Physics and Everyday Thinking

Physics and Everyday Thinking (PET) is a one-semester curriculum designed in part for prospective or practicing elementary teachers. The course uses a student-oriented pedagogy with a physics content focus as well as a unique Learning about Learning component.

Physics and Everyday Thinking is adaptable.
The Physics and Everyday Thinking curriculum has been taught 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 have also been developed for elementary school teachers to use in their own classrooms.

Physics and Everyday Thinking is inquiry based.
Physics and Everyday Thinking elicits student initial ideas and then provides students with opportunities to acquire evidentiary support, through hands-on activities or computer simulations, that helps them to decide, if appropriate, to develop new or modified ideas.

Physics and Everyday Thinking includes a unique Learning about Learning component.
This component of Physics and Everyday Thinking is designed to help students develop an understanding of how scientists develop knowledge, how they learn science themselves, and how others (for example, either elementary school students or other college students) learn science.


Chapter 1: Interactions and Energy

This chapter introduces students to all of the common themes of the course, in particular the themes of interactions between objects and the energy description of interactions.

Chapter 2: Interactions and Forces

This chapter introduces students to an alternative framework (that of forces) within which they can explain the same contact interactions they first saw in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 is written to explicitly address common misconceptions many students hold about the nature of forces and their connection to the motion of an object.

Chapter 3: Interactions and Systems

This chapter introduces students to the ideas of “fields of influence" mediating interactions that can occur over a distance, specifically the magnetic, electric charge and gravitational interactions. The concept of potential energy is also introduced.

Chapter 4: Model of Magnetism

This chapter concentrates more on the nature of science as it engages students in a series of activities designed to lead them to a basic domain model of magnetism. After examining the phenomenology of magnetic interactions between magnets and ferromagnetic materials, students propose an initial model for what happens inside a nail when it is magnetized by rubbing with a permanent magnet.

Chapter 5: Electric-Circuit Interactions

This chapter introduces students to electric circuit interactions and how to describe electric circuits in terms of energy and current.

Chapter 6: Light Interactions

This chapter introduces students to light interactions. Students examine the interaction of light with mirrors, eyes, transparent objects, white and black objects, and objects of different colors.


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.

Valerie Otero

University of Colorado Boulder

Valerie Otero is an associate professor in Science Education at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her mission is to influence and empower agents of change among stakeholders in STEM education. The change she seeks is equitable science education for K-12 students, especially those from groups traditionally underrepresented in science. Her research involves creating and studying learning environments that provide opportunities for individuals to generate personal meaning through the development of principles that have meaning to a broader discipline (such as physics and education). The learning environments she has co-developed and scaled throughout the nation include the: (i) the Colorado Learning Assistant (LA) model (undergraduate students and university faculty participate in a professional teaching community through course transformation), (ii) Streamline to Mastery and Noyce Teacher Team models (prospective and practicing teachers participate in a professional research community to critically analyze teaching and learning practice and create publishable research), and (iii) Physics and Everyday Thinking (college and high school students participate in a scientific community through experimentation and consensus to establish principles about the natural world). Otero’s models have spread throughout the nation and throughout the world. The Colorado Learning Assistant model has spread to over 50 universities throughout the U.S. as well as to universities in Japan, Singapore, and Ireland. She is the founder of the International Learning Assistant Alliance and has raised over $15 million dollars in grants and gifts to support these programs and to support students. Otero has published broadly with research scientists as well as with K-12 teachers. She has received awards for her research and has been recognized nationally by the American Physical Society for her contributions to the physics community. She has served on national committees with the National Academy of Sciences, the National Aeronautics Space Administration, and the National Task Force for Teacher Education in Physics. As a first generation college student, she has served as a role model for other Chicanas who seek to use the spirit and joy of science as a means for empowering youth by learning to let evidence “have your back.”