Learning Physical Science

Learning Physical Science is a one-semester curriculum with a student-oriented pedagogy designed to enable students to develop a deep understanding of the conceptual themes of energy, forces, and the atomic-molecular theory of matter and is suitable for a large lecture hall environment or a small enrollment class with no mandatory lab component. The course is designed in part for prospective elementary teachers.

Learning Physical Science includes unique components.
Learning Physical Science is designed to help students develop an understanding of important aspects of scientific thinking and the nature of science. It also include lessons about how students learn science themselves and how others (for example, either elementary school students or other college students) learn science.

Learning Physical Science is inquiry based.
Learning Physical Science elicits student initial ideas and then provides students with opportunities to acquire evidentiary support that helps them to decide, if appropriate, to develop new or modified ideas.

Learning Physical Science is adaptable.
The Learning Physical Science curriculum has been taught and field tested at two-year and four-year institutions; has been adapted for a science methods course in schools of education; and can be offered as a workshop for practicing elementary teachers. In addition, the Elementary Science and Everyday Thinking set of activities has also been developed for elementary school teachers to use in their own classrooms.


Unit 1: Interactions and Energy

In Unit 1 students learn about various types of interactions and how to describe them in terms of both source/receiver and input/output energy diagrams. Students' also learned to represent and interpret the motion of objects with speed-time graphs. Near the end of the unit students learn about the law of conservation of energy and how to calculate the efficiency of devices.

Unit 2: Interactions and Forces

In Unit 2 students develop ideas that relate the motion of an object to the forces acting on it. These ideas are supported by the evidence they see in the demonstrations shown by their instructor and should be closely aligned with the ideas that scientists develop after considering experimental evidence. Students learn how to represent the forces acting on an object using a force diagram, and how to relate their force ideas to the energy ideas they learned in Unit 1.

Unit 3: Interactions and Potential Energy

In Unit 3 students develop ideas about action-at-a-distance interactions and see examples of three such interactions. They learn how to describe these interactions both in terms of the forces that interacting objects exert on each other, and in terms of the energy transfers and changes that occur, during these interactions. Students also learn how the idea of a ‘field of influence’ is useful in both force and energy descriptions of these interactions. Additionally, they learn about a simple model that can be used to think about electric charge interactions.

Unit 4: Small Particle Theory of Gases

In Unit 4 students learn about the macroscopic quantities of pressure and temperature and the small particle theory of gases, which helps connect the observable macroscopic quantities to their microscopic explanations.

Unit 5: Small Particle Theory of Liquids and Solids

In Unit 5 students develop ideas about chemical changes through macroscopic, microscopic (Atomic Molecular Theory) and energy perspectives. These ideas are supported by the evidence they see in the demonstrations shown by their instructor and in other tasks they complete, and should be closely aligned with the ideas that scientists develop considering experimental evidence.

Unit 6: Interactions and Chemistry

In Unit 6 students develop ideas about chemical changes through macroscopic, microscopic (Atomic Molecular Theory) and energy perspectives. These ideas are supported by the evidence they see in the demonstrations shown by their instructor and in other tasks they complete, and should be closely aligned with the ideas that scientists develop considering experimental evidence.


Fred Goldberg

San Diego State University

Fred Goldberg is Professor of Physics at San Diego State University. Since the 1980s he has been involved in physics education. Initially, his group studied student understanding in topical areas of physics, and later studied students’ beliefs about physics knowledge and learning. They then focused on developing strategies that addressed student difficulties. Many strategies involved the use of computer technology, including both data acquisition tools and computer simulations. Since the late 1990s, his group has focused on studying how students learn in a technology rich, collaborative learning environment. He has directed or co-directed many large National Science Foundation grants on research on learning, on development of curriculum materials for middle school, high school and college, on preservice teacher education and on professional development for teachers. He has served on several editorial boards, including the American Journal of Physics, The Physics Teacher, and the International Journal of Science Education. In 2003, he was the recipient of the Robert A. Millikan Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers for notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics. For the past several years his main focus has been on developing high quality inquiry-based science curricula for prospective elementary teachers, and working with elementary teachers to promote responsive teaching (attending and responding to the substance of their students’ ideas and thinking).

