Archived Newsletters

Comments from the Chair

Ken Lyons

Forum on Education: Looking Back and Heading Forward
It's my turn to serve as chair of the Forum on Education. I'm very glad that Drasko Jovanovic, Forum's first chair, took on the task of building a viable organization from a collection of enthusiastic physicists. Drasko's unfailing humor and goodwill guided us through the confusing days of implementing our bylaws, starting a newsletter and establishing program sessions at APS meetings. Those were long, hard committee meetings.

Ken Lyons, Forum's second chair, steered us to an established newsletter with real editors replacing executive committee volunteers, a database of members and even a dedicated home page (see articles in this issue). By working with other fora, Ken has established the Forum on Education as an important element of the APS. The Executive Committee, the Fellowship Committee, the Program Committee, the Nominating Committee, and the Publications Committee have all functioned (relatively) smoothly this year. The Forum has grown to 3780 active members. What better tribute could there be to Ken's outstanding organizational and leadership skills?

Today, the Forum on Education has survived its birth trauma. We members of the Forum have the opportunity to concentrate on projects to support excellence in physics education. As we begin to move forward, we must consider concrete steps by which our members can most effectively impact the system.

Physics education faces change on several fronts. The National Standards movement has begun to influence both the content of K-12 science courses and the way they are taught. Colleges will have to modify course content and pedagogy to accommodate their students' expectation of more active learning environments. Teachers at all levels will need help implementing the demands of new curricula for open-ended investigations. Forum members can serve K-12 teachers as local sources rich in physics knowledge.

Physicists must work as partners with their colleagues who teach science at the K- 12 level. Physicists understand physics and have ideas about how to present it. K-12 teachers understand how children learn and are expert in managing their classrooms. We need each other! The Forum on Education must work with groups such as the high school physics teachers in the AAPT's PTRA program to put physicists from industries and universities in touch with K-12 teachers. In this way, we can actively support excellent physics instruction in schools around the country.

Physics graduates at all levels need jobs that use their training. With the end of the Cold War, national research priorities have shifted from defense to civilian technologies. Corporations, seeking to meet the challenge of international competition, are downsizing their research labs and shifting their research focus to projects promising commercial payoffs in the immediate future. Basic research in physics frequently pays off handsomely in commercial products and technologies, but it often takes decades to do so. Despite physics' history of discoveries that underlie new industries, the public perceives physics to be remote, abstract and impractical. Many of the most exciting research discoveries come from emerging fields which cross the boundaries of traditional scientific disciplines.

Physics education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels must respond to today's changing research and economic climates. The physics community must decide whether the traditional physics major should be broadened to serve as basic preparation for a wider range of employment opportunities including business, medical school, and even law. Perhaps graduate education in physics should include courses outside physics departments so graduates can enter the new cross-disciplinary research areas. Should we develop new degrees combining physics with business and management training or preparing teachers for two-year colleges? In this time of change, we must ensure that our enthusiasm for reform does not destroy our tradition of scientific excellence or the rigor of graduate programs. These complex problems and compelling values defy simplistic solutions. Forum on Education members represent all segments of the physics community and should be active participants in the discussion.

The two-year colleges teach about half of the introductory physics taught in the US and more than their share of minorities and women. Tomorrow's high tech industries are likely to demand two-year graduates with a better understanding of physics. Forum members can work productively to help their colleagues in the two-year colleges provide creative, challenging physics education geared towards future technicians. Physicists in the industry have an especially critical role to play in bridging the gap between traditional physics education and the needs of industrial labs and high tech manufacturing. The Forum on Education should help its members make connections with physicists in the two-year colleges by working in partnership with the two-year college committee of the AAPT.

Last, but by no means least, physicists must explain the importance of physics to the general public. In addition to specialized science and children's museums, Forum members must work in partnership with local media including newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. The Forum on Education must investigate ways of forming partnerships with experts in these areas. Not all of us can produce successful media materials and museum exhibits, but we need to discover excellent materials which we can distribute to local markets.

We in the Forum on Education face an interesting year. There is both good and bad news. The bad news is that physics education faces a variety of challenges. The good news is that, among us, we have the resources to meet these challenges and that there is interesting work in education for all of us to do. We need your involvement and ideas today. Together we can move towards excellence at all levels of physics education.

View the App Market

Editorial: Teach the Ones You're With 

Often when talking with faculty in my own and other science departments, I hear the lament that students aren't as prepared as they used to be (or sometimes: they don't work as hard as they used to). I don't know whether this is actually the case, but my main concern is with that subset of faculty who go on to reveal that they don't consider it their problem. That is, they have not changed their teaching methods accordingly. I'll be harder on them: there are some faculty who haven't changed in response to anything, including evidence that traditional styles don't work well with most students. I have written an eloquent and lengthy editorial on this topic, but you won't see it. I realized in assembling this newsletter that most of my points are made by the authors of the various contributions to this issue. So instead I will guide you to them.

One response to under-prepared students is to go to elementary and high schools and offer assistance. The first several articles in this issue focus on outreach activities by scientists. Indeed, this is the thrust of this particular newsletter: scientists in the classroom. We have much to offer, and some ideas are presented nicely in the articles that follow.

A third approach would be to investigate the learning process itself and try to develop more effective teaching practices. One interesting experiment was tried at the Illinois School for Math and Science (IMSA). The first results of that study are presented here.

