December 2015 Newsletter

GPER APS Fellows

The GPER Executive Committee is pleased to announce our 2015 American Physical Society Fellows:
Steven Pollock, Richard Steinberg, and Michael Wittmann.

Steven PollockRichard SteinbergMichael Wittmann

2015 APS Fellows Steven Pollock (top), Richard Steinberg (middle), and Michael Wittmann (bottom)

Steven Pollock is a professor of Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder. His PhD is in theoretical Nuclear Physics from Stanford University. He is a Pew/Carnegie teaching scholar, a University of Colorado president's teaching scholar, and the 2013 Carnegie US Professor of the year. His current research is in the field of PER (Physics Education), investigating student learning in large and small scale physics classes, and the constraints and opportunities involved in replicating "proven" curricular practice, as well as extending educational models to the upper division. He has implemented and studied "Tutorials in Introductory Physics" at CU, along with supporting and investigating Teaching and Learning Assistants' pedagogical development. He has been described by his students as a human electron. Steve was recognized by the APS for pioneering efforts in upper division physics education research by applying interactive engagement teaching methods and by performing measures of their effectiveness.

Richard Steinberg is Professor in the School of Education and the Department of Physics and Program Director of Science Education at City College of New York. He received a Ph.D. in applied physics and a high school science teaching certificate from Yale University. For 25 years his activities have included physics education research, innovative instruction, teacher education, outreach to local schools, and a sabbatical year as a full time physics teacher in a public high school in New York City. He has been awarded the CCNY Teacher of the Year, the CCNY Provost’s Prize for Pedagogical and Curricular Innovation, and a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. Richard was recognized by the APS for contributions to understanding the teaching and learning of physics ranging from elementary school science to quantum mechanics and for using physics education research to improve K-16 instruction.

Michael Wittmann received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1998, working with Edward F. “Joe” Redish in physics education research, with newly named APS Fellow Richard Steinberg as post doc mentor. On Jan 1, 2001, he began as assistant professor at the University of Maine. Michael has helped develop the Activity-Based Tutorials in classical and quantum physics, the Intermediate Mechanics Tutorials, and a course in Intuitive Quantum Physics. In his research, he has advanced our understanding of the resources framework, the role of embodied cognition in physics, mathematics, and chemistry, and the use of mathematics in advanced physics. In 2005, he co-founded (with Paula Heron and Rachel Scherr) the biennial conference on the Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research. Since 2010, he has played a leading role in the Maine Physical Science Partnership, an NSF-funded Math and Science Partnership project that has helped create a teacher community to improve the teaching and learning of physical science in grades 6 to 9, focusing on understanding student ideas about the science in greater detail. He was promoted to full professor in 2013 and became chair of the UMaine Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2014. Michael was recognized by the APS for foundational research into student learning of physics, pioneering work in K-12 teacher development, and leadership in building community for physics education researchers.

The GPER Executive Committee would like to commend Steve, Richard, and Michael for their admirable contributions to the field of physics education research. We also wish to thank those members of GPER who supplied support materials for each of the selected fellows. We look forward to the opportunity to recognize others in the physics education research community in the coming years.

GPER Meetings

The April meeting of the American Physical Society will be here before we know it! This meeting, held April 16-19, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah, will be the second in which the newly formed Topical Group on Physics Education Research (GPER) sponsors invited sessions. Going forward, GPER will continue to make the April meeting our home. We hope that you will plan to attend these meetings annually and contribute abstracts for Physics Education Research focused talks. This is an exciting time for those interested in Physics Education Research and we very much look forward to a vibrant gathering.

The Topical Group on Physics Education Research will sponsor one invited session at the April 2016 meeting, focused on preparing and supporting university physics educators. Invited speakers in this session will highlight work that will be published in an upcoming Focused Collection of Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research (PRST-PER). Please come support this great GPER sponsored session.

The heart of any meeting, however, is not the invited sessions: it is the contributed sessions, and it is here that GPER really wants to encourage your participation. Please consider submitting a contributed abstract that focuses on Physics Education Research so that we can put together sessions that communicate the power of PER to transform physics instruction and inform our views of learning. Abstract submission is now open for the April meeting. The deadline for submission is Friday, January 8, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. EST. Please go to the April Meeting 2016 for more information.

In closing, I would like to encourage you to submit your ideas for invited sessions at future meetings. You can send your ideas to me, Rachel Scherr, Chair-Elect and Program Chair for GPER I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at the April meetings!

Grand Challenges in Physics Education - Rachel E. Scherr and Stephen Kanim

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 [1] and historical studies of physics education research [2]. 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.

Societal impact will be in terms of benefit to physics learners, teachers, scholars, and professionals. Alignment with national documents identifying related challenges in STEM education will increase the potential impact. Some sample Grand Challenges might be:
  • Identify high-leverage practices in undergraduate education that recruit and prepare future teachers.
  • Identify epistemic, cultural, and educational background factors that cause women and underrepresented minorities to avoid physics, and to establish best practice guidelines to minimize these. Develop an understanding of the cultural resources of women and underrepresented minorities and investigate how these resources might inform and improve the culture of science.
  • Develop novel evidence-centered design systems for cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of physics learning, including habits of mind that are particularly valued in physics.
  • Identify the specialized content knowledge for teaching physics required at different levels, and develop novel measurement instruments to assess it.
  • Develop a suite of research-based curricular materials that better align instruction about energy with societal issues about energy and climate and that take into account learners' initial states and document the effectiveness of these materials.
  • Develop models for effective social networks that promote both science learning and identity for majors, and document improvements to retention resulting from application of these models to learning environments.
  • Significantly expand the research basis for understanding effective and appropriate instruction in physics for life sciences majors, and to develop initial sets of curricular materials that reflect new goals for these learners.
  • Inspire physics education researchers to apply themselves to ambitious but achievable goals with significant societal impact
  • Engage policymakers with the achievements and ambitions of physics education research
  • Educate APS and AAPT members about the field of physics education research. (These audiences broadly represent both educators with an interest in physics and physicists with an interest in education.)
  • Educate physics education researchers about non-PER physicists’ interests, needs, and knowledge about physics education
  • Inform the activities of GPER and PERTG members
  • Strengthen proposed projects
  • Strengthen professional society efforts to improve physics education for all

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.

[1] National Research Council, “Adapting to a Changing World - Challenges and Opportunities in Undergraduate Physics Education,” National Academies Press, 2013.
[2] K. Cummings, “A Developmental History of Physics Education Research,” 2011.