PHS 530 / PHY 480 – Methods of Teaching Physics I:

Modeling Workshop in Mechanics (summers at ASU)


A model-centered, inquiry approach to high school and post-secondary general physics teaching

Prerequisite: two semesters algebra-based college physics



Course description and expectations



The Modeling Workshop in mechanics is an intensive 3-week course with these goals:

1. educate teachers in use of a model-centered, guided inquiry method of teaching physics.

2. help participants integrate computer courseware effectively into the physics curriculum.

3. help teachers make better use of national resources for physics education, including research.

4. establish electronic network support and a learning community among participants.

5. strengthen local institutional support for participants as school leaders in disseminating standards-based reform in science education.



            The main objective of the 1st summer Modeling Workshop (in mechanics) is to acquaint teachers with all aspects of the modeling method and develop some skill in implementing it. To that end, teachers are provided with a fairly complete set of written curriculum materials to support instruction organized into coherent modeling cycles (as described in Wells et al., 1995). The physical materials and experiments in the curriculum are simple and quite standard, already available in any reasonably equipped physics classroom.

            To develop familiarity with the materials necessary to fully implement them in the classroom, we find that teachers must work through the activities, discussions and worksheets, alternating between student and teacher modes. Each of the nine units in the mechanics course manual includes an extensive Teacher Notes section. Throughout the course, teachers are asked to reflect on their practice and how they might apply the techniques they have learned in the course to their own classes. 



      You are expected to attend all 15 sessions of this course.  If you miss 2 classes, your maximum grade will be a B; if 3, you can earn no higher than a C.  Please be on time and ready to go!


     You will be provided a manual of instructional materials (teacher notes, labs and worksheets).  You will need a 3-ring binder with dividers to organize these materials.

     You will need a 9” x 12” quad-ruled lab notebook.  This size will allow you to easily tape or paste in data you collect and graphs you produce from the labs you perform during the workshop, as well as your reflections on the activities and readings assigned during the workshop. 


Course grade (PHY 480 and PHS 530 except where otherwise noted):


      To earn a letter grade of “B”, you will be expected to do the following:

Š      Keep a course notebook.  You will perform labs in “student mode”.  You will be expected to record notes from the pre-lab discussion, record and evaluate data and summarize the findings of the “class” in your lab notebook.  Write down notes that will help you when you have students do the lab.  Some teachers benefit by writing down good questions asked during whiteboarding.  You should also take notes on demonstrations and the concept they are meant to illustrate.  Teachers find this notebook to be a valuable resource as they use the curricular materials in their own classes. (50%)

Š      Work out all problems and questions on the worksheets and insert them into your 3-ring binder. (10%)

Š      Participate actively and thoughtfully in lab whiteboarding sessions, discussion of readings, activities, and problem-solving whiteboarding. (10%)

Š      Read excerpts from the Teaching Introductory Physics textbook by Arnold Arons and physics education research articles.  For each of these you will be expected to write a one-half to one-page reaction (not a synopsis) in which you offer your views about the ideas discussed in the reading assignment.  (10%)

Š      For each unit, record your reflections on the activities of your team as you work through the materials. (10% for PHS 530, but 20% for PHY 480)

Š      (PHS 530 only: not required for PHY 480) On a specified day during the last week, turn in a two-page (single-spaced word-processed) paper describing one of the following; how Modeling instruction differs from your current practice and what changes you plan to incorporate, or the issues with which you will have to deal in order to implement the Modeling Method in your classroom. (10%)


In order to be considered for an “A”, you will be required to complete additional assignments consisting of lesson plans, specified on the first day of the course.


PHS 530 / PHY 480 Syllabus/Agenda


Week 1




Day 1




(am)  Welcome. Introduce participants, schedules, workshop description, goals,  FCI overview, FCI pre-test

(pm) Unit I: Scientific Thinking in Experimental Settings Pendulum lab, graphical methods, lab report format, grading of lab notebook


Readings:  1) Hestenes, “Force Concept Inventory” (on website)

2) Hestenes "Wherefore a science of teaching.” (on website)




Day 2




(am)  Discuss readings, clarify Unit I lab. lab write-ups, worksheets/test Unit 1,

take Mechanics Baseline Test

(pm) whiteboarding, presentation criteria, discuss unit materials

Unit II:  Particle with Constant Velocity.  Battery-powered vehicle lab, post-lab discussion, motion maps, deployment. Take MBT pre-test.


