by David Hestenes, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Arizona State University (2010)



Grave deficiencies in American K-12 math-science education have been documented in many prominent reports; e.g., A Nation at Risk (1983), Shaping the Future (1996), TIMSS (1998), Glenn Commission (2000), PISA (2006). Despite these high profile warnings and recommendations, the problems of math-science education have continued to deepen toward a crisis, as expressed by another blue-ribbon committee with the warning: "If America is to sustain its international competitiveness, its national security, and quality of life for its citizens, then it must move quickly to achieve significant improvements of all students in mathematics and science." (Business-Higher Education Forum, 2005).

The data are sobering. In the TIMSS report, a comprehensive comparison with students in 15 other countries ranked US 12th grade students dead last. American secondary school students are failing to achieve established learning goals in science (The Nation's Report Card, NAEP, 2006). In 2005, for example, only 54 percent of all twelfth grade students whose math and science knowledge was assessed by NAEP scored at or above the Basic level. Only eighteen percent performed at or above the Proficient level.

The problems of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education reform are many and difficult, but one does not have to look far to see that the crux of the matter is a dearth of well-qualified teachers. Ultimately, education in the schools boils down to a transaction between teacher and students, and the quality of that transaction depends primarily on the expertise of the teacher.

The national shortage of qualified STEM teachers is staggering! The best available data are for physics teachers (Neuschatz et. al 2008), which is all the more significant because physics is central to the STEM curriculum.[i] The nation has about 23,000 high school physics teachers, but only a third of them have a degree in physics or physics education, and the production rate of new teachers barely matches the replacement rate for this group. The remaining two thirds consists of crossover teachers from other majors, mostly with no more preparation than two or three semesters of general physics. Most are drafted by their principals into teaching physics, and their most common degree is biology. A few are Ph.D.'s in physics or engineering, but even these are under-qualified, because they lack the pedagogical content knowledge needed for effective teaching (Hestenes 1995).

            A closer look reveals further deficiencies in teacher qualifications. Well-trained teachers specializing in physics are often drafted to teach chemistry or mathematics, so the problem of inadequately qualified crossover teachers cuts both ways. And in rural schools there is seldom more than one teacher for all the STEM subjects, if indeed physics and chemistry are even offered.[ii]

There is no need to belabor the point further. It should be obvious that, since the supply of new qualified teachers is such a trickle, the only possibility for massive improvement in the qualifications of teachers is professional development of teachers already in the classroom.

As the Glenn Commission (2000) concluded: "We are of one mind in our belief that the way to interest children in mathematics and science is through teachers who are not only enthusiastic about their subjects, but who are also steeped in their disciplines and who have the professional training—as teachers—to teach those subjects well. Nor is this teacher training simply a matter of preparation; it depends just as much—or even more—on sustained, high-quality professional development."

            Schools and school districts are ill-equipped to conduct the necessary professional development on their own, because they lack the necessary expertise in science and technology as well as the resources to keep up-to-date with advances in science curriculum materials and pedagogy. The problem is most severe in rural and urban schools with "high-need" students.

To address the need for high-quality professional development on a massive scale, the Modeling Instruction Program was developed with 15 years of NSF funding. To date it has delivered professional development in physics, chemistry and physical science in summer workshops to more than three thousand teachers across the nation (Modeling 2005).


II. Evolution of the Modeling Instruction Program

The Modeling Instruction Program is an evolving, research-based program for high school science education reform with progressively broader implications for STEM education nationally. The following brief account of its evolution supports the claim that it is well-prepared to help improve the competence of STEM teachers at a national scale.

Stage 1 (1980–1992). During this period of physics education research the theoretical and practical foundations for Modeling Instruction were thoroughly developed, tested and published. As the results and conclusions have been strongly confirmed and provided with a secure foundation for subsequent developments in the next two decades, a brief summary is in order here. We can distinguish three distinct (but strongly coupled) lines of research:

            (1) Research on the role of student prior knowledge on learning physics (Halloun & Hestenes 1985a,b) to development of the Force Concept Inventory (Hestenes 1992a, Halloun et al. 1995) and Mechanics Baseline Test (Hestenes 1992b) as primary instruments for evaluating student learning in introductory physics. The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) has since become the most widely used instrument for evaluating effectiveness of physics instruction (Hake 1998). Its validity (Cronbach alpha = 0.9), reliability, high resolution and relevance have been repeatedly confirmed, and its influence on physics education has been reviewed by Hake (2002).

