Current Projects

The Many Faces of Science Communication in the Classroom
Scientific communication is considered an essential aspect of the professional development of students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) by national and international organizations, accreditation bodies, and professional scientists. However, within the specific field of Physics, few programs offer dedicated science communication courses or resources, relying instead on students absorbing these skills through observation and unstructured practice. We use the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML) as the primary theoretical framework for probing three specific aspects of scientific communication: oral, mathematical, and interpersonal communication. On a broader scale, we want to understand how communication affects learning and how students communicate what they have learned

Barriers to STEM: Exploring physics students’ path to the physics major
Students of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds have different life experiences that can result in barriers to entry into STEM fields. Physics, in particular, has low gender and racial diversity, and the percentage of underrepresented minorities in physics diminishes the higher one goes in the academic ladder. In this study we gathered qualitative data that could be used to guide the development of interventions to lower barriers and achieve higher diversity in physics. We first interviewed physics undergraduate and graduate students to determine what barriers, if any, they encountered on their academic paths and identify potential correlations between barriers and gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. We also interviewed a small number of teachers and administrators at nearby K-12 schools to explore what resources they have and what limitations they currently encounter in developing and improving science and math curricula that service underrepresented students.

Transforming the Preparation of Physics Graduate Teaching Assistants
Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) are key partners in the education of undergraduate students, who spend nearly as much in-class time with GTAs as they do with faculty. Given the potentially large impact GTAs can have on undergraduate student learning, it is important to provide them with appropriate preparation for teaching. The School of Physics at Georgia Tech has been offering a GTA prep course for first-year PhD students since 2013, and over time the course has evolved into a robust and comprehensive professional development program. Course design follows the 3P Framework (Pedagogy, Physics, Professional Development), and program assessments suggest that participating GTAs feel better prepared for teaching and adopt more learner-centered teaching approaches. [read more]

Past Projects

Computational Physics Massively Open Online Course
Partnering with Coursera, GTPER is currently prototyping an introductory physics course utilizing smartphones and computational modeling. Utilizing lessons gained from work in implementing computation in the Arizona State modeling curriculum, course work is designed with a common theme, students participate in a paradigm experiment which is then modeled with VPython. The model and experimental data is then compared and the students submit a video report which is then graded. Students are introduced to each new concept with a short animated video.

Computational Physics in the High School Modeling Curriculum
The Arizona State modeling curriculum has revolutionized the way in which high school physics is taught. With its emphasis on conceptual understanding, model making, and multiple representations, the modeling curriculum is a perfect fit for computational thinking. Computational thinking is a relatively new but greatly discussed educational idea; so much so, that Google has begun to develop and deploy computational thinking assignments for middle and high school students. In this project, we are developing tools based on VPython (i.e., Python paired with a visual model) that permit modeling and visualization of physics problems. One of the challenges for the high school environment is designing tools that limit the programming load for students, but still allow them to create highly visual simulations which complement other work in their class. Our approach is to build tools that extend the capabilities of the visual module in VPython to include additional features (i.e., motion diagrams, arrow objects, graphs, etc.) that simpler to produce than is currently possible. In addition, we are offering teacher training workshops through the Race to the Top initiative. We also have produced a variety of materials for teachers to integrate computation and modeling into their classrooms. [read more]

Characterizing Students’ Motivations for and Anxieties about Learning Computation
Students’ motivation to learn computation and anxiety about solving computational exercises varies greatly. The attitudes, interests, and values that students exhibit when learning a subject can play a role in their motivation to and anxiety about learning the subject. We are developing a new tool, the Computation Modeling in Physics Attitudinal Student Survey (COMPASS), aimed at helping to characterize students’ attitudes about, interests in, and values concerning computation. [read more]

Extending the Role of Computation in Introductory Mechanics
Elementary numerical problem solving is an essential part of the M&I course. New homework assignments have been developed to include these numerical routines. These assignments aim to discourage student shortcuts and to develop physical intuition. At the end of the semester, students’ computational modeling skills are evaluated. [read more]

Measuring Curricular Differences in Introductory Mechanics
Group members have recently completed a comparative analysis of FCI performance by over 5000 students in introductory mechanics. M&I students underperform on this assessment relative to students in the traditional students most likely due to difference in time-on-task. Think-aloud protocols performed with students in both the M&I and traditional curricula further illuminated this underperformance. [read more

Measuring Curricular Differences in Introductory Electromagnetism
Recent work has shown M&I students outperform traditional students on a standardized assessment for electromagnetism (BEMA). This conclusion is supported by the sheer number of students tested, over 3000. M&I students outperform traditional students across all topics of E&M tested on the BEMA. [read more]

Implementing the Matter and Interactions Curriculum at a Large Engineering University
One of the first projects undertaken by the PER group upon its founding. The M&I curriculum continues to be taught as one of the ‘flavors’ of introductory physics at Georgia Tech.