Graduate Students in
Physics Education Research

AAPT Winter Meeting, Pheonix, AZ:
GSPER Crackerbarrel sesssion.

Answering the question "Should There Be Physics Education Groups in Physics Departments?"

Introductory comments by Tom Foster (written below, not a link)
Tom's page explains the context of the following pages of notes by group leaders.
Brian Adrian's notes
Andy Johnson's notes
Laura McCullough's notes
Sanjay Rebello's notes

Here are prelimanry comments made by Tom Foster about the GSPER Crackerbarrel session:

On January 6, 1997, at the Winter Meeting of the AAPT in Phoenix, the Committee on Research in Physics Education sponsored the first Graduate Student and PostDoc Crackerbarrel. For those who don't know, I was asked to preside over the Crackerbarrel in Michael Wittmann's absence.

To prevent the Crackerbarrel from becoming a lecture or even show-n-tell, it was decided to use this opportunity as a chance to work on a common issue to graduate students in PER. I decided to ask the simple question:

Should There Be Physics Education Groups in Physics Departments?

This is a relevant question since

It is also a question I believe most of us would answer in the affirmative. Given this expectation, I did not want the Crackerbarrel to degenerate into a dogmatic pep-rally. The solution was to use Constructive Controversy.

Constructive Controversy is an extension of cooperative grouping which allows for a richer exploration of both sides of an issue. After randomly assigning people to groups, each group was split in half. One set of pairs were asked to argue the no position and the other half was to argue yes. Constructive Controversy then follows the following pattern to reach a decision:

We had an excellent discussion and many great arguments were made. At one point, I overheard someone say they had talked themselves out of a job. The structure of the Constructive Controversy in the Crackerbarrel seems to have done its job. During the last phase of the discussion the entire class discussed both their thoughts and feelings on the subject. The overall consensus seems to be a resounding "probably yes."

The Crackerbarrel was an amazing success. The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. The evaluations are full of sentiments like "I feel more informed," and "I feel like I have ammunition." Further, I believe that the Crackerbarrel was a positive step toward forming the GSPER community. I asked the Committee on Research in Physics Education of AAPT to schedule another Crackerbarrel for us in Denver.

If you have any questions or comments about this brief synopsis of the Crackerbarrel, please let me know.


Tom Foster

Read notes from the various groups that participated in the discussions!!

This page was prepared by Michael Wittmann, University of Maryland, College Park. Any corrections, additions, or comments are welcome!!! To get in touch with Michael, send email to


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