Readings: McDermott, "Guest Comment: How we teach…"

Arons, ch 1 (special attn: sections 8, 9, 11, 12)




Day 3



(am)  Discuss readings, problems, worksheets/presentations, intro to Body modeling, Sonic Rangers

(pm) Unit II lesson plan, Whiteboard WS and test.

Intro. Unit III: Uniformly Accelerating Particle Model


Readings: Hake, "Socratic Pedagogy in the...",  Arons 2.1-2.6




Day 4


(am) Discuss readings, Timer software, ball-on-rail lab, whiteboard results

(pm) Sonic Rangers, post-lab extension: instantaneous velocity, acceleration, motion maps, deployment worksheet/whiteboard


Reading: Mestre, "Learning and Instruction in Pre-College..."




Day 5



(am) Discuss readings,  Intro to Graphs and Tracks, instructional comments, descriptive particle models, more deployment exercises. wrap up unit III materials, test, free fall w/ picket fence


Reading:   Arons 2.7-19.  Minstrell, "Explaining the 'at rest' condition…"

Turn in notebooks for grading


Week 2




Day 6



(am) Discuss reading, Unit IV: Free Particle Model-inertia & interactions  inertia demo (Newton 1), the force concept, force diagrams, statics lab, normal force demo questioning strategies

(pm) deployment worksheets/whiteboard, force probes, paired forces, Newton 3 wrap up unit IV, critique activities, test


Reading: Introduction & chapter 1, Preconceptions in Mechanics, Camp/Clement

Reading: Beichner:  Tug-K article and TUG-K2 test




Day 7


(am) Discuss reading, more deployment exercises. wrap up unit IV materials, test, test (turn in lab books)

(pm) Unit V: CDP Model-force and acceleration, weight vs mass lab, modified Atwood's machine lab (compare different equipment)

Reading:  Arons 3.1-4. Hestenes, Wells: "A Modeling Method For High School...




Day 8

(am) Discuss reading, whiteboard results of previous day’s labs, post-lab extension: derivation of Newton 2, lab write-up

(pm) deployment worksheets/whiteboard, Unit V test

Reading:  Arons 3.5-9




Day 9

(am) Discuss reading, friction lab:  pre lab and data collection, whiteboard.

(pm) Unit VI: Particle Models in Two Dimensions, combinations of FP and CDP models, deployment

Reading: Arons 3.15-24. Rex Rice: Role of lab practica.




Day 10

(am) Discuss reading; worksheets/whiteboard, projectile motion lab, explore video technology,

Reading: "Making Work Work” by Gregg Swackhamer (on website)

Turn in notebooks for grading

Week 3




Day 11

(am)  Discuss reading. Unit VII:  Work, Energy, & Power, Stretched spring lab, work on lab notebooks, graph, whiteboard prep & practice critiques.

(pm) Gravitational potential energy, work-kinetic energy theorem,

Reading: Arons 4.1-5, 8, 9. Hestenes: Modeling Methodology for Physics"




Day 12

(am)  Discuss readings, Further discussion of working/heating as means of changing internal energy of system. Energy practicum

(pm) Unit VIII: Central Force Model, uniform circular motion lab, collect/analyze data; further use of spreadsheets


Reading: Arons 5:1-6. Hestenes: Modeling Methodology for Physics" (re-read)




Day 13

am) Discuss readings, circular motion lab practicum. Alternative tests and testing.

(pm) Unit IX:  Impulsive Force Model, conservation of linear momentum lab,, collect data, plot rfinal Vs rinitial .

Submission of lesson plans for those contracting for an A grade




Day 14

(am)  deployment worksheets, worksheets/tests, instructional comments, test

(pm)  a look at second semester materials w/ modeling approach. Notebooks.

