Forum on Education of the American Physical Society
APS Award in Physics Education
Kenneth Krane, Oregon State University
The 2008 APS Award for Excellence in Physics Education will be given to the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington. The award citation reads:
The University of Washington group, which is led by faculty members Lillian McDermott, Paula Heron, and Peter Shaffer, has included many graduate students, postdocs, and visiting faculty members and K-12 teachers. Its mission, as described in its web site (http://www.phys.washington.edu/groups/peg/) involves research into the teaching and learning of physics at all levels, curriculum development, and instruction, in particular helping present and future college (including teaching assistants) and K-12 faculty to improve physics teaching. Their efforts have produced two widely-used curricula: Tutorials in Introductory Physics, which can supplement traditional instruction in small-group discussion sections in introductory courses, and Physics by Inquiry, which offers inquiry-based activities targeted at the preparation of K-12 teachers.
Through a long series of publications going back nearly 30 years in the American Journal of Physics and other journals, the group has described its pioneering efforts to gain a better understanding of how students learn (or, more often, fail to learn) essential concepts of physics. Using appropriate diagnostic testing coupled with one-on-one interviews, their robust and replicable research has revealed how alternative pedagogic approaches can confront these learning difficulties and often lead to improved conceptual understanding. In the process, their successes have served to legitimize and popularize physics education research done within physics departments (rather than within schools of education), and as a result there are now many such groups operating in physics departments that owe their very existence to the model established at the University of Washington.
The APS Award for Excellence in Physics Education was established to honor a group or team that has exhibited a sustained commitment to excellence in physics education. The award, which was given for the first time in 2007, was established with major support from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, Vernier Software, WebAssign, Physics Academic Software, PASCO Scientific, and numerous individual contributors.