            (2) The theoretical framework for modeling pedagogy and curriculum design was laid out in Hestenes (1987) and successfully tested in university physics (Halloun & Hestenes 1987). Research on refinement and implementation of modeling pedagogy has continued to this day (Hestenes 1992c, Hestenes 1997, Desbien 2002, Megowan 2007, Cabot 2008).

            (3) Modeling pedagogy was brilliantly adapted to high school physics by Malcolm Wells (Wells et al. 1995). The test of this innovation in Wells' doctoral thesis is surely one of the most well-controlled and significant physics education experiments of all time. His primary treatment and control groups differed only in the pedagogy used, and the effect was large!

            Wells' doctoral supervisor (Hestenes) was so impressed with the result that he put aside his physics research to join Wells on a proof-of-concept NSF grant to see if training in modeling pedagogy could improve the performance of other teachers. It is noteworthy that, from the beginning, the FCI played an essential role in quality control and design of effective workshops. After the first summer workshop, the teachers eagerly tried out what they had learned, but were surprised that the FCI showed no gain in student learning. This led to the realization that the teachers had concentrated so much on the instructional materials and student activities that they overlooked essential elements of the modeling pedagogy. That was corrected in the next summer workshop, and the results were sufficient to justify an NSF grant to bring Modeling Instruction to more teachers.

Stage 2 (1993–1999) NSF funding enabled extension of the Modeling Workshops nationwide. More than 200 teachers from almost every state in the nation attended intensive four-week Workshops on two successive summers that thoroughly reformed the standard one-year high school physics course. A survey in 2001 found that more than 90% of the active teachers still used the modeling pedagogy that they learned in the Workshops (Hestenes 2000). The FCI helped identify the most effective teachers and thus expand the ranks of qualified leaders for wider distribution of the Workshops.

Stage 3. Institutionalization at Arizona State University (ASU) began in 1995 when the Modeling Workshops were adopted as a course in Methods of Physics Teaching for pre-service and in-service teachers. Half of the in-service physics teachers in Arizona have taken at least one Modeling Workshop. This has established common ground for a community of teachers committed to science education reform. Within this community a number of exceptional teachers has emerged who are dedicated and able to serve as leaders of reform.

Stage 4. (1998-2001) Teacher demand for high-quality professional development stimulated expansion of the Modeling Program into a full-blown graduate program expressly designed to meet the professional development needs of physics teachers and lead to a Master of Natural Science (MNS) degree in physics teaching. The program was unanimously ratified by the ASU Department of Physics and Astronomy and incorporated into the official ASU catalog. The MNS program was launched in Summer 2001 with a full complement of courses for in-service teachers, including five contemporary physics and interdisciplinary courses taught by senior research faculty <http://physics.asu.edu/graduate/mns/pos>.

Stage 5. (2002–2005) With NSF funding the MNS program expanded to serve in-service teachers of chemistry, physical science and stimulated the ASU Mathematics Department to introduce a similar graduate program for mathematics. As a result, the program grew to 150 teachers from across the nation who participated each summer in rotating advanced courses and multiple sections of nine Modeling Workshops (Hestenes & Jackson 2006).[iii]

Stage 6. Since NSF funding ended in 2005, the MNS program has continued to attract 125 to 150 teachers each summer (two dozen Knowles Teaching Fellows as well as 15 physics and chemistry teachers sent by the Ministry of Education of Singapore). One hundred Arizona teachers each summer have been funded by ASU and the Federal "No Child Left Behind" Improving Teacher Quality program administered by the Arizona Board of Regents. At the same time, Modeling Instruction has continued to spread nationally, mainly through efforts of dedicated teachers who have helped organize and conduct Modeling Workshops at 60 different academic institutions and schools, involving 10% of all the physics teachers in the U.S. These sites are listed at http://modeling.asu.edu/Partners.html. (Jackson, Dukerich, & Hestenes 2008).


The take-away message from this account is threefold:

(1) Modeling pedagogy is grounded in science, research-based and thoroughly classroom-tested.

(2) The Modeling program has a proven delivery system for upgrading teacher competence and networking teachers for mutual support at a national scale.

