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Debra Bernstein and Joni Falk, TERC
MSPnet.org is an online community resource for math and science educators, researchers, and administrators. The site is created and administered by TERC, a non-profit research and development institution in Cambridge, MA. MSPnet has two primary purposes. One is to support the National Science Foundation's Math Science Partnership (MSP) program by providing an online professional learning community for K-12 practitioners and Higher Education STEM faculty engaged in innovative partnerships forged through the MSP program. The second is to share research and resources related to effective mathematics and science education reform with the general public.
The MSP Program
The National Science Foundation's MSP program is a major research and development effort, aimed at improving mathematics, science, and engineering education. K-12 school districts partner with STEM and Education faculty at institutions of higher education (IHEs). These innovative partnerships develop and test new approaches to science and math education and teacher professional development, enriching both K-12 and the university experience as well.
The program focuses on the following three interrelated goals: "Ensure that all students have access to, are prepared for and are encouraged to participate and succeed in challenging and advanced STEM courses; Enhance the quality, quantity and diversity of the K-12 STEM teacher workforce; and Develop evidence-based outcomes that contribute to our understanding of how students effectively learn" STEM content 1.
MSPnet, which serves as an online resource for all stakeholders interested in improving STEM teaching and learning, also serves a practical function for the MSP projects. Each funded project has its own interactive space on MSPnet, allowing the projects to share their abstracts, articles, and resources with the broader STEM education community. The MSPnet hub (mspnet.org) aggregates contributions from all of the NSF MSPs. The home page is updated each week to highlight new research and resources.
Over 160 MSP projects have been funded since the inception of the program in 2002. Individual projects vary in their focus–some focus on the elementary school level, some on middle school and some on high school. Projects also vary in their subject focus– some target science instruction, some target math instruction, some engineering or computer science, and others purposefully combine STEM topics. A subset of projects focus on physics or related science content (i.e., energy and light in the early grades). Five sample projects are described below (see Figure 1). To learn more about the projects funded through the MSP program, visit Find Projects page on MSPnet website.
MSP Projects focusing on Physics
A number of funded MSP projects include or focus exclusively on teaching and learning in physics. For example:
A TIME for Physics First in Missouri (PI: Dr. Meera Chandrasekhar, University of Missouri): The Academy for Teachers using Inquiry and Modeling Experiences (TIME) for Freshman Physics is a partnership between the University of Missouri-Columbia and seven school districts. "This Partnership creates eighty Teacher Leaders from participating Missouri school districts. These Teacher Leaders deliver a yearlong physics course to ninth grade students." To learn more about this project, visit A TIME for Physics First in Missouri page on MSPnet website.
College Ready (PI: Dr. Gay Stewart, University of Arkansas): The College Ready in Mathematics and Physics project is a partnership between the University of Arkansas, 33 school districts, and a number of other partners. "College Ready intends to build vertical and horizontal learning communities among school and college faculty in order to improve major articulation issues that impact the successful transition of students from high school to college." To learn more about this project, visit College Ready page on MSPnet website.
Science and Math Applied Real-problem Teaching (SMART) (PI: Dr. Sean Bentley, Adelphi University): The SMART project is a partnership between Adelphi University, Informal Learning Institutions, and local high schools. "The goal of the project is to enhance the quality of high school science and mathematics education in high-needs schools in Long Island, New York… This project is jointly designing a grade 9 integrated physics/math course grounded in local interactive museum contexts, and build[ing] a collaborative network amongst teachers, museum educators and university faculty." To learn more about this project, visit Science and Math Applied Real-problem Teaching (SMART) page on MSPnet website.
The Power of Physical Sciences (POPS) (PI: Dr. Kurtis Fletcher, SUNY Geneseo): POPS is a partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo and five rural school districts. POPS encourages "middle and high school girls to study physics and geological science… [by] focusing on a hands-on, middle school enrichment curriculum that emphasizes the role that physics and geology play in solving societal problems, specifically in addressing future energy needs in an environmentally responsible way." To learn more about this project, visit The Power of Physical Sciences (POPS) page on MSPnet website.
Big Sky Science Partnership (PI: Dr. Tim Olson, Salish Kootenai College): The Big Sky Science Partnership is a collaboration between Salish Kootenai College, K-12 school districts, and additional Higher Education partners. "The overarching goal of the Big Sky Science Partnership (BSSP) is to increase science achievement of American Indian students in grades 3-8 of partner schools. A cross-disciplinary team of the partner IHEs' Geoscience, Physics, Astronomy and Education faculty, along with professional developers from the SKC Indigenous Math and Science Institute, and the Center for Learning and Teaching in the West, K-8 teachers, and administrators will collaboratively design and facilitate year-round project activities." To learn more about this project, visit Big Sky Science Partnership page on MSPnet website.
MSPnet Resources for Physics Education
Subscribe to MSPnet News. We invite you to visit frequently. To keep up to date, subscribe to our weekly newsletter the MSPnet News. A link to sign up for the newsletter can be found on the MSPnet home page (see box in the right upper corner).
