PHS 594/PHY 494: Electricity for middle/secondary teachers (modeling-adapted CASTLE)

Summers at Arizona State University (updated Feb. 2013)


Electricity for Middle/Secondary Teachers (3 credits) Capacitor Aided System for Teaching and Learning Electricity (CASTLE), modified for use with Modeling Instruction. Prerequisite: a 3-week mechanics Modeling Workshop or a 3-week physical science with math Modeling Workshop.



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

                     In this course, teachers review core modeling principles, discuss ways to successfully

implement a modeling approach, then work through coherent model-centered materials in modeling-adapted CASTLE electricity, to develop a deep understanding of content and how to teach it effectively. To these ends, they read, discuss, and reflect on related physics education research articles. The focus is on first-year high school physics courses that use algebra.


B. Course plan and rationale: The course begins with a review of basic features of Modeling Instruction in physics. Teachers are then given a manual of sample course materials and work through them.

            On the first day, teachers review and discuss experiences of those participants who have taught mechanics by the modeling method. This "post-use analysis" has two purposes: (1) to make experienced teachers explicitly aware of their own teaching practice and how it compares with the modeling method; (2) to help those who have recently completed PHS 530 get a sense of the rewards and difficulties of teaching via this method. The model-centered approach is contrasted to the standard topic-centered approach. There is less emphasis on why we believe that modeling is superior to conventional instruction, since we assume that teachers coming back to take a follow-up course have come to accept this as true.

            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, much as they did in the 1st Modeling Workshop in Mechanics. This constitutes the rest of the course. Each Unit in the 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 learn in the course to their own classes. 

            In each unit we will use practicums, MBL probes, demonstrations and deployment activities.


C.  Description of the units:

            The original Capacitor Aided System for Teaching and Learning Electricity (CASTLE) was developed by a group of university and high school educators as an alternative approach to traditional instruction in electricity. The original curriculum consists of a simple but robust set of hands-on activities and develops fundamental concepts in a sequence consistent with a more historical progression. Because the original curricular materials were designed to be “teacher proof”, the investigations tend to be very structured; they don’t leave much room for exploration or for students to articulate their own understanding.

            The Modeling-modified CASTLE approach closely follows the original materials, but is less structured, allowing for more open-ended investigations and classroom discussion of the underlying models. With more opportunities to whiteboard results and deployments, the Modeling Instruction version enables students to develop a deeper understanding of fundamental concepts in electricity, without the heavy emphasis on formulas.

            In Unit 1, the fundamental requirements for creating simple DC circuits are investigated. Using compasses, students discover the something is moving through all of the conductors in the circuit and that the flow does not diminish after passing through a bulb.

            In Unit 2, students use a capacitor to determine the origin of the moving charge in a circuit. Bulb lighting and compass deflections are used to discover that charge is already present in all the conductors in a circuit. Students see that the capacitor can store energy so as to drive charge around a closed loop. Students are also introduced to an analogy between charge and air rather than charge and water.

            In Unit 3, students develop a concept of resistance by examining the effect of different types of bulbs on capacitor charging and discharging times. After determining that the bulbs control the rate of charge flow and not the amount, the air analogy is again used to develop a kinesthetic sense of resistance. Students are also introduced to the effects of series and parallel combinations of bulbs.

            In Unit 4, the air analogy is again used to develop a concept of electric potential/voltage as an electric pressure. After examining the effects of adding more batteries in series on an already charged capacitor and of adding cells in series but with reversed polarity, students develop an understanding of pressure and pressure difference as an explanation for why charge flows, why capacitor charging stops and why a charged capacitor can cause charge to flow with no battery in the circuit.

            In Unit 5, the air analogy is studied in more detail. By slowing down transient conditions with a capacitor connected in parallel to various bulbs, students investigate how electric pressure changes in wires not directly connected to a battery. Students also examine the nature of short circuits and how batteries ‘die’.

            In Unit 6, students are introduced to the voltmeter as a device that measures electric pressure difference and the ammeter as a device that measures flow rate. With devices providing quantifiable measurements of pressure and flow rate, a mathematical definition of resistance is developed. In Unit 6A, we examine additional materials that develop the concept of energy transfer and power in the circuit.


STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES: At successful course completion, students will have

-       improved their instructional pedagogy by incorporating the modeling cycle, inquiry methods, critical and creative thinking, cooperative learning, and effective use of classroom technology,

-       deepened their understanding of content in modeling-adapted CASTLE electricity (see above),

-       experienced and practiced instructional strategies of model-centered discourse, Socratic questioning/whiteboarding, use of standardized evaluation instruments, coherent content organization,

-       strengthened coordination between mathematics and physics,

-       increased their skill in all eight scientific practices recommended by the National Research Council in “A Framework for K-12 Science Education.” Models and theories are the purpose and the outcomes of scientific practices. They are the tools for engineering design and problem solving. As such, modeling guides all other practices.


LISTING OF ASSIGNMENTS: This course meets for ~90 hours (studio format) in summer, and you are required to do at least 30 hours of work outside of class, including reading, worksheets, lab reports, and writing. Assignments are listed in the course itinerary; their links to student learning outcomes are evident in the itinerary.



A.  Attendance: You are expected to attend all days of this course.  If you miss 2 classes (i.e., 13 contact hours), 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!  Report any expected absences to the instructor as soon as possible.  ASU credit-seeking students who miss course time are to complete and write a reflection for all activities missed, design an activity modified or developed for pilot use in the classroom this coming year, and present results to the instructor and peers when appropriate.


B. Grading policy:

Students will contract for a letter grade on the second class day. Contracting for a letter grade is not a guaranteed grade. Work must be completed at ASU standards and meet all class requirements.          Within grade categories, additional requirements are assigned for the graduate level course, than for the undergraduate course. All participants, whether seeking ASU credit or not, are expected to do activities and homework, as described below for a “C” grade. (Non-credit participants should email the instructor, specifying which days they intend to participate, at the start of the course.)

            To earn a letter grade of “C”, you are expected to do the following:

Š      Keep a course notebook in which all labs, activities and demonstrations are placed.  Teachers find this notebook to be a valuable resource as they use the curricular materials in their own classes.  (30%)

§       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” on the original copies of the CASTLE materials. For each lab, add the necessary comments that will help you guide your students through successful lab experiences.

§    You should also take notes on demonstrations and the concept they are designed to illustrate.

§     For any activities such as practicums that we do, include the question to be solved along with data and calculations needed to solve it.

Š      For each Unit, record your reflections on the activities of your team as you work through the materials, and comment on the storyline. (30%)

Š      Peer-review new Modeling Instruction versions of advanced CASTLE Materials.  (20%)

Š      Participate actively and thoughtfully in whiteboarding sessions, discussion of readings, activities, and worksheets. (10%)

Š      From time to time, you will be given an article from physics education research (PER).  For each of these, write a one half to one-page typed reaction (not a synopsis) in which you offer your views about ideas discussed in the reading assignment. (10%)

            To be considered for a “B”, teachers in the graduate course do all of the above plus a two-page (minimum) typed reflection paper describing one of the following: how Modeling Instruction in CASTLE electricity 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 materials and strategies from the course in your classroom. (Due on the 3rd-to-last class day.) (For undergraduate students, your paper should discuss instead what you learned from the course, and your understanding of Modeling Instruction in the context of circuit electricity.)

            To be considered for an “A”, teachers must complete two additional related assignments to develop Modeling Instruction versions of advanced CASTLE materials. (Students in the undergraduate version complete only one assignment.) The instructor will select specific assignments that may include any or all of the following:

Following peer reviews from fellow course participants, you will submit a final electronic & paper version of all materials for instructor evaluation. (Due on the next-to-last class day.)


C. Grading scale:      97-100  A+      93-96.9  A      90-92.9 A-

                                    87-89.9 B+      83-86.9  B      80-82.9 B-

                                    77-79.9 C+      73-76.9 C      70-72.9 C-


Policies of Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), ASU, and Department of Physics:

* ABOR: Each student is expected to work a minimum of 45 hours per semester hour of credit.

* Pass-fail is not an option for graduate courses.

* 3.0 grade point average (GPA) is minimum requirement for MNS & other graduate degrees.

* Incomplete: only for special circumstances. Must finish course within 1 year, or it becomes “E”.

* An instructor may drop a student for non-attendance during the first two class days (in summer).

* An instructor may withdraw a student with a mark of "W" or a grade of "E" only in cases of disruptive classroom behavior."

* The ASU Department of Physics is critical of giving all A's, because it indicates a lack of discrimination. A grade of "B" (3.0) is an average graduate course grade, and obviously not all students do above-average work compared to their peers. Some of you can expect to earn a "B”, and those who are below average but do acceptable work will earn a "C".