(3) The Modeling program has engaged science faculty at a Research I university in a graduate program to upgrade teacher knowledge of 21st century science and its implications for society.

The MNS program at ASU is unique in its dedication to high-quality professional development of in-service STEM teachers (Hestenes et. al. 2010).



In May 2010 the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) with six universities, anchored by ASU, submitted an "Invest in Innovation" proposal to the U.S. Department of Education to validate Modeling Instruction as a valuable national resource to help schools raise the quality of STEM teaching through professional development and teacher networking. The project would strengthen the professional development program by linking it to universities and colleges through partnership with the NSF-funded PhysTEC (http://phystec.org), a program run by the American Physical Society and the AAPT to increase the output of new physics and physical science teachers. The American Chemical Society is a partner to increase the number of chemistry teachers.

            This project would deliver a program of professional development workshops and services that

(1) provide teachers with direct access to high-quality STEM curriculum materials and teaching practices thoroughly classroom-tested by expert teachers,

(2) establish and maintain a STEM teacher network to support a community of practice with local links to university/college science departments,

(3) link pre-service preparation of new teachers to professional development of in-service teachers to strengthen the pathways for induction and mentoring of new STEM teachers,

(4) help schools with strategic planning for their STEM education programs,

(5) validate the effectiveness of Modeling Instruction.

The AAPT and the American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), an affiliate of the AAPT and the professional organization for the professional network of Modelers, are dedicated to continuing the Modeling Instruction Program as a service to teachers and schools in the U.S. The AMTA will be a clearinghouse for Modeling Workshop sites and instructional materials. Schools can maintain the reforms initiated in the proposed project through AMTA subscriptions at less than current costs for textbooks. An AMTA course subscription will provide

            * online access to course materials on a per course basis,

            * teacher access to the AMTA teacher network for mentoring and support,

            * student progress reports.

Schools and school districts can also hire an AMTA consulting team for advice and assistance in STEM planning, teacher networking, and evaluation.




American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), http://www.modelingteachers.org/.

Business-Higher Education Forum (Feb. 2005). A Commitment to America's Future: Responding to the Crisis in Mathematics and Science Education. http://www.bhef.com/publications/documents/commitment_future_05.pdf

Cabot, Lloyd H. "Nick" (2008). Transforming Teacher Knowledge: Modeling Instruction in Physics. Ph.D. dissertation, College of Education, University of Washington.

       http://modeling.asu.edu/thesis/TransformingTchrKnowledge08.pdfDesbien, Dwain (2002). Modeling discourse management compared to other classroom management styles in university physics. D.Ed. dissertation, Division of Curriculum and Instruction, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. http://modeling.asu.edu/modeling/ModelingDiscourseMgmt02.pdf

Expert Panel Review (2001): Modeling Instruction in High School Physics. (Office of Educational Research and Improvement. U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC) http://www2.ed.gov/offices/OERI/ORAD/KAD/expert_panel/newscience_progs.html

George, Melvin D. (1996). Shaping the Future, National Science Foundation Report # 96-139.

Glenn Commission (2001). Before It's Too Late; A Report to the Nation from The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. http://www.ed.gov/inits/Math/glenn/index.html

Hake, R (1998). Interactive-engagement vs. traditional methods: A six thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. Am. J. Phys. 66, 64-74.

Hake, R. (2002), Lessons from the physics education reform effort, Ecology and Society 5(2): 28; online at http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol5/iss2/art28/. Ecology and Society

       is a free online "peer-reviewed journal of integrative science and fundamental policy research" with tens of thousands of subscribers in many nations.

Halloun, I., Hake, R., Mosca, E., and Hestenes, D. Force Concept Inventory (revised 1995). http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/research.html

Halloun, I. and Hestenes, D. (1985a). Initial Knowledge State of College Physics Students, Am. J. Phys. 53: 1043-1055.

Halloun, I. and Hestenes, D. (1985b). Common Sense Concepts about Motion, Am. J. Phys. 53, 1056-1065.

Halloun, I. and Hestenes, D. (1987). Modeling Instruction in Mechanics, Am. J. Phys. 55: 455-462.

Hestenes, D. (1987). Toward a Modeling Theory of Physics Instruction, Am. J. Phys. 55: 440-454.

