that provides physics and astronomy resources for undergraduates;
  3. Physics to Go, a library of informal science websites for the general public, produced by APS;
  4. Quantum Exchange, a repository of resources for teachers of quantum physics;
  5. Astronomy Center, a repository of resources compiled to assist in the teaching of a college-level introductory astronomy course;
  6. The Physics Front, a digital library for all secondary school physics teachers.

For several years, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) had been collecting online resources in the PSRC, a general collection that includes resources on all physics subjects. In 2002, AAPT joined with the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and APS to expand the digital library and create the collections that now make up comPADRE, said Mason. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation and is part of the National Science Digital Library.

A survey showed that there was a need for collections designed with more specific audiences in mind, so the newer collections are aimed at groups such as students and secondary school teachers, or focused on more specific subjects, such as quantum physics or astronomy, said Mason.

ComPADRE is more than just a collection of links. Users can easily find what they are looking for because the database can be searched or browsed by topic, resource type, and intended audience. Every resource listed on comPADRE has been reviewed by a team of editors, and comPADRE allows users to post comments on resources.

Thad Lurie of AAPT, technical lead for comPADRE, says he often gets asked why comPADRE is any better than Google. The answer, he says, is that, "If you search for, say, optics, on Google, you get sixteen million results. You have no idea where they come from; you have no idea if they're any good." ComPADRE might give many fewer results, said Lurie, but they are all of high quality. "With comPADRE, you know they have been reviewed by an editorial staff."

Registered users of comPADRE can also recommend new resources, so comPADRE is not only a good way to find educational tools, but a good way to share them as well, said Mason.

One comPADRE collection, the Nucleus, designed for undergraduate students, has an especially active community of users, who communicate with each other through discussion boards. The Nucleus also contains a list of summer research opportunities for undergraduates. Employers and researchers can submit positions to the list, and students have said they especially liked this component of the site.

Over 20,000 unique users visit comPADRE each month, said Lurie. So far, feedback has been very positive. Mason said he has heard from many teachers who have told him that comPADRE enabled them to find exactly what they need.

Resources are constantly being added to the existing collections, and several new comPADRE collections are being planned, including one devoted to physics education research, said Lurie. Mason said he would like to add comPADRE collections devoted to all of the standard courses in the physics curriculum. Ted Hodapp, APS director of Education and Outreach, is working on developing a comPADRE collection devoted to teacher preparation.

As the site expands, the comPADRE team is trying to promote the site to attract more users. "We're now at the stage where we've got a really good tool, and we're looking for more people to start using it," said Mason.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette