Announcing GPER’s 2017 APS Fellow

Rachel E. Scherr

Rachel Scherr photoThe GPER Executive Committee is pleased to announce that Rachel E. Scherr of Seattle Pacific University has been named a Fellow of the American Physical Society for 2017.

Rachel's citation reads:

"For foundational research into energy learning and representations, application of video analysis methods to study physics classrooms, and physics education research community leadership."

In addition to her many publications and presentations, Rachel is a co-founder of the Foundations and Frontiers in PER conference series and served recently as Chair of GPER.

We also wish to thank those members of GPER who supplied support materials for all nominations, as well as those who served on the Fellowship Committee. We look forward to the opportunity to recognize others in the physics education research community in the coming years. If you think someone is deserves to be an APS fellow, please consider nominating them this year.

Read more about Rachel

Highlights from APS April 2017 Meeting (Washington, DC)

The 2017 April meeting was held January 28-31 in Washington, DC, and was the third meeting with GPER-sponsored invited sessions. There were two invited PER sessions, both co-sponsored by the Topical Group on Physics Education Research (GPER) with the Forum on Education (FEd).

The first invited session, “The Cutting Edge of Physics Education Research,” included three talks:

  • Paul Irving (Michigan State University): Collaborative Assessment Tool (CAT) – Assessing scientific practices in introductory physics
  • Daniel Seaton (Harvard University): Big Data Meets Physics Education Research: From MOOCs to University-Led High School Programs
  • Benjamin Zwickl (Rochester Institute of Technology): Applied Physics Education: PER focused on Physics-Intensive Careers

Paul Irving’s talk highlighted an approach to assessment that is used in problem-based course taught at Michigan State University called, Projects and Practices in Physics. Daniel Seaton’s talk summarized his work across different projects that make use of massively open online course resources including blended learning in high school physics courses. Benjamin Zwickl’s talk discussed his work on the Photonics and Optics Workforce Education Research project, which aims to blend physics education research and workforce development for the photonics industry.

The second invited session, “Focused Collection: Gender in Physics”, also included three talks:

  • Adrienne Traxler (Wright State University): Enriching gender in physics education research: A binary past and a complex future
  • Rachel Ivie (American Institute of Physics): Women's and men's career choices in astronomy and astrophysics.
  • Katemari Rosa (Federal University of Campina Grande): Educational pathways of Black women physicists: Stories of experiencing and overcoming obstacles in life

Each of these talks was based on a paper of the same name published in the Physical Review Physics Education Research Focused Collection: Gender in Physics.

GPER also sponsored three contributed sessions at this meeting with a total of 23 contributed talks given by members of the PER community.

Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research Conference

Rachel E. Scherr, Paula R. L. Heron, and Michael C. Wittmann

In June of 2017, 60 members of the Physics Education Research (PER) community gathered at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, for the 7th biennial “Foundations and Frontiers in Physics Education Research” (FFPER) conference. First held in 2005, and modeled after the Gordon Conferences, this meeting is a “venue for specialists who are active researchers in the field of physics education.” Talks at the conference are all in a plenary format, typically addressing the speaker’s take on the major accomplishments of the field of PER (Foundations) or describing possibly promising research directions (Frontiers). This year’s plenary speakers were: Eleanor Close (Texas State University), Andy diSessa (University of California – Berkeley), Ben Dreyfus (George Mason University), Antje Kohnle (University of St. Andrews), Cassandra Paul (San Jose State University), Geoff Potvin (Florida International University), Vashti Sawtelle (Michigan State University), Trevor Smith (Rowan University), and Ben Zwickl (Rochester Institute of Technology). The plenary sessions are followed by coffee breaks and discussion sessions in which attendees engage deeply with the speakers and with each other.

Afternoons at the conference are spent in smaller sessions. Conference attendees self-organize into collaborative groups that examine particular research interests or explore current issues in PER. This year, the collaborative groups included one that examined the state of accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities in physics, one that invited community engagement with the Best Practices for Undergraduate Physics Programs (BPUPP) task force, one that discussed the use of statistics in the PER community, one in which PER graduate students, postdocs, and faculty co-created a resource for newcomers to the field, and one in which PER graduate students worked with faculty mentors to review and improve each other’s short papers.

