University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group
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The UMd PERG participates
in a number of educational research and development projects in physics education.
To find out more about the projects, click on the links below. To go directly
to the materials that we have developed and are distributing on the web,
click on the "PERG materials" link in the header or
- Toward a New Conceptualization of What Constitutes Progress in Learning
Physics, K-16: Resources, Frames, and Networks:
An NSF (ROLE) supported project (2005-2008). The long title describes what
we're after (the new conceptualization) and the theoretical bases from which
we hope to build it. The core idea is that students of all ages have a rich
variety of cognitive resources for reasoning about the physical world, resources
they use in different ways depending on the circumstances. We're interested
to understand how students extend and refine these resources and how they
- Learning the Language of Science: Advanced Math
for Concrete Thinkers:
An NSF (DUE/DTS) supported
project (2005-2009). A project to study and model student difficulties with
applying advanced mathematics in physics. A critical issue is the integration
of modeling, interpretation, and evaluation skills with the more commonly
stressed math processing skills.
- What influences teachers' modifications of curriculum?:
An NSF (ESI) supported project (2005-2008). Teachers get objectives and
materials from schools for their courses, but they very often make modifications.
These can be little adjustments such as spending some extra time on a topic
or skipping an activity, or they can be substantial changes, such as substituting
a different activity or switching to another textbook. We're interested to
understand what influences them in making these modifications, and especially
what goes into their making effective modifications.
tutorials integrated with professional development materials:
In this NSF (DUE/CCLI) supported project (2004-2006), we refine
and class test open-source tutorials (worksheets intended to guide collaborative
active learning) that instructors can customize to the needs of their students
and curricula. To help
instructors make productive modifications and implement the tutorials
effectively, we hyperlink the worksheets themselves to instructors' guides
and annotated video clips of students using the worksheets.
- Developing conceptual and teaching expertise in physics graduate students:
An integrated approach:
Many physics educational reforms depend on graduate teaching assistants (TAs)
to deliver instruction to small groups of students working on issues in
conceptual physics. But many physics TAs have difficulties both
with the content knowledge (conceptual physics) and the pedagogical content
knowledge (assumptions about how students learn). In this project we will
create a professional development seminar to help TAs develop
sophisticated teaching practices, and research the ways in which taking
our seminar and teaching in a reformed introductory physics course bring
about changes in their approaches to teaching.
- Learning How to Learn Science: Physics for Bioscience
An NSF supported project (2000-2005) to study student learning in algebra-based
physics. The population studied is dominantly bioscience majors and pre-health-care
professionals. The focus of the study is on meta-learning issues including
basic research on student resources, student difficulties with mathematics
in physics, and student difficulties with conceptual issues of measurement
In addition, we modified existing best-practice materials for introductory
university physics and developed a new survey probing student expectations.
- Case Studies of Elementary Student Inquiry in Physical Science: An NSF supported project (2000-2004) to develop a series of written and video case studies of elementary student thinking in physical science. The case studies we publish at the end of the project will contribute to teachers' and researchers' understanding of student learning in science.
- Quantum and Modern Physics Learning:
A project supported by FIPSE and the NSF (1997-2000). An understanding of
quantum physics is becoming increasingly important for research scientists
in many other fields than physics, including electrical and materials engineering,
biology, and computer science. In this project, the UMd PERG is researching
conceptual difficulties upper division engineers have in understanding quantum
physics. Supplementary instructional materials have been developed on the
basis of this research and are available here.
- Activity-Based Physics: An NSF supported
project (1995-1998). ABP is a multi-university consortium to develop coordinated
active-learning materials for introductory physics. The materials developed
for this project are research-based and carefully evaluated for effectiveness.
They integrate microcomputer-based laboratories and video data collection and
- Student Epistemologies and Expectations:
An NSF supported project (1994-1998). An important part of what students
should learn from physics courses is how we know what we know. Some of the
difficulties students have in making sense of introductory physics arise
from mistaken ideas about how science knows what it knows. Student expectations
on what they should do to learn physics and what it means to understand it
can also lead to problems. The UMd PERG has been studying how to understand
and measure these critical factors, and how to use the understanding we develop
to improve instruction. Click here to go directly to the Maryland
Physics Expectations (MPEX) survey page.
- The Maryland University Project in Physics and Educational Technology: A project in the mid to late 1980's test the possible role of computers in physics education. This project had two subprojects.
- The M.U.P.P.E.T. Utilities: A set of tools in Turbo Pascal to simplify programming and permit introductory students to easily learn to model complex physical systems. Numerous software programs written in M.U.P.P.E.T. are still useful more than a decade later. Try some out on our software page. M.U.P.P.E.T. is a direct ancestor of the multi-university Consortium for Upper-Level Physics Software
(CUPS) and of the "Physlets" used in the Web Physics Project at Davidson College.
- Spreadsheet Physics: One of the early demonstrations of the value of spreadsheets in physics teaching. Filled with lots of examples of interesting physics with simple numerical examples.
- The Comprehensive Unified Physics Learning Environment: The CUPLE project created a multi-media tool environment for data-taking and mathematical modeling. It is the basis for the Studio Physics environment developed at Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute.
- The International Conference on Undergraduate Physics Education: In the summer of 1996, the group organized and ran the ICUPE -- an international conference on physics education. The proceedings of this conference are published by AIP in two volumes totalling 1200 pages. The second volume includes papers describing innovative teaching methods. Eighteen of these papers are available on the AAPT web site.
- MaxwellWorld: In the mid '90s, we had the privilege to serve as advisors to the ScienceSpace group in their creation of a virtual reality program to demonstrate electrostatic representations in a 3D environment. Click on the title to see some remarkable displays produced by the VR program, MaxwellWorld.