FFPER 2011 Working Group Reports

Rachel E. Scherr and Andrew Elby

The Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research (FFPER) conference is held every other year in Bar Harbor, Maine. The conference is a venue for specialists who are active researchers in the field of physics education. This intensive week-long residential meeting provides a forum for examining and articulating the current state of the field, exploring future directions, and discussing ways to pursue the most promising avenues for future research. Evening activities at the conference include working groups whose task is to develop a well-articulated position on a topic of community-wide interest. The following three articles are reports from the Working Groups at the 2011 FFPER.

FFPER Working Group Report: Models for a PER Summer School

Rachel E. Scherr and Michael C. Wittmann

Working Group Participants: Ruth Chabay, Urban Eriksson, Brian Frank, Liz Gire, Renee Michelle Goertzen, Kara Gray, Shulamit Kapon, Sandy Martinuk, Cassandra Paul, Ed Prather, Mel Sabella, Chris Shubert, Mac Stetzer.

A high-quality PER summer school would enable participants to deepen their understanding of PER and connect to a community of physics education researchers and reformers. Our working group found broad, strong areas of consensus about key characteristics of a PER Summer School:
  • It should be “camp”: an immersive, fun, bonding experience in which people’s common experience builds long-lasting relationships.
  • It should authentically engage a range of levels of expertise.
  • It should have plenty of unstructured time.
  • It should be 1-2 weeks long.
The PER Summer School working group explored a number of visions for a PER summer school, each with a different focus and audience. Four models emerged from our discussions.
  1. "Intro school": The primary purpose would be to bring people into physics education research and help give them a strong start, both intellectually and in terms of a professional network. Led by PER experts, the school would include new graduate students, teachers with a PER interest, and faculty transitioning into PER from other fields. The school would be the largest of the four models proposed, serving perhaps 25-75 people each time it was offered. This school model is comparable to the model of AAPT’s New Faculty Workshop. It is championed by Ed Prather (University of Arizona).
  2. "Research school": This school would offer active physics education researchers the opportunity to learn and apply specific state-of-the-art methods from experts in those specific areas (e.g., clinical interviewing, quantitative analysis). Experts might come from within or outside the PER community. The school would likely serve 10-20 researchers at a time. This model is similar to the summer school offered to active biology researchers at the Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole. Elizabeth Gire and Shulamit Kapon champion this model.
  3. "Bring your own research": At a "BYO" school, active researchers would bring work in progress in order to benefit from collaboration and informal peer review with peer researchers, advised by experienced researchers. The school, which would likely serve 10-20 researchers at a time, shares features with the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) Doctoral Consortium. This model is championed by Michael Wittmann and Sandy Martinuk.
  4. "Summer research institute": In a Summer Research Institute (SRI), a team of active researchers gathers to document and study a rich instructional context with a common, rich data set. Peers mentor one another in a dynamic, problem-oriented framework and develop collaborations based on their work together, under the advising of experienced directors. 10-20 researchers participate at a time. The PER community has a model of a successful SRI in the Energy Project SRI. Rachel Scherr champions this model.

These models are not in competition; each serves a different purpose and would be realized by different means. Each model’s champions are pursuing the creation of the school that their team envisioned. For questions about a particular summer school model, or to assist, please contact the champion for that model.

Model Focus Leaders Audience # people Compare to Champion
Intro School PER induction and kickstart PER experts New grad students, teachers, PER-interested faculty 25-75 New Faculty Workshop Ed Prather
Research School Learn and apply state-of-the-art PER methods PER & outside experts Active researchers 10-20 Woods Hole Elizabeth Gire
Shulamit Kapon
BYO Peer review / collaboration for progress on your own work Peers (advised) Active researchers 10-20 ICLS Doctoral Consortium Michael Wittmann
Sandy Martinuk
Summer Research Institute Collaborative study of rich local data set Peers (advised) Active researchers 10-20 Energy Project SRI Rachel Scherr

FFPER Working Group Report: Selected Readings for Physics Education Researchers within and beyond PER