A special focus of this year’s FFPER was to increase inclusion at the conference, so that all attendees could participate as fully as possible. Some of these efforts included pairing each junior attendee with a senior person for dinner; establishing a space for board games as a quiet evening activity; and appointing an ombud to hear any concerns that attendees did not wish to report directly to the conference organizers. We also piloted a novel discussion format, as an alternative to the typical format in which (usually senior) participants verbalize ideas immediately and compete for the floor in order to vigorously pursue their line of inquiry. In the pilot format, participants wrote their questions on small sheets of paper, either with their name or anonymously; these sheets of paper were passed twice, so that each participant had someone else’s paper. This gave participants time to both formulate their own question and consider someone else’s. During the discussion time, participants were invited to either ask their own question, or the one on the paper passed to them. At the end of the discussion, all the papers went to the speakers. This pilot discussion format got very positive feedback. Some people found it easier to ask a question that was not originally theirs; many enjoyed seeing other people’s questions, and having the sense that there was a whole roomful of questions; others liked knowing that whether or not their question was asked aloud, it had been read by someone else in the room, and would eventually make its way to the speaker. Speakers appreciated the opportunity to consider questions at leisure and follow up with people who had identified themselves.

The FFPER conference continues to exist and flourish in part because of the financial support of the Forum on Education and the Topical Group on Physics Education Research. Members of the PER community value FFPER as a space in which to immerse ourselves in current research and to form connections and collaborations with other members of the community.

Rachel E. Scherr, Michael C. Wittmann, and Paula R. L. Heron co-founded FFPER and have co-organized it since its inception. All three are senior physics education researchers.

Rachel E. Scherr, Michael C. Wittmann, and Paula R. L. Heron co-founded FFPER and have co-organized it since its inception. All three are senior physics education researchers.

GPER Travel Awards

The GPER Committee is pleased to announce the three proposals that were awarded travel funding for the 2017 funding cycle. Summaries of the proposals are given below. Successful proposals showed significant potential in at least one of the following areas:

  1. supporting the professional development and engagement of a junior member of the GPER community, and
  2. contributing to an increase in the membership and/or public profile of the APS or GPER.

Requests for travel awards are considered on annual basis with the due date being the first Friday of October.

The Effects of Summer Camp on Participants’ Affective Views of Science

Proposer(s): Iliana E. De La Cruz, St. Mary’s University

Amount Awarded: $350

Summary: This proposal was funded to support travel funding for the proposer to attend the April 2018 APS meeting. There they will present the methods and results of their undergraduate research examining the impact of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) summer camp on participants’ affective views of science. Presentation of this work at an APS conference will both raise the profile of GPER within the APS and support the professional development of an undergraduate interested in joining the PER community.

2018 Gordon Research Conference: Physics Research and Education

Proposer(s): Dawn Meredith, University of New Hampshire

Amount Awarded: $500

Summary: This proposal was funded to support the attendance of one junior researcher at the June 2018 Gordon Research Conference Physics Research and Education focused on “Energy as a Subtle Concept.” This conference will bring together leaders in the area of energy physics, leaders in physics education, and leaders in physics education research, thus raising the public profile of GPER and the APS within neighboring fields of study. With a relatively small number of attendees (~200), the conference will also provide a valuable opportunity for the supported junior researcher to network and build important connections between other researchers both within and outside of PER.

Reduced graduate student registration for FFPER Conference

Proposer(s): Rachel E. Scherr, Seattle Pacific University; Michael C. Wittmann, University of Maine; Paula R. L. Heron, University of Washington

Amount Awarded: $1000

Summary: This proposal was funded to support a reduction in graduate student registration for the Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research (FFPER) conference held biannually in Bar Harbor, Maine. The format of the meeting balances formal presentations, small working groups, and unstructured time to maximize the potential for networking and productive discussion. For the graduate student attendees, this unstructured, networking time represents a valuable opportunity to forge professional connections with senior and other junior members of the PER community.