Hestenes, D., Wells, M., and Swackhamer, G. (1992a). Force Concept Inventory, The Physics Teacher 30: 141-158. http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html

Hestenes, D. and Wells, M. (1992b). Mechanics Baseline Test, The Physics Teacher 30: 159-156. http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html

Hestenes, D. (1992c). Modeling Games in the Newtonian World, Am. J. Phys. 60: 732-748.

Hestenes, D. (1997). Modeling Methodology for Physics Teachers. In E. Redish & J. Rigden (Eds.) The changing role of the physics department in modern universities. American Institute of Physics, Part II, 935-957. http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html

Hestenes, D. (2000). Findings of the Modeling Workshop Project (1994-2000) (from Final Report submitted to the National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA). http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html

Hestenes, D. and Jackson, J. (2006). "NSF report: Findings of the ASU Summer Graduate Program for Physics Teachers (2002-2006)." National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Findings-ASUgradPrg0206.pdf. See also the reports of MNS program independent evaluators Frances Lawrenz, Eugene Judson, and Rose Shaw at http://modeling.asu.edu/Evaluations/Evaluations.html

Hestenes D., Megowan-Romanowicz, C, Osborn Popp, S., Jackson, J., & Culbertson, R. (2010). A graduate program for high school physics and physical science teachers. Am. J. Phys. (in press).

Ingersoll, R. (2002). The Organization of Schools as an Overlooked Source of Underqualified Teaching, Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, Table I, p. 4. http://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/PDFs/Brief_seven.pdf

Jackson, Jane, Dukerich, Larry, and Hestenes, David (2008). Modeling Instruction: An Effective Model for Science Education, Science Educator 17 (1). http://www.nsela.org

Megowan. Mary Colleen (2007). Framing Discourse for Optimal Learning in Science and Mathematics. Ph.D. dissertation, Division of Curriculum and Instruction, Arizona State University, Tempe. http://modeling.asu.edu/thesis/MegowanColleen_dissertation.pdf

Modeling (2005). Home page: http://modeling.asu.edu. After a deliberative process of more than two years by a Panel of Experts commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, in January 2001 the Modeling Instruction Project was the only high school science program in the nation to receive an Exemplary rating. Ratings were based on (l) Quality of Program, (2) Educational Significance, (3) Evidence of Effectiveness, and (4) Usefulness to Others. See Expert Panel Review (2001).

National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. U.S. Department of Education, Washington DC.

National Science Board: Digest of Key Science and Engineering Indicators 2008. National Science Foundation. p. 19. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/digest08/pages/figure14.htm

The Nation's Report Card: Science 2005 (May 2006). National Assessment of Educational Progress. National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. http://nces.ed.gov/NAEP/pdf/main2005/2006466.pdf

Neuschatz, M., McFarling, M., and White, S. (2008). "Reaching the Critical Mass: Findings from the 2005 Nationwide Survey of High School Physics Teachers," American Institute of Physics, http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/hs05report.pdf

PISA- The Programme for International Student Assessment (2006). Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/51/27/37474503.pdf

Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) (1998). Report issued by the US Department of Education and the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Wells, M., Hestenes, D., and Swackhamer, G. (1995). A Modeling Method for High School Physics Instruction, Am. J. Phys. 63, 606-619 http://modeling.asu.edu/modeling-HS.html


[i] Physics is the foundation of all sciences and engineering. It deals with the simplest models and systems. Many student difficulties in chemistry and biology are due to na´ve conceptions in physics. Engineering failures can often be traced back to an inadequate understanding of physics.

[ii] The dearth of qualified teachers is even worse for 9th grade physical science. Most high school physical science teachers do not have a major or a minor in any physical science (Ingersoll 2002). Thus the NSF's Science and Engineering Indicators (NSB 2008) found that almost half of public secondary schools reported teaching vacancies (i.e., teaching positions needing to be filled) in physical sciences. About one-third of these schools reported great difficulty in finding teachers to fill the openings.

[iii]In 2005, a North Central Accrediting team site visit to the ASU physics department was made by Nobelist S. Brodsky, J.L. Erskine, and G. Nivison. Their report states: "One of the important ways that ASU is currently elevating science education in Arizona is its unique Master of Natural Science (MNS) program for in-service teachers. There appears to be no comparable program at any other university in the United States, and it stands as an exemplary model of how physics departments can improve high school physics education." The full report is at http://www.public.asu.edu/~britchie/external.pdf