Physics Education Research (PER) is becoming a substantial research field in its own right. Arons' work is built on this research. An extensive bibliography has been put together by Joe Redish at the University of Maryland to guide interested readers to this research. The bibliography is accessible on the World Wide Web through the University. of Maryland home page: There are lots more goodies in the PER section of Maryland's home page. I encourage you to look for them.

There is a lot of concern that students don't want to learn science, and that the general public doesn't support or understand science. Perhaps we're not teaching it very well. To anyone. It is a question worth exploring, and there are real benefits for us as well as for society if we can improve the delivery of physics education. Our obligation is to teach our students, not the ones we wish we had. Learning is a personal thing, with each student building on what he or she already knows. Teaching as if all students had the perfect preparation is thus not only wrong-headed but also an enormous waste of both their time and ours.

So.....if you can't be with the students you'd love, teach the ones you're with.

Stan Jones

Hunt Plan Supported

Lawrence Cranberg

To the Editor:

I write to suggest that the Forum provide strong encouragement to its readers to study carefully and to encourage wide adoption of what I have been calling the Hunt Plan for Secondary Education in Science and Mathematics. The reference is to the Governor of North Carolina, James B. Hunt, Jr., and his plan for secondary education in science and mathematics that was embodied in the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics at Durham in the early eighties. The school flourishes today and inspires others, but not nearly on as large a scale as the plan deserves.

The elements of the Hunt Plan which make it an important innovation in secondary education are that it brings together a group of students selected for special talent and interest in a particular field from an entire state, in a residential, publicly supported school where they receive quality education from a highly qualified faculty. So far as I am aware the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was the very first school of its kind in the history of public education in America, and deserves study and emulation.

My interest in the Hunt Plan derives from my own experience as a student and then as a student teacher at the Townsend Harris High School (THH) in the City of New York in the thirties. Those experiences, viewed from the perspective of half a century, were precious highlights of my career as student and teacher. The stimulus to intellectual and to personal development of rubbing elbows with peers as a student, and then to teaching highly motivated and talented students as a teacher, were both unforgettable.

In my judgment the Hunt Plan transcends my THH experience in several important respects. THH was not a residential school, and it took the better part of an hour on the subways of New York City to travel to and from it. Its influence on personal growth, valuable as it was, could have been greatly reinforced if I had been in residence at the school full time, and I understand the North Carolina School takes full advantage of full-time residence to enrich its students' opportunities for intellectual and personal growth.

One of the criticisms leveled at the school is that it is "elitist" - perhaps the most mindless and demagogic of criticisms. Is every attempt to foster excellence - either in sports, music or other endeavors "elitist"? In fact the Hunt plan is a very special advance in the equalization of educational opportunity in at least one important way: it equalizes opportunity between those living in rural and in metropolitan areas. It takes a metropolis like New York City to provide suitable education for those with special talents. Such opportunity is denied to youth in rural areas, whose talent, in Thomas Gray's immortal line, is too often "born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air".

Another special value of the Hunt Plan is that it offers strong inducements to men and women of talent to choose secondary education as a career. One has not only the opportunity to open receptive minds to intellectual challenge, but to encourage career interest in one's own field. Secondary school is the stage in life when many make binding career decisions. One very important way - perhaps the most important way - to redeem one's obligation to assure one's professional posterity is to encourage those with suitable talents and interests to follow one's own path.

Lawrence Cranberg 
Austin, Texas

Knowledge vs. Skills

John R. Fanchi

To the Editor:

Education in America is embroiled in a debate that will impact the character of our society in the next century. Those of us who have been educated in such knowledge- based disciplines as physics have much to contribute to the national dialog if we understand the issues. I joined this debate as one of the three "Back-to-Basics" candidates in the 1993 Littleton, Colorado school board election. This election was considered significant enough to receive national attention in the mainstream1 and education media2. As a principal player in the election, I would like to briefly describe the issues that have implications for the broader education debate.

The Littleton campaign cast outcomes-based education (OBE)--a national education reform movement3 -as an issue of whether the schools should focus on knowledge or on skills. An outcome is defined as "what a student knows and is able to do." Outcomes, which are referred to as "standards" in some states and in Goals 2000, have intrinsic appeal until you look at practical implementation, particularly in the area of assessment.

Standardized tests are cost-effective tools for measuring content knowledge and for making meaningful predictions of student performance. Many educators rightfully argue that standardized tests, especially multiple-choice tests, do not adequately measure overall student performance. They propose using authentic performance assessments. When I taught physics at the university, I used several types of tests, such as reports, essay questions and open-ended problem sets. As an industry educator today, I incorporate performance assessments into my courses. Performance assessments measure the "able to do" part of an outcome.

It is much more difficult to measure skills or behaviors than content knowledge. For example, how do you objectively measure higher-order thinking skills? Even in math--probably the most objective of all subjects--I have seen teachers disagree on the thought processes used by a student to obtain a correct numerical estimate. It is important to realize that there are significant technical issues involved in the design and application of assessments. These issues acquire legal status when used to determine the future prospects of a student. As pointed out by Mehrens4, assessments used for accountability purposes must be "administratively feasible, professionally credible, publicly acceptable, legally defensible, and economically affordable". Use of assessments for high-stakes purposes can be a source of considerable consternation for community members2.