            Take FCI posttest

Turn in notebooks for grading


Day 15

(am) Take Mechanics Baseline Test; w/b presentations, more deployment exercises, worksheets, closing remarks





Reference books for Modeling Workshop in mechanics:

Teaching Introductory Physics, by Arnold Arons. New York: Wiley (1997) . ISBN #0-471-13707-3


Preconceptions in Mechanics, by Charles Camp and John Clement. Revised version available from the American Association of Physics Teachers. AMTA members can download free at


Introductory Physics: A Model Approach, by Robert Karplus. 2nd edition, edited by Fernand Brunschwig (2003). ISBN# 0972172610. Teachers will be told how to download free.


Readings for Modeling Workshop in mechanics:

All articles listed here are printed in the Modeling Instruction in Physics teachers’ manual in mechanics. Authors hold the copyright. Articles by David Hestenes and the revised FCI and MBT can be downloaded at Click on 'research and evaluation'.


D. Hestenes, M. Wells, and G. Swackhamer, Force Concept Inventory, The Physics Teacher  (TPT) 30: 141-158 (1992).

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

D. Hestenes, 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 (1997).

Robert Beichner, Testing student interpretation of kinematics graphs, Am. J. Phys. 62 (8), 750-762   (1994). [The TUG-K2 is also printed in the Teachers’ manual. TUG-K2 is modified with permission of Beichner from the initial version, which is for college students.]

Richard R. Hake, Socratic Pedagogy in the Introductory Physics Laboratory, TPT  30: 546-552 (Dec. 1992).

Lillian McDermott, Guest Comment: How we teach and how students learn--A mismatch? Am. J. Phys. 61 (4): 295-298 (1993).

Jose P. Mestre, Learning and Instruction in Pre-College Physical Science, Physics Today 44(9): 56-62 (1991).

Jim Minstrell, Explaining the ‘at rest’ condition of an object, TPT 20: 10-14 (1982).

Rex Rice, “The role of the lab practicum in Modeling” 1995. (unpublished)

Gregg Swackhamer, Making Work Work. (unpublished) Download at Click on 'Modeling Instruction in High School Physics'.


Other readings for 1st workshop that some Modeling Workshop leaders use:

D. Hestenes, Wherefore a Science of Teaching? TPT, 235-242 (April 1979).

D. Hestenes and M. Wells, A Mechanics Baseline Test, TPT  30: 159-156 (1992).

David Hammer, Two approaches to learning physics, TPT: 664-670 (Dec. 1989).

David Hammer, More than Misconceptions: Multiple perspectives on student knowledge and reasoning, and an appropriate role for education research, Am. J. Phys.64: 1316-1325. (Oct 1996).  (Some leaders use this long article instead of the 1989 article by Hammer.)

Robert J. Beichner, The impact of video motion analysis on kinematics graph interpretation skills, Am. J. Phys. 64: 1272-1277. (Oct 1996).

The latter two articles can't be printed in the manual, because the A.I.P. holds the copyright.


Supplemental readings in mechanics

These are recommended by Kathy Harper, Ph.D., a physics education researcher and Modeling Workshop leader at the Ohio State University (April 2008)


Trowbridge, D. E. & McDermott, L. C., "Investigation of Student Understanding of the Concept of Velocity in One Dimension," Am. J. Phys. 48,1020-1028 (1980).

Maloney, D. P., "Rule-governed Approaches to Physics - Newton's Third Law," Phys. Ed. 19, 37-42 (1984).

Van Heuvelen, A., "Learning to Think Like a Physicist: A Review of Research-based instructional Strategies," Am. J. Phys. 59, 891-897 (1991).

Van Heuvelen, A. & Zou, X., "Multiple Representations of Work-Energy Processes," Am. J. Phys. 69, 184-194 (2001).


Kathy Harper’s comments:

The Trowbridge and McDermott article shows concrete examples of student misconceptions in a way that's tough to argue with. 


The Maloney article addresses common student difficulties with Newton’s third law; and it shows a systematic way of looking at how a series of questions can probe for a consistently used wrong idea. 


The Van Heuvelen article presents a slightly different take on the same basic ideas of the workshop, and it provides a nice platform to inform teachers about the ALPS kits. 


The Van Heuvelen and Zou article helps to sell teachers on work-energy bar charts.  (highly recommended article!)