Focused Collection: Quantitative Methods in PER: A Critical Examination

Guest Editors: Marcos D. Caballero, Alexis V. Knaub, and John M. Aiken

Physics Education Research has used quantitative methods to investigate student and faculty decisions, learning, and behavior since its advent. PER researchers have investigated student understanding, student attitudes towards science, faculty and department change, and student use of online technologies all with quantitative methods. However, the use of these tools has not been examined critically outside of the methods sections of single papers in the history of PER. The Physical Review Focused Collection on Quantitative Methods in PER will provide a basis of literature that cover quantitative study design, a comparison of statistical methods, interpreting data, and explicit tools used in research. This collection aims to highlight best practices in quantitative methods, theoretical motivations for the use of quantitative methods, and thorough descriptions of common methods used in the field. Proposals for articles have already been received and full articles will be invited December 1, 2018. The focused collection will be published in early 2019. All articles will be published open-access.

Race and Physics Teaching: Classroom and workplace ideas and resources from The Physics Teacher

Gary White with Geraldine Cochran

The Physics Teacher book coverSome might call it the most significant unsolved problem in physics—but to categorize the lack of progress on diversity in physics merely as a problem perhaps diminishes the nature of the issue. In any case, as an attempt to shed light on one facet of this immense subject, The Physics Teacher has published a special collection of articles—“Race and Physics Teaching” —that might be of interest to those in APS and, particularly, GPER.

The original call for papers in this themed collection was announced in February 2016, and the response was muted at first but grew to a respectable chorale-sized volume. As the manuscripts began to come in and the review process progressed, Geraldine Cochran graciously agreed to come on board as co-editor for this remarkable collection of papers, published throughout the fall of 2017 in TPT. The collection is quite diverse in terms of intended audiences, from Daane, Decker, and Sawtelle’s article on “teaching about racial equity in introductory physics courses” to the offering by Dounas-Frazer, Hyater-Adams, and Reinholz, “a model for continued education of program organizers” that are learning to do diversity work, to Scherr and Robertson’s article on privilege in the physics classroom and how it can play a role in limiting broad participation in physics.

The paper by Johnson, Ong, Ko, Smith, and Hodari is extremely important at this time because it documents and, for some, validates the challenges that women of color in physics face, including the activation of stereotypes, isolation, and microaggressions. They also provide solutions for improving the climate of the department for women of color. It is imperative that students of color in physics receive support to continue on in their pursuit of discovering the wonders of physics in the high school classroom and in higher education. Sabella, Mardis, Sanders, and Little discuss how to build a supportive community of diverse students and how to address racial inequities in measures of success.

There are a variety of perspectives in the collection, from Venkatesan and Burgasser’s report from the I-WISE (Indigenous Worldviews in Informal Science Education) conference to a complementary article “You Don’t Look Like a Physicist” by Santos about physics demographics in Brazil, to the piece by González-Espada and Carrasquillo about the complex interactions between race and ethnicity in the context of physics teaching in Puerto Rico. An additional example, which might seem quite a stretch from the original call for some, is the article by Hechter and Awad, a short and moving reflection on the unlikely collaboration between a Canadian Jew and a Palestinian Arab.

Given recent events, from the head-rattling insensitivity of the SCOTUS Chief Justice’s question regarding what a “minority student” brings to a physics classroom to the horrifying return to visibility of White supremacists in Charlottesville and Charleston, this collection can only be viewed as a starting point for those interested in making small steps to improve the situation. Many of the papers such as Rosemary Russ’ article about integrating conversations about equity into science teacher education are framed as calls for further action, in acknowledgment of the vast amounts of work that clearly are needed to begin to rectify things. Amy Robertson and Leslie Atkins Elliot have framed their contribution to the collection as a call to action for more responsive teaching and to researchers to investigate broader ways of knowing, and also as something of a confession. We hope that these calls will elicit a full-sized chorus of responses from the community and that physicists will continue to partner in these efforts.