The relative importance of knowledge versus skills is not a new issue. Lauren Resnick noted5 that educators periodically propose "that process-or skill-oriented teaching replace knowledge-oriented instruction. In the past, this has often led to a severe de-emphasis of basic subject matter knowledge. This, in turn, has had the effect of alienating many subject matter specialists, creating pendulum swings of educational opinion in which knowledge-oriented and process-oriented programs periodically displace each other".

As a physicist6, I value knowledge-oriented instruction, but not to the exclusion of skill development. I agree with Resnick's observation7 that higher order thinking skills should be embedded within the context of a traditional academic discipline such as the core academic courses identified by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning8.

I support an educational system which provides equal educational opportunities for all students. I do not support systems--such as OBE--which seek to guarantee equal educational results for all students. Even if we agree that all children can learn, we do not know that all children can or will achieve a high level of proficiency in a broad range of areas, regardless of how much time they have. As noted by Mortimer Adler9, "Equality of opportunity for all conforms to the equality of all as human beings. The inequality of results that should be expected conforms to the individual inequalities that exist despite equal opportunity."

The question about the minimum level of learning for all students has been raised10,11 as just one of many legitimate concerns about OBE. Some reform-minded groups claim that such concerns are only voiced by the religious right. This strategy is as repugnant as asserting that supporters of OBE all belong to the humanist left12. Legitimate concerns need to be respected and should be addressed using techniques such as those proposed by Carnine13.

The common perception of educational reform as being nothing more than a pendulum swing from one fad to another5,13 is reinforced when reforms are implemented without a proper research base. Indeed, one strategy that is promoted by some educators is that controversial programs should simply be repackaged under a new name14. From my perspective as a person trained in the research-oriented discipline of physics6, I view attempts to retain controversial programs by simply selling them under a different name as politically expedient and professionally unethical. The advantages and disadvantages of reforms should be presented to the public using such professionally appealing techniques as those of Woolfolk15 or Ellis and Fouts16. Based on my experience, people are more willing to accept reforms that have been successfully demonstrated using pilot programs with volunteers.

Most of the Littleton community has learned that reasonable people can reasonably disagree. Substantial differences of opinion remain in our community, and in the nation, about the best way to educate our children. As scientists, we can and should contribute our ideas about professionalism, objectivity, and fairness to this debate.

John R. Fanchi 
Littleton, CO


  1. V. Carroll, "In Littleton, Colo., Voters Expel Education Faddists," The Wall V. Carroll, "In Littleton, Colo., Voters Expel Education Faddists," The Wall Street Journal (18 November 1993).
  2. E. Seif, "Learning from Littleton, Colorado," Education Week (14 September 1994), pg. 36.
  3. L. Chio-Kenney, The School Administrator (September 1994), pg. 11.
  4. W.A. Mehrens, "Using Performance Assessment for Accountability Purposes," Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice (Spring, 1992), pp. 3-9.
  5. L. B. Resnick, Education and Learning to Think (National Academy Press, Wash. DC, 1987), pg. 49. 
  6. J. R. Fanchi, Parametrized Relativistic Quantum Theory (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1993).
  7. L. B. Resnick, ibid., pg. 48. 
  8. National Education Commission on Time and Learning, Prisoners of Time (US Govt. Printing Office, Wash. DC, 1994), pg. 30.
  9. M. J. Adler, The Paideia Program (MacMillan, New York, 1984), pg. 3. 
  10.  L. Chio-Kenney, The School Administrator (September 1994), pg. 12. 
  11. B. R. Worthen, Phi Delta Kappan (February 1993), pg. 445. 
  12. R. A. Baer, Jr., "Religious Right 'Scapegoating' Obscures Secular Threats," Education Week (December, 1994), pp. 39 and 40.
  13. D. Carnine, Direct Instruction News (Spring 1992), pp. 25-35. 
  14. L. Chio-Kenney, The School Administrator (September 1994), pg. 14.
  15. A. E. Woolfolk, Educational Psychology (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990), 4th ed.
  16. A. K. Ellis and J. T. Fouts, Research on Educational Innovations (Eye on Education, Princeton Junction, NJ, 1993). 

Physics Education Software

Patricia Schwarz

To the Editor:

I see a sharp edge discontinuity propagating between the discussions of "educators" on the subject of education reform from above, and the swift reorganization of the processes of information transmission and reception in our society as a whole. Discussions about how to hit the target better don't appear to be informed by the fact that the target is moving - accelerating, even. The days of good old-fashioned liberal education are gone forever. Mortimer Adler's book is already an anachronism, as is Mortimer Adler. I recommend that all "educators" immediately begin subscribing to "Wired" magazine. I was thinking of becoming a teacher myself, but now I realize that my particular talents as a communicator of science will be better put to use in the creation of multimedia physics educational software.

Patricia Schwarz 

The APS Teacher-Scientist Alliance

Diandra Lesie-Pelecky

Ramon Lopez became Education Officer of the American Physical Society in June 1994. In addition to his duties at APS, Lopez also holds a half-time appointment as an Associate Research Scientist in magnetospheric physics at the University of Maryland. His prior activities include serving as a consultant to the National Science Resource Center, where he investigated how to involve the scientific community in educational reform. This background has been quite useful in striving to meet the mandate given to him by APS: mobilize scientists by determining what part scientists can play in education and how they must be prepared to be a successful part of science reform. In conjunction with past APS Educational Officer Brian Schwartz, Lopez initiated the Teacher-Scientist Alliance.

