Moon Lecture

Department of Physics

Center for Physics Education Research

The Center for Physics Education Research (CPER) group is interested in studying various aspects of the processes of teaching and learning physics. Research topics range from the study of student behaviors, learning styles, and cognitive processes to the study of uses and effects of new interactive technologies in learning physics. Each research topic is based upon the development and evaluation of an educational methodology, so the work by this group involves hand-in-hand research and development.

Mission:

Providing a platform on which faculty and students can become fully engaged in physics, physics education, and Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) endeavors, the Academy's Center for Physics Education Research (CPER) is on the frontline of transforming the Academy's learning and teaching environment. Housed in the Department of Physics and led by senior professors and distinguished scholars, the center spearheads multiple research efforts with the goal of improving STEM education in USAFA classrooms and nationwide.

Active Research Areas:

Just in Time Teaching and Worked Examples

Building upon the success of its internationally recognized flagship project, Just In Time Teaching (JiTT) and JiTT's extension through the center's Worked-Examples pedagogy, CPER has focused efforts on creating research-based materials to enable any school and any instructor to take advantage of USAFA-proven techniques. CPER has developed a pilot version of a pedagogical approach using pre-instruction learning objects and featuring an expert's treatment of a short problem task for the learner to deconstruct and analyze. This "Worked Examples" approach, implemented as the foundation for all core physics courses, has been tested on over 3,000 students, with encouraging results with wide-reaching impacts.

The center's goal is to impact USAFA and the nation's STEM education by further developing a library of research-based materials that will aid instructors in providing the proven-benefits of an active learning environment. The CPER is beginning the task of developing 200 pre-instruction learning modules, classroom-testing the materials, and disseminating the materials nationwide through a digital library funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Guided-Inquiry and Do-It-Yourself Modeling

CPER research is looking beyond classroom instruction and directly into the minds of the students. Cognitive science and education research suggest learning that incorporates metacognitive knowledge and skills leads to longer lasting outcomes. The research also suggests that metacognitive skills can be acquired with curricula that help students develop an awareness of their inquiry process and the ability to reflect on what they are doing. Such curricula better meet the needs of "millennial" students. CPER researchers are using the results of existing metacognition research to formulate curricula to improve and strengthen student inquiry skills.

Conservation of Energy Modeling

Based upon software developed by a multi-university group, the CPER is creating and evaluating computer-modeling exercises for an introductory physics course that will develop students' metacognitive knowledge and skills. Students will be guided in the construction and testing of models to represent physical scenarios. Supported by video-game quality simulations, students will practice hands-on implementation of the scientific method, begin to understand how science develops laws of nature, and acquire a more permanent understanding of the physics content through a guided-inquiry process. It is important to help students to see that "wrong" answers are not evidence of failure on their part but are stepping stones in the learning process.

Mobile Technology to Motivate and Manage Meaningful In-class Engagement

CPER research efforts are also looking to exploit the capabilities of mobile technology to address a classroom issue: improving the frequency and quality of in-class student engagement. The center's goal is to elevate the frequency and quality of meaningful classroom engagement in physics core classes. The CPER is developing a mobile technology based system for monitoring student participation in all classroom activities on a daily basis and providing real-time scoring data to instructors through a mobile device such as an iPad TM, iPod TouchTM, or AndroidTM based device. Students will be rewarded for showing evidence of classroom engagement. The system will consist of a server and in-class mobile devices with which instructors will assign credit and monitor participation throughout the semester. The data will be fed back to the mobile devices to inform the instructor about the level and recency of participation by the students. The data will also be analyzed and compared to other metrics such as test results and student surveys to improve the design of the pre-class assignments and the in-class activities.

Mobile technology scoring