Next Generation Physical Science and Everyday Thinking

A guided-inquiry, physical science curriculum for pre-service and in-service K-5 teachers

Next Gen PET students will be prepared for teaching elementary-level science

Research-Based University Curriculum

  • Prepares prospective elementary teachers in physics and physical science.
  • Flexible and modular units
  • Comes in two university teaching styles: lab-based and lecture-based, and modular enough to be used in courses that include both settings.
  • NGSS-aligned for teachers to learn:
    • disciplinary core ideas
    • crosscutting concepts
    • science and engineering practices

Proven Results

Studies of the earlier versions of Next Gen PET found significant gains in university students’ conceptual understanding of core ideas from physical science and significant positive shifts in their attitudes and beliefs about the nature of science and the learning of science.

Ideal for Small, Lab-Based Courses

  • 10 Studio-Style Units
  • For courses that meet 5 hours per week in a lab or workroom
  • Students perform group experiments
  • They make predictions, discuss their ideas, and draw conclusions

Perfect for Large, Lecture-Style Courses

  • 10 Lecture-Style Units
  • For courses that meet 3 hours per week in lecture style classrooms
  • A guided-inquiry approach
  • Simple desktop experiments and videos of experiments
  • PowerPoint slides for the instructor align with student materials

Flexible enough for hybrid lecture/lab courses

  • Modular design allows flexible deployment in virtually all class formats
  • For courses that combine lecture meetings with weekly labs


Next Gen PET is intended primarily for university courses in physics or physical science for prospective elementary teachers. There is sufficient material for a one-semester (quarter) course or a two-semester (two-quarter) sequence. Next Gen PET is also appropriate for general education courses on conceptual physics or physical science, science methods courses, or workshops for in-service teachers. Next Gen PET materials are flexible and modular, and instructors can use them in a variety of ways, depending on the audience, time, and learning objectives.

Integrated Engineering Design Activities
Each of the five content modules includes two Engineering Design Activities requiring the application of the module’s physical science content.

Explicit Focus on Teaching and Learning
Included 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. These can be used optionally, as desired.

Research-based and Proven
Next Gen PET has been developed over the past ten years by a team of scientists and science educators using design principles based on research on science learning. Next Gen PET uses a proven, guided-inquiry approach that engages future teachers in many of the practices of science while developing a deep understanding of core ideas of physics or physical science (physics and chemistry). Preliminary data from learning impact studies suggest that both the Studio-style Class and Lecture-style Class versions of Next Gen PET promote significant growth in students’ conceptual understanding. Studies of the earlier versions of Next Gen PET found significant gains in students’ conceptual understanding of core ideas from physical science and significant positive shifts in their attitudes and beliefs about the nature of science and their learning of science.


Studio Style Version vs. Lecture Style Version

Each module has two versions, one for small, Studio-Style classes that are able to accommodate extensive laboratory work and discussion, and one for large, Lecture-Style classes.

Both versions use the same extensive set of online tutorial-style homework assignments, called Extensions. Instructors can choose which modules to include, whether or not to include Engineering Design activities, whether or not to include Teaching and Learning activities, and which instructional format to use. This allows instructors to tailor their course to match their content focus, meeting time, classroom setting, and students’ interests.

Module MSE: Developing Models for Magnetism and Static Electricity

In the first unit, students iteratively propose, test, and revise models for magnetism. They ultimately arrive at the “alignment model," which can explain all the class observations (the alignment model is similar to the domain model, but simpler). The second unit engages students in a similar process for static electric phenomena. Developing these explanatory models engages students in several practices of the Next Generation Science Standards, notably developing and using models, and promotes the crosscutting concept cause and effect: mechanism and explanation.