The reform model being supported by this project is derived from the NSRC and is centered around four elements: 1) use of already existing materials of high quality that emphasize a hands-on, inquiry-based program of learning, 2) development of a materials support infrastructure for the educational unit, 3) ongoing support for the teacher to assist him or her in the transition to the new model, and 4) changes in assessment that are aligned with changes in instruction. None of the four programmatic elements are sustainable without ongoing administrative and community support. This involves education of administrators and parents to familiarize them with the new model and how they can be supportive of the transition.

The origination of materials by school districts is prohibitive, given the cost and time of development and production. Instead, many districts need to identify already existing materials and then train their faculty and administrators how to most effectively use them. The materials to be used are kit-based, with each kit containing 8-10 weeks of science activities. Although the kits are necessarily somewhat generic, most materials can be modified to fit a particular situation. The `kit' idea originated in the 1960's and was supported by NSF. Although many teachers were intimidated by these materials, some districts were very successful with the `kit' concept. These original materials were the foundation for the current wave of curriculum reform. The National Science Resource Center, in developing the reform model, studied those school districts that succeeded with the kit approach to find out what works.

Centralization of Access to Materials
Once the materials have been purchased by the school district, an infrastructure is necessary to maintain and disseminate the materials. The infrastructure removes one of the significant barriers to the use of the hands-on pedagogy by ensuring that all kit materials are present and in good working order. The central site also schedules delivery and pick-up of the materials. The teacher is thus free to devote her or his time to effective teaching of the concepts. Teacher-supported systems have been tried in the past, usually with disappointing results. A central site for the school district, where all of the science `kits' reside, can more efficiently ensure that kits are stocked with all necessary parts, including consumables, and make sure that all of the pieces are present and functioning correctly. Centralization offers the additional benefit of savings through bulk purchasing by large educational districts.

In-Service Education for Teachers in Inquiry Teaching and Assessment
The essential element of this model is professional development for teachers. "For most teachers, you're asking them to teach in a way in which they were never taught", Lopez says. "Most had a large lecture-based science experience, and now we want them to teach using new materials in a new pedagogical approach." Teacher support is an ongoing need, Lopez emphasizes. In the first year, support is necessary for teachers nervous about teaching science at all, much less doing it in such a new context. New teachers must have the opportunity to visit classrooms in which these new techniques are being used. After the first year, the teacher should have had the necessary training to be able to use the equipment in the classroom; however, the experience is just starting. In addition to new teaching methods, new assessment techniques must also be considered. In this model, assessment becomes an on-going tool to identify problems that students have during the year. The transition from the current lecture-based environment to an inquiry-based environment, Lopez says, is likely a five-year process.

The need for ongoing professional development is not based solely on the time needed for each teacher to make the transition. Turnover rate in many school districts is 10- 20%. If professional development opportunities are not viewed by the educational unit as a line item in each year's budget, the program will eventually die due to stagnation and lack of expertise. Professional development provides opportunities for experienced teachers to grow and communicate with their peers, as well as providing new teachers an opportunity to start on the process. Unfortunately, when budget crunches occur, in- service training is often viewed as one of the most expendable items.

Ongoing Support from Community and Administrative Support
The initial impact of most reform efforts is change; however, the true test of effectiveness is how long the changes last. The longevity of reform depends critically on ongoing community and administrator support. Like the teachers, most administrators and parents encountered science in the traditional paradigm. To provide effective support for students and teachers, parents and administrators must become familiar with how the classroom is changing. Lopez emphasized the need for `science activists' in the community - people who are interested in science and believe that good science education is important for all children. "When a school considers cutting a football program", Lopez said, "people show up at board meetings to protest. Why should there not be the same commitment to science education?" This commitment on the part of the community and administration is the "glue that holds the internal adjustments together".

Bringing the Scientist into Elementary Science Education Reform: A Case Study
As mentioned earlier, professional development for teachers is a necessity. Before bringing the new learning techniques to the classroom, teachers need an opportunity to work with the kits and master the basic scientific principles. This need resulted in the Teacher-Scientist Alliance program that Lopez is currently developing. By linking scientists and educators involved in science education reform, Lopez hopes to fulfill the professional development needs of participating teachers.

Montgomery County (MD) is the 10th largest school district in the country. Although it is a wealthier school district, there is a significant amount of diversity, including a large English as a Second Language population. There are 68,000 elementary students and a total school population of 125,000. Montgomery County is in the 4th year of implementing system-wide reform. 580 teachers will be brought into the program this year. Lopez has had a long relationship with the school district, and so was able to work well with district leadership. All of these elements contribute to a significant potential for success.

The Teacher-Scientist Alliance effort began by Lopez sending a letter to APS members with addresses in Montgomery County zip codes asking if they would be interested in attending a one-day workshop to see what the new science instruction is like. This letter produced a 9% positive response. Forty-five people eventually attended the one-day workshop presenting an overview of the new techniques and materials. Participants came from a wide range of interests and career points within physics, but Lopez notes that there was a disproportionately large number of retired scientists. The main motivation for many participants was that people had children or grandchildren in the school district, or time on their hands that they wanted to use constructively. Lopez believes a significant factor in the large positive response to an unsolicited invitation was that he asked for a very specific time commitment. He believes that open-ended commitments scare away potential volunteers. In keeping with this philosophy, a series of sign-up sheets was available at the end of the one-day workshop that described the kits, the targeted grade levels and the days that workshops would be held. Scientists were asked to sign up for four half-day, kit-specific sessions.