Stephen Robinson

Tennessee Technological University (TTU)

Dr. Stephen Robinson is a Professor in the Physics Department at Tennessee Technological University (TTU), where he teaches undergraduate physics and astronomy courses as well as pedagogy and research courses in a STEM Education PhD program. With NSF support he was a co-developer of the original guided-inquiry Physics and Everyday Thinking (PET) curriculum and other physics and physical science curricula based on the same pedagogical structure. He is a regular consultant for Horizon Research Inc.and has extensive experience conducting professional development workshops for both K-12 teachers and university faculty. He serves on the Advisory Council of the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network and was instrumental in the establishment of the Millard Oakley STEM Center at TTU. Before developing his interest in STEM education he conducted research in nuclear physics and has over fifty peer-reviewed publications to his name.

Rebecca Kruse

Army Educational Outreach Program Cooperative Agreement, Virginia Tech

Rebecca Kruse, PhD is the Evaluation Director for the Army Educational Outreach Program Cooperative Agreement, led by Virginia Tech. Rebecca's previous positions include Science Educator at Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Internal Evaluator and Research Associate for University of Pennsylvania's Penn Science Teacher Institute, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Coordinator of Education Initiatives at Southeastern Louisiana University. Rebecca holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and completed her post-doctoral appointment in science and mathematics education at San Diego State University. Rebecca’s work has spanned high school and college teaching, curriculum development, K-16 faculty development, and research and evaluation. Rebecca has both contributed to and led work that have been funded by the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Education. Rebecca's work in STEM education has focused on the premise that all students can productively engage in STEM learning with the support of high quality instructional materials, adaptive teaching, and accountable classroom community. Rebecca has extensive experience working with district and school leadership, teacher educators and coaches, K-12 teachers, and students in rural and urban settings, as well as with ESL/ELL and Native American populations, toward achieving a vision of high quality STEM education for all. Rebecca has published research in the Journal of Chemical Education, School Science and Mathematics, Journal for Research in Science Teaching, and Evolution: Education and Outreach. Rebecca has co-authored Physical Science and Everyday Thinking, Learning Physical Science, and Toward High School Biology: Understanding Growth in Living Things.

Danielle Boyd Harlow

University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB)

Danielle Harlow is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB). Her work focuses on science and engineering education for K-12 teachers and for elementary school students. At UCSB, Danielle teaches courses for Ph.D. students, pre-service teachers, and undergraduates. Her courses include technology and learning, physics and everyday thinking, engineering education, and methods for teaching elementary school science. Prior to joining the faculty at UCSB, Harlow received her Ph.D. in Science Education from the University of Colorado, Boulder, her M.S., in Geophysics from Stanford University and a B.S. in physics from Valparaiso University and spent two years teaching Physics in Tanzania, East Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Michael McKean

University of Colorado, Boulder

After earning a degree in physics from UC Berkeley, Michael McKean did his graduate studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder and received a doctorate in astrophysics in 1990. Mike spent several years researching space physics before returning to grad school at San Diego State University, where he earned a master’s in educational technology in 1999. While still attending SDSU, he began working in 1998 with Fred Goldberg and Sharon Bendall at the Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education (CRMSE) on the development of physical science curricula. He has continued working at CRMSE since then. Mike was part of the development team for InterActions in Physical Science, Physics & Everyday Thinking, and Physical Science & Everyday Thinking, published by It’s About Time, and also Constructing Physics Understanding (CPU), published by The Learning Team. He is a co-author on Learning Physical Science and the “Learning Physics” (LEP) curricula. He has also assisted the Responsive Teaching in Science project, which focuses on helping teachers attend and respond to the substance of their students’ ideas and reasoning.