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Rachel E. Scherr, Seattle Pacific University, and Stephen Kanim, New Mexico State
Articulating achievable physics education research (PER) goals will promote discussion within the PER community and provide a basis for communication with non-PER physicists and policymakers. Previous related efforts have included a decadal study to inform improvement of undergraduate physics education  and historical studies of physics education research . The formation of the Topical Group in Physics Education Research (GPER) in the APS prompted reflection by the PER community as to what this new presence in APS might mean for physics education researchers (who are currently associated mainly with the PER Topical Group of the AAPT, PERTG). There is a desire to create an occasion for mutual intellectual engagement about issues of physics education, to build a closer link between the PER community and the broader physics community represented by both APS and AAPT. The result is the “Grand Challenges in PER” initiative.
Identify ambitious goals for physics education research that will be achievable within seven years and will have significant societal impact.
The product of the Grand Challenges initiative will be a policy paper. In order to promote the formation of ambitious goals and articulate these goals for the most general possible audience, the primary audience for the Grand Challenges is the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Secondary audiences include policy makers, the members of APS and AAPT, and the PER community.
The Grand Challenges in PER process will be carried out by a joint committee of GPER and PERTG and supported by the respective professional societies (particularly APS leadership in the Office of Education & Diversity). The Grand Challenges in PER Committee co-chairs are Rachel Scherr (currently Chair-Elect of the APS GPER Executive Committee) and Stephen Kanim (currently Chair-Elect of the AAPT PER Leadership and Organizing Council).
The Grand Challenges in PER Committee will be composed of 10-15 individuals representing diverse interests in PER in the USA, including but not limited to physics teacher education, university physics education, qualitative and quantitative approaches to research, small and large research groups, theoretical and experimental work, curriculum development and implementation, and working with diverse populations. Non-PER physicists on the Committee will include leaders in physics education and policy. Agency liaisons will include physics professional society leaders and officers of funding agencies engaged in education and diversity issues. An Advisory Board of about a dozen additional people representing additional professional perspectives will provide input to and feedback on the activities of the Committee, including perspectives from various senior leaders in PER, non-PER physics faculty, and discipline-based education research (DBER) faculty from other disciplines.
Rachel Scherr is a Senior Research Scientist at Seattle Pacific University, where she conducts research on the teaching and learning of energy, among other projects. She is one of the co-organizers of the FFPER conference.
Steve Kanim is an Emeritus Professor of Physics at New Mexico State University. He is active in the field of PER, currently serving as Chair-elect of the PER Leadership Organizing Council. His recent research focuses on helping students to develop the skills necessary for the flexible and generative use of mathematics that is essential for physics.