The kit-specific workshops are run by lead teachers in the district. The attending teachers are seeing the kits for the first time and are guided through the essential science concepts by the lead teachers. Volunteer physicists attend the workshops just like any other participant, are assigned to be part of a group and work through each of the activities in the kit. In these workshop groups, Lopez emphasizes, the scientist is not the leader - the teacher is.

The advantage of scientist participation is the particular perspective that scientists bring to the learning experience. For someone with a traditional view of science and no hands- on experience, admitting a lack of knowledge is equivalent to failure. Lopez cites this `cultural change' as the most difficult for the teachers to make. Professional scientists, however, are used to treating a lack of knowledge in a field as a challenge. "Scientists ooze this attitude", Lopez enthuses, "they just can't help it. The simple mechanics of science, like observation, surprise, and wonder, are things that we want teachers to emulate and create in the classroom." Success with the new model depends on communicating to teachers that this mode of learning is good.

He noted that the scientists are not limited to areas in which they have some expertise. Some physicists signed up for biology or earth science kits because they sounded interesting. Sometimes, though, understanding of content does have advantages. As an example, Lopez cited a workshop on a 4th grade electric circuits unit. The task at hand was to create a light bulb using a piece of nichrome wire, some insulated wires and a battery. One set of participants at first couldn't get their resistive nichrome wire to glow. Eventually, they shortened the wire by cutting it, and the `light bulb' lit. Neither of the lead teachers running the workshop could explain why the longer wire didn't work, but the scientists on hand could. ("...and", Lopez notes, "they did it in plain language.") The dependence of the `bulb' on the length of the wire became an option to the experiment for teachers who wanted to extend the lab.

Teachers and scientists have both commented positively on the workshops. Lopez notes that a lot of planning went into the initial one-day workshop to help avoid some of the pitfalls that may occur when scientists and teachers interact. The initial workshop was formulated as a learning experience, with the implicit assumption that the scientists didn't already have an intuitive knowledge of how to teach. Participants were shown the complexity of curriculum development, developmental psychology, selection of appropriate material, etc. The understanding of the complicated issues faced by teachers produced a new level of appreciation of the teachers by the scientists. Lopez also noted that the scientists participating in the program are self-selected, which assisted in the smooth progress.

In the next year of the program, Lopez intends to expand the activities to include other types of scientists. The larger number of volunteers is necessary to meet the needs of the larger number of teachers to be inserviced, and to distribute the scientists throughout the workshops in a more uniform way. In addition to introducing more teachers to the new model, teachers who have completed the first in-service level will have the opportunity to meet and compare notes on their classroom experiences. Extension workshops, in which teachers can discuss how they have modified and tailored the materials to their specific situations, will help move the reform to a new level. Placing scientists who have also had some experience with the kits in these workshops is desirable.

Lopez notes that some scientists have been visiting the classrooms using the kit-based instruction, but emphasizes that this isn't a requirement for participation. One pitfall of having scientists visit schools is that this can evolve into the kind of open-ended commitment that scares away volunteers. The workshops help form links between scientists and teachers: scientist visits are then arranged by mutual consent. He emphasizes that the workshop experience has significantly changed the nature of the scientist visits. In the past, visiting scientists gave a self-contained presentation which may or may not have had much relationship to the curriculum. Eventually, Lopez plans to set up a more formalized arrangement where scientist visits are part of the program, but not until scientists are adequately prepared. This is keeping with his philosophy that scientists shouldn't be a disruption to the instruction: they should be a full supporting piece instead of something separate.

The experiment in Montgomery County has produced promising results. The next phase of the program is to expand the idea to other sites around the country. Nine sites have been identified for the next phase of participation (see sidebar). Each site was selected on the basis of a strong commitment to elementary science reform. A week-long APS- funded workshop held in conjunction with AAPT took place in January. About one half of the participants were physicists, 25-30% were other scientists and the rest were from school districts. A variety of nationally recognized speakers gave presentations on issues of science reform, including assessment, curriculum reform and materials management. One day was spent at classrooms in Montgomery County schools to provide a real-world example of this model. A visit to the Montgomery County materials science center examined the nuts-and-bolts logistics of servicing an educational unit the size of Montgomery County.

Participants at the workshop received a very specific charge to return and act as leadership for reform in their community. They also received reading materials and other resources to assist them in gathering and disseminating information. The primary roles of these lead scientists are to act as go-betweens between the science community and the school districts. At the appropriate time, these leaders will organize local workshops with the assistance of the APS. When the program is ready to initiate scientist workshops, APS will assist in identifying local scientists and sending a solicitation letter. The results from the conference are quickly becoming evident. For example, the group from Trenton, NJ is already organizing a 1-day workshop for science district administrators, teachers, and coordinators from 7 neighboring school districts.

APS will support reform efforts by providing experts and guidance in planning. APS's role is not to provide funding, but to assist groups in identifying funding programs and writing proposals. APS may be able to help out with a critical need or early planning money for school districts entering into a partnership with APS and the lead scientists who are the extensions of APS. The National Science Foundation currently has a program for Local Systemic Change for Teacher Enhancement, which offers large grants for teacher inservice programs designed to be part of the Systemic Reform Movement.