June 2018 Gordon Research Conference: Physics Research and Education – “Energy as a Subtle Concept”

Nancy Ruzycki, University of Florida
Dawn Meredith, University of New Hampshire

The Gordon Research Conference on Physics Research and Education has been bringing together a community of researchers, educators, and education researchers since 2000. Although the underlying theme of Physics Research and Education is a common thread for this GRC, every two years the focus of the meeting changes. The June 10-15, 2018 conference at Bryant College in Smithfield, RI will focus on energy. The Physics Research and Education conference is unique among the GRC’s as it highlights the work of leaders in a focused content area of physics, in physics education, and in physics education research to discuss how to make the chosen topic accessible and compelling to our students.

Energy is a cross-cutting topic in all sciences and engineering. However, many of the core energy ideas taught to students are not consistent within the physics community, or between physics and other disciplines like life science and chemistry. Energy is sometimes regarded solely as an accounting principle, a calculated quantity representing an abstract idea, not a physical construct. Unlike matter, it is difficult for students to construct a physical representation of energy, and they often struggle to understand energy as a conserved quantity. As Richard Feynman noted in a speech to teachers; “Energy is a very subtle concept. It is very, very difficult to get right.” [5]

The energy researchers will share their work in cutting-edge topics in energy research: energy harvesting in several contexts [1-2], dark matter [3], energy efficiency [4], energy storage, and energy flow modeling. These transformative topics in energy research can be used as application examples in the teaching of undergraduate physics students, and the public.

The education speakers will look at the teaching of energy from several perspectives: embodied cognition, conceptual metaphors [6], how to present a more coherent understanding of energy across the disciplines of chemistry, biology, and physics [7,8], and students’ productive ideas about energy [9,10], as well as new courses on energy [11].

See our website for the program details and registration »

This year, for the first time, the GRC will be preceded on Saturday and Sunday by a Gordon Research Seminar (GRS), whose purpose is to give junior researchers (graduate students through Assistant Professors) a forum to discuss their work and work with mentors. The title for this year is “Using Energy Models to Teach and Understand Complex Physics Problems in the Research Lab and Classroom.” The keynote speaker is Dr. Rachel Scherr of Seattle Pacific University who will speak on “Approaches to energy instruction and education research.” The GRS website is open for registration.

The format of the GRC conferences promote open discussion and community building. Afternoons are free each day for in-depth conversations, attendance is capped at 200 to promote a sense of community, and the GRC “off the record” policy for all communication encourages and protects open communication about new ideas.

Generous contributions towards the funding of this conference has been provided by the APS Topical Group on Physics Education Research, APS Forum on Education, American Association of Physics Teachers (AATP), AAPT Physics Education Topical Group, the Gordon Research Conferences, and NSF Grant 1744229. A continuously updated list of sponsors is available on our website.

Nancy Ruzycki and Dawn Meredith are co-chairs of the 2018 GRC on Physics Research and Education. The co vice chairs are Drs. Shane Larson (Northwestern University) and Sean Robinson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The GRS co-chairs are Serena Eley (Los Alamos National Lab) and Daryl McPadden (Florida International University).