By Kathy Perkins and Sam McKagan

Working Group participants: Leslie Atkins, Ian Beatty, Warren Christensen, Brian Danielak, Jason Dowd, Tobias Fredlund, Jenaro Guisasola, Ayush Gupta, Benedikt Harrer, Paula Heron, Brant Hinrichs, Eric Kuo, Sissi Li, Cedric Linder, Beth Lindsey, Sam McKagan (Co-Chair), Victoria Nwosu, Kathy Perkins (Co-Chair), Valerie Otero, Vashti Sawtelle, Phil Southey

History: At the first FFPER meeting in 2005, a working group chaired by John Thompson and Brad Ambrose assembled to compile “a list of publications describing research on the teaching and learning of physics that are considered primary and necessary by everyone in the field.” (http://www.aps.org/units/fed/newsletters/fall2005/canon.html) A primary list of 25 publications was identified as essential readings for physics education researchers, along with a secondary list of about 50 publications also identified as essential but either not the first of their kind or outside of PER.

A new goal: Physics education research (PER) has seen tremendous growth in the number of researchers, in the span of research questions, and in the types of research methodologies used. In many cases, research directions – both new and longstanding – are grounded in or inspired by work in fields outside of PER, such as education research, cognitive science, learning sciences, educational psychology, behavioral science, other discipline-based education research fields, etc. In addition, PER community members often wear many hats – researcher, professional development provider for TAs or faculty, curriculum developer, or departmental /institutional resource for questions on teaching, learning, and course reform. With this context in mind, the goal of this working group was to create a compilation of publications within and beyond the PER literature to broadly serve the community. This resource was envisioned as comprehensive enough to include all areas of PER, theories that underlie our work, methodologies used in PER research, and other specific research areas that have influenced our field and its work. The resource is not meant to include all papers on a particular topic (e.g. constructivism, metacognition, interactive engagement, teacher preparation, qualitative methods), but to provide one to three papers as a good foundational starting point for learning about that topic or sub-topic.

The Audience: Our group settled on creating a resource that best serves us: practicing physics education researchers. Other groups that might benefit from this resource include graduate students beginning a Ph.D. in PER; faculty and students of a "Teaching and Learning Physics" course; and college faculty or high school teachers interested in physics course reform. To make this resource most useful, we sought a dissemination mechanism that enabled a flexible "tagging", allowing identification of publications within the broader list that are well-suited to different audiences.

The Selection Process: Working before the FFPER conference itself, we identified 5 main categories, with an initial list of topics under each category:
  1. Theories (e.g., constructivism, socio-cultural perspectives, situated cognition, conceptual change)
  2. Studies related to students and learning, both general (e.g., analogies, problem solving, epistemology, cognitive load) and content specific (e.g., student difficulties at various levels)
  3. Pedagogical Approaches and Implementation Strategies (e.g., tutorials, classroom response systems, simulations, group work)
  4. Teacher Training and Faculty Change (e.g., teacher content knowledge, faculty change, nature of science)
  5. Research Tools and Methodologies (e.g., qualitative and quantitative methods, assessment development, statistics)
At the conference, the working group divided itself into 5 subgroups corresponding to these categories identified and discussed possible papers for inclusion. Selected papers generally met one or more of the following criteria:
  • Foothold papers – introduce diverse, but relevant, ideas upon which PER builds.
  • Generative papers – drive forward future research.
  • Exemplary papers –provide good examples of a particular kind of research, methodology, or pedagogy
  • Literacy in PER – help readers to understand and converse in PER
  • Historical value – offer historical perspective in PER

Dissemination and Growth: In order to make the selected articles easily accessible, capable of being tagged and commented upon, and dynamic (e.g., new articles could be added in the future), the working group decided to disseminate the list on comPADRE and as PERticles. PERticles is a collection of PER articles hosted on CiteULike; within this collection, publications have been added and tagged with "SelectedReadings_2011" and with any additional tags identified by the working group during the selection process. (The tags "Canon_2005" and "Canon_2005_ BList" identify the canon developed by the FFPER working group in 2005.) comPADRE will also host the final document of selected 2011 publications, organized by category and sub-topics (http://www.per-central.org/ffper/working-groups/2011/selected-readings/).