One resource for reform teams is the `Leadership Institutes' offered by the National Science Resource Council. These are one-week long workshops over the summer that bring together teams from 14-15 school districts. Teams consists of the superintendent or assistant superintendent, director of curriculum and instruction or science coordinator, one or more master teachers, and one or more outside scientists or engineers working with the district. Admittance to the workshop is competitive. As with the week-long APS workshop (which was based in part on these Leadership Institutes), the workshop offers intensive immersion in science education reform. The goal of the workshop is to leave with a 5-year strategic plan for implementing reform. By writing the plan down, it takes on a reality. The workshop provides a resource team knowledgeable about issues in science reform to facilitate the development of the plan. Resource personnel provide background to help the teams avoid pitfalls previously encountered by other efforts.

If you are located in one of the ten site areas and you would like to work as a lead scientists in the movement, contact Ramon Lopez at the APS office. Information on the program will be available shortly on the APS HomePage of the World Wide Web. If you are interested in organizing a leadership team, you can contact the National Science Resources Center (202) 357-2555 and request an information packet about NSRC. The packet includes information about the leadership institutes. NSRC also runs a week-long workshop that covers K-12 science education reform. If you are located in one of the site areas, but prefer to work just a few days a year, sit tight for now and wait for the solicitation letter.

Local Education Outreach

James J. Wynne

James J. Wynne
IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center

At IBM, we take seriously our responsibility to help our schools achieve the goal articulated by former President Bush and the National Governors Association, and reaffirmed by President Clinton, that "By the year 2000, U. S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement." We need American schools to produce an increasing number and diversity of high-quality scientists, engineers, and technical support personnel to ensure American leadership in the global technological marketplace. We need a scientifically literate and technically skilled workforce to populate our technically more sophisticated workplace. And we need to have our young people equipped with sufficient understanding of science and mathematics to serve as informed members of a society that has to grapple with problems ranging from environmental pollution to cost-effective medical care.

At the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center we have a Local Education Outreach (LEO) program that marshals the resources of our science-rich institution to enhance science and mathematics education in our local schools. The LEO program, begun in 1988, features broad and deep partnerships between the Research Center and many local school districts. Descriptions of some of our activities follow.

Student Recognition Luncheons: Each month, the partner high schools select a science student and a math student who are cited for some noteworthy achievement. The selection criteria include excellence in normal classroom activities, initiative in areas outside normal classroom activities, tutoring other students, marked improvement in performance, and unusual creativity. These students are invited to the Research Center as our guests of honor, where they meet students from other high schools with similar interests. We also ask the schools to send a science teacher and a math teacher. Following lunch, all of the guests are taken on laboratory tours/demonstrations, which have included physics topics such as scanning tunneling microscopy, laser spectroscopy, superconductivity, semiconductors, surface science, and mesoscopic physics. Both the students and the teachers benefit from exposure to the technical topics that make up the tours/demonstrations, becoming more aware of challenging career opportunities. The teachers who attend these luncheons tell us repeatedly how valuable it is for them to meet adults who use the subject they teach in their everyday jobs. This "real world" exposure helps the teachers motivate their students by providing a bridge between the classroom and the workplace.

Family Science
Our primary resource for enhancing science and mathematics education is our own employees. The desire of many of our employees to volunteer for a program geared for young children led to the Saturday morning activity of Family Science. We put together a series of hands-on science workshops for 3rd to 5th grade children and their parents. Children are selected from local elementary schools in the districts where the IBM volunteers live. The primary goals are to expose the children and their parents to science and to demonstrate the relevance of science to the students' lives. Topics include Sound and Light, States of Matter and Kitchen Chemistry. To reach a larger audience than the students who attend our workshops, we ask these students to develop enough confidence and expertise to share their workshop experience with their classmates in school by conducting a workshop in class.

To reach still more students, we have added "Peer Teaching:" Several local school districts select high school students to attend our sessions, where they learn the techniques of hands-on science teaching. These students then conduct workshops in the elementary schools in their districts. The high school students are a resource for elementary school teachers who need help in science teaching. Additionally, this exposure to the joys of teaching may encourage the peer In This Issue

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy 1993-94 Calculus-Based Physics/Mechanics Study

Catherine C. Veal

Click for other Sections: Major findings, or Major interpretations

Located in Aurora, Illinois, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) is the state's public residential high school for talented mathematics and science students, and an educational laboratory for designing and testing innovative programs and strategies to share with other schools, teachers and students in Illinois and beyond.

In February 1994, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) was featured in USA Weekend and on NBC-TV's Dateline in reports on gender equity in education. The reports centered on the work of David and Myra Sadker, professors of education at American University. The Sadkers' new book, Failing at Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls, was published in February.

The February 4-6 USA Weekend, the nationwide weekend newspaper insert, cited IMSA in a cover story by the Sadkers. Three IMSA students were pictured on the cover. The Dateline report by anchorwoman Jane Pauley aired February 8.

Both reports featured IMSA's calculus-based physics/mechanics course, one section of which was all girls for the fall semester of the 1993-94 school year. The all-girls section was part of the first phase of a year-long study designed to learn more about how student-teacher, student-student, and student-content interaction influence learning. Three coed sections of the same course also were offered. Girls had the option of enrolling in the single-gender section or coed section. Thirteen girls enrolled in the single-gender section first semester, and a total of 11 enrolled in the coed sections. Course content, expectations and exams were the same for all sections. However, by design the learning environment in the all-girls section was different.

