Teaching Physics or Physical Science to Prospective Elementary Teachers: A Flexible Curriculum and Faculty Community
Edward Price, California State University, San Marcos, Fred Goldberg, San Diego State University, Paul Miller, West Virginia University, Steve Robinson, Tennessee Technological University
By offering high-quality physics courses for prospective elementary teachers, departments can contribute to far-reaching improvements in science education. National calls by AAAS and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (among others), and efforts by APS and AAPT, such as the PhysTEC project, highlight the importance of this work. From a faculty perspective, working with future teachers is intellectually engaging and deeply gratifying, but it may feel daunting. Faculty may wonder about effective pedagogical approaches and appropriate content level. And departments may be unclear on how to support faculty to be effective in teaching these students. The Next Generation Physical Science and Everyday Thinking (Next Gen PET) materials, and the associated faculty online learning community (FOLC), are designed to address these issues.
Next Gen PET is a set of materials that can support a guided-inquiry, physics or physical science course for prospective elementary school teachers and general education students. Based on nearly two decades of development and evaluation, Next Gen PET is the successor to Physics and Everyday Thinking and Physical Science and Everyday Thinking. Next Gen PET is also appropriate for science methods courses or workshops for in-service teachers.
Relevance. According to NSTA, “nearly two-thirds of U.S. students live in states that have standards influenced by the Framework for K-12 Science Education and/or the Next Generation Science Standards.”1 NGSS describes three interrelated dimensions of learning: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. The intent is that students should explore disciplinary core ideas “by engaging in practices... and should be helped to make connections to the crosscutting concepts.”2The NGSS also include engineering and technology standards, such as the inclusion of engineering practices.
While the Framework and NGSS are intended for K-12 science education, university courses that prepare future teachers should be consistent with the intended approach, integrating content, practices, and crosscutting concepts.3 By aligning closely with NGSS, Next Gen PET helps students develop a deeper understanding of these ideas and how they emerge from engagement in the science and engineering practices. For example, Next Gen PET students learn to use energy diagrams for qualitative and quantitative analysis of energy changes and transfers during interactions by using the concept of efficiency to determine how energy flows through different branches of a system. Students use the diagrams to formulate and apply the idea of conservation of energy, thus engaging in the NGSS scientific practices of ‘Developing and using models’, ‘Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking', and ‘Arguing from Evidence’, among others. This approach also aligns with the NGSS crosscutting concepts of ‘Systems and System Models’ and ‘Energy and Matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation’.
Flexibility is designed into the Next Gen PET curriculum, with a Studio Class version for small lab and discussion classroom environments, and a Lecture Class version for lecture rooms and/or time-limited classes. The two versions include the same content in the same sequence, and share a common set of homework activities, allowing instructors to choose materials suitable for their course format. One main difference between the two versions is that, whereas in the studio version students perform their own experiments, in the lecture versions they watch videos of the experiments. Nevertheless, in both versions, students draw on evidence; discuss ideas; develop, test and modify models; and engage in practices of scientific argumentation.
Next Gen PET consists of five modules: Developing Models for Magnetism and Static Electricity; Interactions and Energy; Interactions and Forces; Waves, Sound and Light; and Matter and Interactions. Instructors can choose the content for their course from ten units (two per module) that have limited dependencies and are available separately from the publisher. Integrated Engineering Design activities require application of the module’s physical science content. Optional Planning and Conducting Investigations activities provide opportunities for students to practice skills critical to the design and carrying out of their own investigations. Optional Teaching and Learning activities help students make explicit connections between their own learning; the learning and teaching of children in elementary school; and the core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts of the NGSS.
Students in Next Gen PET classes make significant gains in their conceptual understanding of the physical science content and in the science practice of explanation. During the last two years, nearly 50 faculty have administered pre-and post-course assessments, including conceptual multiple choice questions covering all content topics, and written tasks focused on energy and forces. Significant gains were evident in both science content and explanation.4
Support For Instructors
Adopting a new curriculum can be daunting, but two supporting resources can help. A website for instructors provides access to pacing guidance, sample course sequences, copies of student materials, instructor presentation slides, test banks, equipment lists, ordering information, and more. The Next Gen PET FOLC is an associated online faculty learning community where faculty learn from each other, share resources and collaborate to improve their instruction, study student thinking, and conduct classroom-based research. The FOLC is ideal for faculty who are interested in Next Gen PET but are concerned about the time required to understand and adopt the materials. From a departmental perspective, the support and resources a faculty member receives in the FOLC can make it easier to launch or revamp a physics or physical science course for future elementary teachers. In the FOLC, faculty meet regularly by videoconference in small groups to discuss practical issues, facilitation strategies, and student learning. Online communication and file sharing tools (Slack, Google Docs) support collaboration between meetings. Interested faculty can learn more and apply to join the FOLC at the project website.
The science preparation of elementary teachers is an important piece of the broader science education landscape. The Next Gen PET curriculum and FOLC can help faculty and departments meet this need.
The Next Gen PET FOLC project is supported by NSF DUE-1626496. Support for developing Next Gen PET was provided by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the Chevron Corporation, the California State University, and San Diego State University. Planning and Conducting Investigations activities were developed through NSF DUE-1611738. Next Gen PET is published by Activate Learning, Greenwich, CT.
Edward Price is a professor of physics and director of the Center for Research and Engagement at California State University San Marcos. He is one of the co-authors of Next Gen PET and is PI of the Next Gen PET FOLC project.
Fred Goldberg is an emeritus physics professor at San Diego State University. He is one of the lead authors of the NGP curriculum and is co-PI on the NGP FOLC project.
Paul Miller is a teaching associate professor of physics at West Virginia University. He piloted Next Gen PET in a hybrid lecture-laboratory format and is a faculty cluster leader on the NGP FOLC project.
Steve Robinson is a professor and chair of the Physics Department at Tennessee Technological University. He is one of the lead authors of the NGP curriculum and a co-PI on the NGP FOLC project.