  1. S.V. Boriskina, H. Zandavi, B. Song, Y. Huang, G. Chen, "Heat is the new light," Optics and Photonics News, 28(11) 26-33, 2017.
  2. C. Dagdeviren, Z. Li, Z.L. Wang, Z.L., “Energy Harvesting from the Animal/Human Body for Self-Powered Electronics,” Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering, 19, 85-108, 2017.
  3. Philippe Brax, Carsten van de Bruck, Anne-Christine Davis, Justin Khoury, and Amanda Weltman, “Detecting dark energy in orbit: The cosmological chameleon,” Phys. Rev. D 70, 123518 (2004).
  4. Mara Prentiss, “Energy Revolution: The Physics and the Promise of Efficient Technology,” Belknap Press, 2015.
  5. Richard Feynman, Address "What is Science?", presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, in New York City (1966), published in The Physics Teacher, volume 7, issue 6 (1969), p. 313-320,
  6. Tamer G. Amin, Fredrik Jeppsson, and Jesper Haglund, “Conceptual Metaphor and Embodied Cognition in Science Learning: Introduction to special issue.” International Journal of Science Education, 37:5-6 (2015), 745-758, DOI: 10.1080/09500693.2015.1025245.
  7. Melanie Cooper and Michael W. Klymkowski, “The Trouble with Chemical Energy: Why Understanding Bond Energies Requires an Interdisciplinary Systems Approach.” CBE – Life Science Education, 12 (2013):306-312.
  8. B. W. Dreyfus, B. D. Geller, J. Gouvea, V. Sawtelle, C. Turpen, C., and E. F. Redish, “Ontological metaphors for negative energy in an interdisciplinary context.” Phys. Rev. ST—Phys. Educ. Res., 10 (2014): 020108.
  9. Benedikt W. Harrer, Virginia J. Flood, and Michael C. Wittmann, “Productive resources in students' ideas about energy: An alternative analysis of Watts' original interview transcripts.” Phys. Rev. ST - Phys. Educ. Res., 9 (2013): 023101-1 023101-5.
  10. Hannah C. Sabo, Lisa M. Goodhew, and Amy D. Robertson, “University student conceptual resources for understanding energy.” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 12 (2016): 010126-1.
  11. Robert Jaffe and Wasghington Taylor,

PER Events at the 2018 April Meeting (Columbus, OH)

Please consider joining us for the 2018 April Meeting, being held April 14-17 in Columbus, OH. This is the fourth meeting with GPER-sponsored invited sessions. There are two invited PER sessions, both co-sponsored by the Topical Group on Physics Education Research (GPER) with the Forum on Education (FEd). We think that the following sessions will be of great interest to our community and to the physics community.

The first session, “The Cutting Edge of Physics Education Research,” is Sunday, April 15, at 3:30 pm. The three talks are:

  1. Jacqueline Chini (U Central Florida): Learning from Avatars: Developing Student-centered Teaching Skills in a Mixed-reality Simulator
  2. Rachel Scherr (Seattle Pacific U; 2017 GPER Fellow): Fixed and growth mindsets in physics graduate admissions
  3. Angela Johnson (St. Mary's College of Maryland): Obstacles women of color report in physics, and actions faculty can take to reduce those obstacles

Jacqueline Chini’s talk is based on a paper in the “Preparing and Supporting University Physics Educators” Focused Collection in Phys. Rev. PER that was also highlighted with a synopsis in Physics. Rachel Scherr’s talk is based on a recent paper in Phys. Rev. PER. Angela Johnson’s talk is based on a recent article from The Physics Teacher, which is one in a series on Race and Physics Teaching.

The second PER session, “Physics Education Research: Network Analysis, Institutional Change, and Troubleshooting in Laboratories,”is Monday April 16 at 8:30am. The talks for this session are:

  1. Justyna Zwolak (NIST): Educational commitment and attitudes: The Social Network Perspective
  2. Charles Henderson (Western Michigan U, 2016 GPER Fellow): Integrated Elements of an Action Plan Leading to Institutional Change
  3. Dimitri Dounas-Frazer (CU Boulder): Student engagement in modeling and metacognition while troubleshooting a circuit

These talks also highlight the variety of research in PER. Justyna Zwolak’s talk using network analysis to investigate student retention and persistence is based on a recent Phys. Rev. PER paper. Charles Henderson, the 2016 GPER Fellow, will present recent work in his long and distinguished career in institutional change in STEM education. Dimitri Dounas-Frazer will present on recent investigations of student troubleshooting in-circuit laboratories, the most recent of which is published in Phys. Rev. PER.

In between the two invited sessions, on Sunday evening, is the Education and Diversity reception, where annual updates are given and APS Fellow(s) are acknowledged, including the 2017 GPER-nominated fellow Rachel Scherr.

We expect there to be contributed sessions as well. Please consider submitting a contributed abstract that focuses on physics education research, to demonstrate the strength and impact of PER to the APS community. Abstract submission is open, with a deadline of January 12 at 5:00 pm EST. Please contribute and join the meeting!

Finally, please send any ideas for invited sessions for future APS meetings to Paula Heron, 2018 Chair Elect and Program Chair for GPER.