For second semester (phase two of the study), all sections of the course are coed.

The research design employed is a qualitative, interpretive study. Structured hypotheses have not been delineated. Rather, data are collected across a variety of variables, and we anticipate that an analysis of these data will inform a more experimental research design. Student questionnaires/surveys, process observations by an educational researcher, test/exam performance, and reflective journals completed by teachers are among the data that will be analyzed.

The single-gender dimension of the study represents a transition from the idea of equal educational opportunity to one grounded in a belief in equal educational outcomes. This shift allows for differential treatment of a group to enable its members to attain outcomes similar to the dominant culture. It addresses the "Catch 22" of the equal treatment argument and represents a movement beyond equality toward equity.

Even at IMSA, where all students--girls and boys--have demonstrated exceptional talent in mathematics and science as part of the Academy's competitive admissions process, some of the national trends are still apparent. For example, IMSA girls have enrolled in and completed certain high-level mathematics and science electives less frequently than their male classmates.

The decision to initiate the calculus-based physics/mechanics study was based on several factors, including: (1) evidence that some of the national trends were apparent at IMSA; (2) faculty and staff members' desire to learn more about how the teaching and learning environment at IMSA both supports and inhibits girls; (3) a belief that the Academy's mission to transform teaching and learning in mathematics and science cannot be met without tackling gender issues head-on; (4) extensive review of the well-documented research on masculine bias in science education and discourse; and (5) comments and recommendation from IMSA students.

At this time, the Academy does not view single-gender classes as the most appropriate long term 'solution,' and there are no plans to offer single-gender classes next year (1994-95). Decisions beyond that will be based on a number of factors, including the results of this year's study.

Opinions on this study among IMSA faculty, staff students and parents vary considerably. Some who oppose the idea of single-gender classes nevertheless support the study for what our community may be able to learn from it. The Academy believes the study will inform our efforts to provide the most appropriate learning environment for all students--both girls and boys--in the future. We acknowledge the controversial nature of the study, but we believe it is in keeping with the spirit of inquiry and research characteristic of an educational laboratory.

Further Information

Summary of Major Findings

  1. More females enrolled in and successfully completed Calculus-based Physics: Mechanics (first semester course) than ever before. More females enrolled in and successfully completed Calculus-based Physics: Electricity/Magnetism (second semester course) than ever before.

  2. Females in the single-gender section of Calculus-based Physics: Mechanics demonstrated significantly higher gains in self-confidence than did females in the coed sections.

  3. Prior mathematical power as measured by the PSAT-M exam accounted for differences in achievement levels for females on the Calculus-based Physics: Mechanics final exam. However, this prior mathematical power was not a significant factor on achievement levels among females in Calculus-based Physics: Electricity/Magnetism. While the PSAT-M was a strong predictor of first semester final exam performance, this predictive power vanished for second semester final exam performance.

  4. There was a strikingly different quality to the atmosphere, character and climate of the all-female class. The learning community which emerged was characterized by: a profound sense of responsibility for learning--for one's own learning and for each others' learning, for seeking and giving help; a special rapport between and among the teacher and the students which enabled frequent free and open discussions about physics, past and current experiences, feelings, frustrations, etc.; a spirit of co-learning, with both the teacher and the students feeling free to ask questions, admit mistakes, take risks, express confusion, etc. strong student influence on classroom dynamics which enabled the teacher to be more in tune with, drawn in by and responsive to student behaviors and needs. 

    The teacher, who has taught science for 20 years at the high school and college levels, reported that these characteristics were more pervasive in the all-female class than in any other class he has taught.

  5. Students in the all-female class displayed greater performance-level growth on quizzes, homework and class exams than did females in the coed section taught by the same teacher. Initially the females in the two classes performed about the same on in-class assignments. As the semester continued, females in the single- gender section performed better. Their growth was most evident in the areas of problem analysis and problem-solving.

  6. In the all-female class, the teacher increasingly re-examined and modified his repertoire of teaching strategies, enabling students to acquire real-world physics-related experiences which are fundamental to a deeper understanding of advanced physics.

Summary of Major Interpretations

  1. The classroom ethos (distinguishing character/climate) of the all-female class and changes in teacher behavior (both planned and emergent changes) seemed to have the most dramatic effect on student learning. Enabled by the teacher at the outset, the classroom ethos was mutually constructed over time by the learners and the teacher. Data indicate that some females and some in the coed sections prefer and likely would be better served by a classroom ethos similar to the one that was constructed in the all-female section.
  2. While the all-female section was beneficial for most, the classroom ethos of the all-female section and/or the single-gender dimension itself did not serve all learners equally well. A few students in the all-female class did not like one or both of these factors and did not consider their experiences to be successful. Similarly, some females in the coed sections liked the coed environment and/or the classroom ethos of their particular sections, and considered their experiences to be successful.

For more information, contact:

Catherine C. Veal
Director of Communications
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy
1500 West Sullivan Road
Aurora, IL 60506-1000
Phone: (708) 907-5034 | FAX: (708) 907-5062

Forum Funding News

Ken Lyons

Note: This article was omitted from the April newsletter, due to space limitations.

Many of you are aware that changes have been under consideration in the formula used to determine forum funding levels by APS. This was brought about by a concern from the APS side about the amount of funding going to the forums, and from the forum side (all the forums, not just FEd) with regard to adequate funding for activities such as the newsletter publication.