Academic dishonesty policy: Academic honesty is expected of all students in all examinations, papers, laboratory work, academic transactions and records. The possible sanctions include, but are not limited to, appropriate grade penalties, course failure (indicated on the transcript as a grade of E), course failure due to academic dishonesty (indicated on the transcript as a grade of XE), loss of registration privileges, disqualification and dismissal.  For more information, see       


Disability policy: Qualified students with disabilities who require disability accommodations in this course are encouraged to make their requests to the instructor on the first class day or before. Note: Prior to receiving disability accommodations, verification of eligibility from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) is required. Disability information is confidential.



No textbook. You will be provided a printed set of the modeling-modified CASTLE materials including Teacher Notes and student worksheets.   You need a 3-ring binder (preferably 1.5 inches thick) and 6 tab inserts to organize these materials. You need also a folder for ‘3-hole punched’ material, to turn in your completed sections of CASTLE and your written reflections.


REQUIRED READINGS: (Get print copy from instructor if you cannot download for free.)

David Hestenes, “Who Needs Physics Education Research?!” American Journal of Physics 66: 465-467 (1998). Download at

Melvin Steinberg and Camille Wainwright, “Using models to teach electricity - the CASTLE project”, The Physics Teacher 31: 353-357 (Sept. 1993).


Camille Wainwright, “Toward Learning and Understanding Electricity: Challenging Persistent Misconceptions” (2006).




N. Fredette and J. Lochhead, "Student Conceptions of Simple Electric Circuits", The Physics Teacher 19, 194-198 (1980) 194-198. This article is easy to read and helps teachers to think about what might be going on in students' minds when learning these topics.


R. Cohen, B. Eylon, and U. Ganiel, “Potential difference and current in simple electric circuits: a study of students’ concepts”, American Journal of Physics 51, 407-412 (1983).


Eugene Mosca and M. DeJong, “Implications of using the CASTLE model”, The Physics Teacher 31: 357-359 (Sept. 1993).


MacKenzie R. Stetzer, Paul van Kampen, Peter S. Shaffer, and Lillian C. McDermott: “New insights into student understanding of complete circuits and the conservation of current”, American Journal of Physics 81, 134-143 (2013).


Clement, J. and Steinberg, M. (2002) Step-wise evolution of models of electric circuits: A "learning-aloud" case study. Journal of the Learning Sciences 11(4), 389-452. PDF File - 2.2MB.



Steinberg, M. and Clement, J. (2001). Evolving mental models of electric circuits. In Behrendt, H. et al. (eds.), Research in science education—past, present, and future, (pp. 235-240). Dordrecht: Kluwer. PDF File - 300K. At


Stephens, L. & Clement, J. (2006). Using expert heuristics for the design of imagery-rich mental simulations for the science class. Proceedings of the NARST 2006 Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA. Adobe PDF - 200K.  An example from the CASTLE curriculum is one of three discussed. At


Engineering the Future: Science, Technology and the Design Process (ETF) is a year-long curriculum developed by the Boston Museum of Science for a science/technology/engineering course that prepares high school students to meet state technology standards and benchmarks.  Camille Wainwright was instrumental in developing the electricity components of the course and evaluating effectiveness. Curriculum: ,

Course itinerary (15 days, ~ 90 contact hours)

Week 1

Day 1

AM – Introduce leaders and participants.  Review workshop design and course expectations.  Distribute workshop materials.  Break into two groups: Rookies compile a list of questions to ask the veterans.  Veterans consider the advice they would give to novice Modelers.  DIRECT pre-test.  Go to bookstore to get necessary resources.


PM – What is CASTLE? Discuss differences between CASTLE and microscopic E&M approach. Begin CASTLE Unit 1 – The Closed Loop Model. Complete Activities 1, 2 and 3.


HW – Complete Worksheet 1 – 1.
Reading: Hestenes, “Who Needs Physics Education Research?” (PER

 Day 2

AM - Discuss reading. Whiteboard Worksheet 1. Complete Activity 5 and Reading 1. Complete Section 1 Homework & Section 1 Quiz.


PM – Check homework & quiz. Debrief Unit 1.

          Begin Unit 2 – The Sources of Charge & Charge Flow Model. Complete Activities 1, 2, & 3 and Worksheet 1. Mechanics Baseline Test


HW – Reading: Unit 1 Teacher Notes.
 Write a reflection on Unit 1.

Day 3

AM – Turn in Unit 1 papers & reflection. Prep boards on Worksheet 2 – 1. Check Worksheet 2 – 1. Debrief on strategies for Socratic dialogues. Introduce the Air Capacitor and complete the remainder of Unit 2.


PM – Complete the Section 2 Homework & Section 2 Quiz. Check Homework & Quiz. Debrief Unit 2.