The field is continuing to grow and evolve, developing new pedagogies, applying new methodologies, and drawing ideas from diverse fields. We encourage the community to participate in further development of this resource by adding papers to PERticles and tagging them with “SelectedReadings_Candidate”. With this practice, the compilation of papers can benefit from and reflect the expertise and work of the entire PER community. We thank you in advance for your efforts! (Note: The working group so enjoyed reading individuals’ personal suggested reading lists that we also suggest adding a collection of articles to PERticles tagged with your name.)

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank all the members of our working group, along with everyone who gave us their suggested readings ahead of the conference: Ayush Gupta, Joe Redish, the CU and UBC Science Education Initiatives, and the CU PER Group, especially Stephanie Chasteen, Noah Podolefsky, Kara Gray, Mike Ross, and Ben VanDusen.

FFPER Working Group Report: NRC commissioned report on Undergraduate Physics Education

Suzanne White Brahmia, Jennifer Docktor and Jose Mestre

Participants: Saalih Allie, Ian Beatty, Andrew Boudreaux, Suzanne Brahmia, Eric Brewe, Hunter Close, Sebastien Cormier, Dedra Demaree, Jennifer Docktor, Jenaro Guisasola, Mark Haugan, Steve Kanim, Laird Kramer, Mila Kryjevskaia, Michael Loverude, David Meltzer, Jose Mestre, Lillian McDermott, Edward (Joe) Redish, Peter Schaffer, John Thompson, Jing Wang.

Background Information

The NSF has sponsored a National Research Council (NRC) committee called Undergraduate Physics Education Research and Implementation (UPE) (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BPA/ BPA_059078). This committee is charged to assess the current status of Physics Education and PER, including
  • how well current undergraduate physics education programs attract, retain, and serve physics majors, other science/engineering/technology pre-professionals, and current/future K-12 teachers, with best practices identified
  • a synthesis of key PER findings and productive future directions
  • an examination of the efficacy of current assessment methods, with a focus on scaling up assessment tools that can help sustain exemplary instruction

Our working group aimed to provide feedback that can be taken back to the NRC UPE committee currently engaged in writing a decadal study of PER.


Working group members collected their thoughts before the conference about the role PER could play over the next decade in improving undergraduate physics education and what research directions and questions are likely to be most fruitful. In addition, the Physics Education Research Leadership and Organizing Committee (PERLOC) emailed researchers not in our working group to solicit input regarding any omissions from the working group’s outline. PERLOC members John Thompson and Eugenia Etkina organized the responses.

Working Group Recommendations for the NRC UPE report
  1. NSF funding: NSF should create a PER section in the Physics program, and the UPE committee should make a formal recommendation along those lines.
  2. Underrepresented groups in physics: The UPE report should reflect the pressing and growing need to improve our knowledge about teaching and learning of students from groups underrepresented in physics.
  3. Future teachers of physics: The UPE report should emphasize physicists’ important role in preparing future teachers and professors of physics.
  4. Promising research directions: NSF should be made aware of the most promising current research directions in PER so that PER can continue to maximally benefit undergraduate physics education. Areas of active research that are anticipated to be important in the next decade include:
  • Models and Theories: student thinking before, during and after instruction; development of student reasoning skills; transfer and the preparation for future learning; the effect of technology on student learning and behaviors (online homework, social networking, etc.); cognition and cognitive processes in physics; use of tools and technology to study evolution of student thinking on small time scales (video, eye-tracking, fMRI, response time, etc.); context-dependence of student thinking and knowledge; nature of expertise – problem solving and science process skills; examination of what cognitive processes are physics specific and what overlaps with other problemsolving disciplines (math, chemistry, engineering, etc.); and role of language and writing in learning physics.
  • Applied Educational Transformation: curriculum development, methods that model the practice of science, materials development and effective use of technology, learning environments and communities, broadening outcomes and learning objectives, expanded concepts of assessment and evaluation, faculty development, role of undergraduate leadership, needs of specific populations (pre-meds, majors, underrepresented groups, learning differentiation, etc.), sustainability, longitudinal studies, interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary methods, and inclusion/diversity/equity.
  • Teacher Professional Continuum: K20 recruitment and practice, assessments of classroom instruction, faculty development and practice, graduate student teaching assistant and undergraduate learning assistant development and practice, adaptation and innovation in the classroom, barriers to change and approaches to addressing these, and educational environments and interactions with instruction.

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.