A task force met in January to consider ways out of the impasse, and concluded with a consensual agreement among all participants for a recommendation to be made to the APS Council. The gist of this agreement, from our standpoint, is that for forums above 3% of APS membership (FEd is close to 10%) the forum will receive $2.50 in funding for each member. A funding floor is also provided to support executive committee meetings, etc. In return for maintaining this level of funding, which is sufficient to maintain our newsletter activity, members will be allowed to receive only two free forum memberships at renewal time, rather than unlimited ones (which would have meant up to six by next year). Additional memberships will cost the same as membership in a Division. This compromise has been recommended to Council with strong support from the entire task force. It will probably be implemented with the next renewal cycle, in June.

As part of our consideration of ways to reduce our expenses, we are considering the possibility of offering an electronic option on our newsletters: so that members would have the option of requesting that their paper copy not be mailed. Members who do this would be notified by email when the newsletter copy is available on the WWW homepage (a few weeks BEFORE the paper mailing date), and they could then access it there. This would make a significant difference only if a sizable number of members were interested--hence we have recently added a question about this to the Member Survey (see related article). At this writing we do not have enough feedback on the question to make an intelligent assessment of the level of interest. If you would be interested in this option, as a way of helping us reduce our expenses, please access the survey on the WWW homepage and so indicate on your response record.

Member Survey in Progress

Ken Lyons

Note: This article was omitted from the April newsletter, due to space limitations.

Making use of our WWW home page (see related article), we are carrying out an electronic survey of our members. Although one goal of this is survey members opinions about forum activities, it goes considerably beyond that. In fact, it is the first step in implementing a national precollege mentoring database. According each member's survey response record is available for updating at any time, via the homepage.

To access the survey, you can use lynx or mosaic (any browser with HTML forms capability), and access the URL The process is simple and takes only a few minutes.

At this writing, a few weeks into the survey, only a small percentage of our membership has taken part. We urge all members to do so as soon as possible. The results to this point, though, do reveal some trends: Fully one quarter of the respondents are AAPT members, and we find that 70% of the respondents favor implementation of forum dues, if necessary to maintain our activities. (There is some news on this subject: see the sidebar on forum funding.) Not surprisingly, there is more interest expressed in interaction with high school than with elementary school, but the difference is not very large (80% against 60%). Half of the respondents express an interest in the various summer activities mentioned (hiring an undergraduate or a college faculty member for a summer research position). Gratifyingly, about 90% of those expressing an interest in precollege programs are willing to have their listings appear on the public database. These results are based on a response from only 4% of our members--so we hope to hear from a lot more of you soon.

The Forum Hits the Net

Ken Lyons

Note: this article was omitted from the April newsletter for lack of space.

No, we haven't taken up tennis (or even volleyball). The "net" in question here is the internet, affectionately known as the World Wide Web, or WWW. The first week of January, the Forum on Education became the first of the forums to link a WWW homepage to the APS homepage, which itself opened less than a month earlier. As with any other homepage, the information here is accessible via a number of browser programs, notably lynx and mosaic, which are available to a wide range of users.

View Homepage

There are two interactive forms systems accessible from this homepage, which make it rather unique. (In fact, for those who know about such things: they have been implemented as an experimental demonstration of a new form server system based on an extension of the HTML language.) These systems are the Forum Member Survey and the Summer Jobs Database.

The Summer Jobs Database has attracted a great deal of attention in the few weeks it has been open on the internet. Under the old system, accessible via email since August (see FEd News, August 1993), only seven programs had registered. By contrast, 22 additional programs registered in the first three weeks that the internet system was open, and more are arriving with regularity. I encourage everybody in the Forum to consider whether their institution, or they themselves, could usefully list positions on this database. We are hoping that many individuals will decide to seek qualified undergraduates as summer assistants via this mechanism. The use of the database via the internet is simple both for the person registering a position and the person seeking the information. As a matter of fact, a number of users have commented on the simplicity of the interface. The system was announced to student organizations in mid-January. At this writing, two weeks later, we have received more than 400 user inquiries via the WWW interface. [As of April 18, we now have more than 1000 inquiries via the database.] If this early use is any indication of its long term activity, we may clearly regard it as a success.

The Member Survey is designed to give us information as to the interests of the members to guide the executive committee as we make decisions that affect the future of the forum. It is also the first step in the development of a national precollege mentoring database which we hope will soon become an adjunct to the Summer Jobs Database. The Member Survey gives you an opportunity both to indicate your interest in being listed and to provide the information on your interests which will be listed there. See the related article for information on the progress of this survey.

There are a number of interesting information sections available on the page as well. Newsletters since April 1994 are available online, with hypertext links as appropriate to augment the text. A complete list of officers, including on-line mail service for various subcommittees, is also provided. There is a subsection of other resources, including curriculum materials and links to other database systems.

The page continues to evolve, even on a daily basis. A number of comments and requests have resulted in changes in the material presented, and in the organization of the databases. Your constructive comments will enable us to continue improving the effort. We also invite your contributions of material to add to the page. If you have WWW materials available, or know of relevant material, we would be grateful if you would send us information for a hyperlink. Send any such communications to Ken Lyons.

I feel sure that the existence of this homepage will become a major asset to the Forum, as we find new ways to make use of the emerging technologies. I encourage all of you to participate, not only by making use of what it provides but also by sending us your ideas on ways to extend the effort and improve its effectiveness.