Module IE: Interactions and Energy

Module IE deals with energy in the context of different types of interactions, kinetic and potential energy, conservation of energy, and fields. In Unit EM, students explore energy concepts in various interactions, including contact interactions (pushes, pulls, and friction), heat interactions, and electric circuits. Giver/Receiver Energy diagrams are used to describe the transfer or transformation of energy. Conservation of energy is introduced early in the case of two objects interacting and then expanded to account for more complex chains of interactions between multiple objects (including the surroundings). The model is ultimately made quantitative.

Unit PEF introduces potential energy in the context of elastic objects, and then builds off this concrete example to introduce potential energy associated with non-contact forces (magnetism, static electricity, electromagnetism, and gravity). The concept of fields is used as a model for action at a distance and the associated potential energies.

Module IF: Interactions and Forces

Module IF focuses on interactions and forces. Unit FM treats interactions, force, and motion for single forces; Unit CF deals with combinations of forces. Unit FM begins by introducing forces and their relationship with interactions and energy. The connection between force and motion is explored for short-duration forces, continuous forces, and backward forces; later the effects of mass and force strength are included. These are synthesized into Newton’s second law. The unit ends with a treatment of the vertical motion of falling objects (ignoring air resistance).

In Unit CF, students examine the combination of forces, including balanced and unbalanced forces, arriving at the idea of net force. The unit includes a treatment of the horizontal motion of objects experiencing frictional forces, and the vertical motion of falling objects with air resistance. The unit culminates with Newton’s third law.

Module WSL: Waves, Sound and Light

Module WSL begins with mechanical waves and sound (Unit WS), starting with pulses and then introducing the wave model for continuous waves. Refraction, reflection, water waves, sound waves, and seismic waves are all treated. Unit L covers light. It includes a brief discussion of electromagnetic waves, but mainly focuses on phenomena involving visible light using a ray model: pinholes and shadows, reflection, refraction, and color.

Module MI: Matter and Interactions

The Matter and Interactions module includes a unit on physical changes (Unit PC) and chemical reactions (Unit CR). The small particle theory (SPT), or sometimes the small particle model, is a major focus of the module. Unit PC begins with gasses; the relationships between pressure, volume, temperature, and the amount of gas; and SPT as an explanatory model. The second half of Unit PC deals with the SPT for liquids and solids, and changes of state.

Unit CR deals with types of matter (elements, mixtures, and compounds), physical changes versus chemical reactions, and conservation of mass. Students connect the macroscopic properties of matter with the SPT. The unit culminates with the atomic model as a basis for organizing the periodic table.


Two Pathway Options for Next GEN PET: Studio-Styled Class or Lecture-Styled Class

Next Gen PETis a suite of materials, with a Studio-Style Class version for small lab and discussion classroom environments of 12-36 students; and a Lecture-Style Class version for lecture-style classrooms. In both versions, students draw on evidence, discuss ideas, develop, test and modify models, and engage in practices of scientific argumentation.

Studio-Style Class (SC) Version of Next GEN PET Lecture-Style Class (LC) Version of Next GEN PET
For courses that meet ~5 hrs/week. For courses that meet ~3 hrs/week in lecture style classrooms.
Lab or workroom where student can work in groups around tables and perform experiments. A guided-inquiry approach that can be used with large enrollments, or in course with smaller enrollments with limited meeting time and facilities.
Students spend the majority of their time with their group of three or four peers. Students watch videos of experiments or, as an option, may do some simple experiments on their desktops.
Make predictions, perform experiments, draw conclusions, answer questions in a workbook, and discuss their ideas both within their group and with the class. Students respond to questions (using hand-held response devices) to share ideas with the whole class.
The instructor manages the class time through a set of power points slides that align with the student materials.

Next Gen PET consists of five modules: (1) Developing Models for Magnetism and Static Electricity; (2) Interactions and Energy; (3) Interactions and Forces; (4) Waves, Sound and Light; and (5) Matter and Interactions. Next Gen PET students will be prepared for teaching elementary-level science in alignment with the NGSS. Next Gen PET materials are aligned with the physical science disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices in the National Research Council K-12 Science Education Framework and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).