FFPER 2013 Working Group Report: APS Topical Group in Physics Education Research

Rachel E. Scherr, Seattle Pacific University
Monica Plisch, American Physical Society

With the formation of the APS Topical Group in Physics Education Research (GPER), there is an opportunity to build a closer link between the PER community and the broader physics community represented by APS. A working group met to discuss what some specific activities might be that would take advantage of this opportunity. Some of the possibilities discussed were the means by which GPER might advocate for physics education research as a profession; whether there should be a GPER conference; what GPER sessions at APS meetings might consist of; and how GPER might identify physics education research questions of central concern to the broader physics community, for the benefit of both communities. This last issue has evolved into a proposal, reproduced below.

Proposal for Working Group: Grand Challenges in Physics Education

A GPER research agenda would provide guidance to physics education researchers and help strengthen proposals. It would also benefit APS efforts to improve education and diversity, as well as initiatives by individual members in these areas.

A working group will be convened to create a white paper identifying top research questions or “grand challenges” in physics education that are answerable by PER methods. The questions should be of central interest to the broader physics community with potential for significant impact. Alignment with national documents identifying related challenges in STEM education will increase the potential impact. The results should guide ongoing efforts to transform education practices and build a more inclusive community.

This initiative will be led by GPER, and will seek co-sponsorship or endorsement from the Forum on Education, the Committee on Education, and other APS units as appropriate. AAPT will also be invited as a co-sponsor through PERLOC. The APS Executive Board will be asked to endorse the final report, and the Panel on Public Affairs will be consulted as appropriate.

The membership of the working group will include society leaders engaged in education and diversity issues, including Forum on Education executive board members, Committee on Education members, and other unit leaders as appropriate. The working group will also include leaders from the PER community including GPER executive board members, as well as ex officio APS staff members. The total membership of the working group will be 10 people.

The working group will meet twice in person. The goal of the first meeting will be to gather, vet, and formulate a draft list of questions. These questions will then be sent in a survey to FEd and GPER members, as well as members of other units as appropriate, for feedback and suggestions. The working group will meet a second time to review the results of the survey, finalize the list of questions, and begin a draft of the white paper. Other conversations will take place as needed by teleconference or videoconference. After the draft is reviewed by external experts, the white paper will be finalized. It will take approximately one year to complete the project.


The research agenda will be made available on aps.org. It will also be printed and distributed to all GPER members, and a report will be made to the GPER executive board. In addition, the research agenda will be presented at a conference attended by the PER community. The research agenda will also serve as a basis for discussions between APS and the NSF.

Rachel Scherr is a Senior Research Scientist at Seattle Pacific University, where she serves as Co-Principal Investigator for the SPU Energy Project and the Video Resource for Professional Development of University Physics Educators. She is one of the co-organizers of the FFPER conference.

Monica Plisch is the Associate Director of Education and Diversity at APS. She is the Co-Principal Investigator on the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project and is a member of the program management group for the APS Bridge Program.

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.