MSPnet Library. The MSPnet library contains over 1,500 full text, freely available articles related to Educational Change and Policy, Teaching and Learning, Professional Development, Higher Education, the MSP 5 key features (partnership-driven; teacher quality, quantity, diversity; challenging courses and curricula; evidence-based design and outcomes; institutional change and sustainability), and papers written by or about MSP projects (see Figure 2). New items are added weekly.
Within the library, you will find a number of articles related to physics teaching and learning on MSPnet website. We offer a sample below (with quotes from paper abstracts):
Depth versus breadth: How content coverage in high school science courses relates to later success in college science coursework. By Marc Schwartz, Philip Sadler, Gerhard Sonnert, and Robert Tai. "This study relates the performance of college students in introductory science courses [biology, chemistry, or physics] to the amount of content covered in their high school science courses."
Learning about gravity I. Free fall: A guide for teachers and curriculum developers. By Claudine Kavanagh and Cary Sneider. "This article is the first of a two-part review of research on children's and adults understanding of gravity and on how best to teach gravity concepts to students and teachers."
Exploring ninth-grade science teachers' path of leadership for implementing educational reform efforts: A case study. By Carina Rebello, Ya-Wen Cheng, Somnath Sinha, and Deborah Hanuscin. This paper presents case studies of three 9th grade science teacher leaders as they take part in a 'Physics First' curriculum reform effort in their school district and examines the impact of a professional development program that focuses on developing teacher leadership.
Voices from the Field. Beyond providing resources to the community, MSPnet facilitates interactive events such as the sharing of project work through webinars and interactive poster sessions. This year was the inaugural year for the MSPnet Academy, a webbased speaker series featuring leaders in the fields of STEM Education and Policy (see Figure 3). Guests are welcome to join future webinars, or to view past webinars, all of which are archived on MSPnet.org. Some MSPnet Academy presenters addressed particular issues in math and science education. For example Dr. David Hammer (Tufts University) offered a webinar on "Responsive Teaching and the Complexity of Learning Science", which examined third-grade students' inquiry about motion. Dr. Ruth Parker (CEO, Mathematics Education Collaborative) offered an engaging, interactive presentation entitled "Breaking the Cycle of Failure: From Numerical to Algebraic and Geometric Reasoning". Other MSPnet Academy speakers addressed topics of broad interest to the STEM community. A webinar given by Dr. Heidi Schweingruber (National Research Council) and Dr. Philip Bell (University of Washington) addressed "The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education", and Dr. Stephen Pruitt (Achieve) addressed the Next Generation Science Standards. Dr. Deborah Lowenberg Ball (University of Michigan) provided a very engaging webinar, "Learning to Teach the Common Core". All of these webinars, as well as others, can be found at MSPnet website.
Videos of Conference Presentations. Physics educators may also be interested in the following presentations (video of speaker with slides) all archived on MSPnet.
Dr. Philip Sadler (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) examines science education at the K-12 level. Dr. Sadler's talk explores student misconceptions in science, and the relationship between teacher knowledge and student outcomes at the middle school and high school levels. This talk, which emphasizes the importance of teachers' ability to predict student performance, is entitled "The Interaction Between the Science Content Knowledge of Teachers and Their Students." This talk was originally given at an MSP Conference in Washington, DC, and is available MSPnet website.
Dr. Lillian McDermott (Physics Education Group, Department of Physics, University of Washington) examines issues in physics education at the university level. Dr. McDermott's engaging presentation, "Improving the teaching of science through disciplinebased education research: An example from physics," describes her investigations into the depth of understanding obtained by undergraduate students and pre-service teachers in introductory physics courses, and the development of curricula to help students move towards a functional understanding of the content. In her talk, Dr. McDermott also describes how she situates her work within the academic culture of a physics department, and the benefits that accrue to the department as a whole, as well as to the Physics Education Group. This presentation, originally given at an MSP Conference in Washington, DC, can be viewed by going to MSPnet website.
We invite you to contribute your own resources, related to K-12 STEM education that may be of broad interest to the MSP community. The weekly newsletter goes out to over 9,000 educators, so contributions are widely disseminated. Please feel free to share articles and other resources with us.
1. Hamos, J. (January, 2012). Math and Science Partnership (MSP): A research and development effort in K-16 teaching and learning. Paper presented at the MSP LNC Conference, Washington, DC.
Debra Bernstein is a Senior Researcher at TERC. Her research focuses on electronic learning communities and informal STEM learning environments. She is a researcher on MSPnet.org.
Joni Falk co-directs the Center for School Reform at TERC, a nonprofit research and development institution aimed at improving mathematics and science teaching and learning. She is currently the Principal Investigator of MSPnet.org, the electronic learning community that supports NSF's Math and Science Partnership Program, and of IGERT.org the collegial network created for NSF's flagship IGERT program (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program).