          Begin Unit 3 – The Resistance Model. Complete Activities 1, 2 & 3.


HW – Reading: Unit 2 Teacher Notes.
 Write a reflection on Unit 2.

Day 4

AM – Turn in Unit 2 papers & reflection. Review procedure for building Air Capacitors. Finish Unit 3 Activities and Worksheets.


PM – Complete the Section 3 Homework & Quiz. Prep board and check Section 3 Homework & Quiz. Debrief Unit 3.


HW – Read Unit 3 Teacher Notes.

Day 5

AM – Debrief Units 1, 2 & 3.

          Begin Unit 4 – The Compressible Fluid Model. Discuss options for ‘extra’ activities.


HW – Write a reflection on Unit 3.

Week 2

Day 6

AM – Turn in Unit 3 papers & reflection. Continue Unit 4. Complete up to Activity 3 and Reading 4 – 1 and Worksheet 4 – 1.


PM – Review Color Coding. Complete Worksheet 3 and 4. Debrief Worksheets 3 and 4. Complete Worksheets 5 and 6. Whiteboard Worksheets 5 and 6. Complete Section 4 Homework & Section 4 Quiz.


HW – Read the Unit 4 Teacher Notes.

Day 7

AM – Check the Section 4 homework & quiz. Debrief Unit 4 as a whole.

           Begin Unit 5: What Determines Pressure in a Wire? Pre-lab discussion on Activity 5 – 1. Collect data, prepare whiteboards and present findings. Review Reading 5 – 1 & Complete Worksheet 5 – 1.


PM – Teacher-to-teacher debrief and Activity 5 – 1. Complete Activity 5 - 2, Reading 5 – 2 and Worksheet 5 – 2. Teacher-to-teacher debrief on ‘voltage division in series.’


HW – Write a reflection on Unit 4.

Day 8

AM – Turn in Unit 4 papers & reflection. Complete Activity 5 – 3, Reading 5 – 3 and Worksheet 5 – 3. Teacher-to-teacher debrief on ‘parallel resistance reduction.’


PM – Complete the remainder of Unit 5. 


HW – Read the Unit 5 Teacher Notes.
Complete the Section 5 homework & the Section 5 quiz.

Day 9

AM – Prep boards on Section 5 Homework & Section 5 Quiz. Debrief Section 5 as a whole.

          Begin Unit 6: Quantifying Circuit Variables. Color code Activity 6 – 1. Collect data on Activity 6 – 1.  Debrief Activity 6 – 1.


PM – Predict bulb rays and arrow tails on Activity 6 – 2. Collect data on Activity 6 – 2. Debrief Activity 6 – 2.


HW – Write a reflection on Unit 5. Write a reaction to Steinberg & Wainwright, “Using models to teach electricity - the CASTLE project”

Day 10

AM – Turn in Unit 5 papers and reflection. Pre-lab Activity 6 – 3. Collect Activity 6 – 3. Develop Ohm’s Law.


HW – Write a reaction to Mosca. & DeJong, “Implications of using the CASTLE model”


Week 3

Day 11

AM – Complete and Whiteboard Worksheet 3. Complete Activity 4. Complete Section 6 Homework & Quiz.


PM – Debrief Unit 6.

          Begin Unit 6A – Energy and Power in Circuits.


HW – Reading: Unit 6 Teacher Notes.
Write a reflection on Unit 6.


AM – Turn in Unit 6 papers and reflection. Complete Activity 6.


PM – Review the Unit 6 Reading. Begin Activity 7. Whiteboard results and debrief Activity 7. Graph Unit 6A results and examine the mathematical approach to defining power.


HW – Read the Teacher Notes on Unit 6A.
Write your final reflection if you contracted for “B” or “A” grade.

Day 13

AM – Turn in Final Reflection if you contracted for a “B” or “A” grade. Review Reading 2 and complete Activity 8. Complete and whiteboard Worksheet 5.


PM – Complete Activity 9. Take the Unit 6 Quiz. Check the Unit 6 Quiz. Debrief Unit 6A.


HW –Finish assignments if you contracted for an “A” grade.

Day 14

AM –Time to work on improving quizzes, homework assignments, creating lab practicums or developing further activities in the Energy addendum to Unit 6.


PM – Finalize revisions on additional homework, assessments and practicums. Turn in assignments if you contracted for an “A” grade.


HW – To be determined

Day 15

AM – DIRECT post-test, final paper work, course evaluation.

 Discuss how to navigate website.  Clean up.  Have a safe trip home!.