Local Physical Science Alliances Now Developing in Illinois

Dr. Carl J. Wenning, President, Illinois Section of AAPT

Illinois has a history of active local physics alliances. Illinois State Physics Project (ISPP), Quark Net, Physics Northwest, and Physics West have operated in the Chicago metropolitan area for many years. Southwestern Illinois has been active in the St. Louis Association of Physics Teachers for many years. Central Illinois had active physics alliances based in Peoria and Springfield and in years past. Statewide efforts are now taking place to renew and expand teacher alliances across the entire state of Illinois.

Recently, the Illinois Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (ISAAPT) has taken the lead in developing Local Physical Science Alliances (LPSAs) outside the Chicago metropolitan area. LPSAs are designed to involve not only teachers of physics, but of chemistry and earth & space science as well. Recent joint activities between the ISAAPT and the Illinois Association of Chemistry Teachers (IACT) in part led to this initiative. During the summer of 2010, these organizations joined with the Illinois Science Teachers Association (ISTA) to promote and develop a statewide effort involving twelve zones outside of Chicago. The ISTA provided some $2500 to support a LPSA Zone Leaders Workshop during August.

Each LPSA serves as an informal professional science education society operating within a small geographic area. Zone leaders were successfully recruited from 10 of 12 academic centers around the state. Small zone sizes allow for teachers to attend after school meetings without having to travel more than 45 minutes.

LPSAs are being created to help achieve the ends for which the ISAAPT, IACT, and ISTA were organized. Once fully developed, the memberships of LPSAs will meet four times per academic year to forge and sustain links between elementary school, middle school, high school, community college, and university faculty members who teach physical science. Attendees will share ideas, develop learning-teaching modules, learn from one another, gain a sense of empowerment, and have a good time. Physical science teachers at all levels will increase their effectiveness by participating in these local alliances, but especially when they spend time promoting and developing horizontal and vertical relationships with other teachers.

The four draft Physical Science (PS) core ideas from the preliminary framework of the new science education standards (NRC, 2010) are being considered as the basis of the four school year meetings of LPSAs. These include the broad content themes of matter, forces, energy, and waves.

Not only will content themes serve as organizing elements for various LPSA meetings, but so will vertical and horizontal relationships. During the inaugural year, the meetings – each locally planned and based on the needs of participating teachers – will bring together physical science teaches from high schools, community colleges, and universities. They will pilot LPSA activities and improve them for utilization during the second year. During this second year, physical science teachers at the middle and elementary school will be invited to participate in these twice-per-semester meetings.

Ideally LPSA meetings will focus on inquiry-oriented teaching – especially the development of “inquiry sequences” based on the author’s article, “Levels of inquiry: Hierarchies of pedagogical practices and inquiry processes” (Wenning, 2005). No longer should inquiry teaching be treated as an amalgam of interrelated activities. Rather, inquiry teaching will be seen as incorporated a set of activities based on a philosophically developed inquiry spectrum. The inquiry spectrum includes discovery learning, interactive demonstrations, inquiry lessons, and inquiry labs. Teachers at all levels will work cooperatively to create various inquiry sequences for physical science lessons from a single topic area as a professional development activity that they can immediately transport into their classrooms.

While teachers at the elementary and middle school levels might not implement certain inquiry lessons and labs, they certainly will want to participate in them during LPSA meetings to develop a better understanding of the concepts. Teachers at the high school level and above can learn from elementary and middle school teachers about conceptual difficulties that students at these levels seem to share. The goal is for teachers to teach teachers so that we can improve the quality and amount of science learning with which children of Illinois struggle each year.

Readers can learn more about this initiative by visiting the LPSA website which is currently under development, or by email at wenning@phy.ilstu.edu.


National Research Council (2010). A Framework for Science Education: Preliminary Public Draft. http://www7.nationalacademies.org/bose/Standards_Framework_Preliminary_Public_Draft.pdf, retrieved 7/16/2010.

Wenning, C. J. (2005). Levels of inquiry: Hierarchies of pedagogical practices and inquiry processes. Journal of Physics Teacher Education Online, 2(3), 3-11.

Carl Wenning is the immediate past president of the Illinois Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He is a semi-retired member of the Illinois State University Physics Department, and continues to work part-time in teacher education. He was director of the Department’s physics teacher education program from 1994-2008.

Disclaimer- The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.