NSF-supported reforms in high school physics, including the Modeling Instruction Program, greatly increase the percentages of students who pursue technical careers


Fall 2008: an open letter from Jane Jackson, Co-Director of the Modeling Instruction Program.


The need:

Visit   http://www.usinnovation.org/state/state_rd.asp . Click on your state's STEM ED report card. I quote:


FACT: Over the past ten years, the percentage of ACT-tested students who said they were interested in majoring in engineering has dropped steadily from 7.6 percent to 4.9 percent.

FACT: Over the past five years, the percentage of ACT-tested students who said they were interested in majoring in computer and information science has dropped steadily from 4.5 percent to 2.9 percent.


Also, eSchool News reports (Aug. 2008, p.12), "the Computing Research Association's annual survey of universities with Ph.D.-granting programs found a 20-percent drop this year in students completing bachelors degrees in professional IT fields."



NSF-supported reforms in high school physics, including the Modeling Instruction Program, greatly increase the percentages of students pursuing technical careers.

This fact has never received the attention it deserves.


Documented evidence: in 1999 the Modeling Instruction Program and five other NSF-funded high school physics programs participated in a TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study.


That TIMSS report is posted on the modeling website at



In the TIMSS study,

*  40% of 12th grade physics students in NSF programs intended to major in physics, math or computer information sciences, and engineering in college, compared to 25% of other U.S.A. 12th grade physics students.  (Table 15)

*  four times as many girls in NSF programs intended to major in physics after high school, than 12th grade girls in other U.S.A. physics courses. (8% versus 2%) (Table 16)


Even for students NOT pursuing STEM careers, TIMSS literacy results are excellent. Twelfth grade students in each class were given either the TIMSS physics test or a mathematics literacy test or a science literacy test.  On the SCIENCE LITERACY test and the MATH LITERACY test, the NSF programs scored HIGHEST in the world!!  Also encouraging: on these two literacy tests, the gender difference was smaller than in most nations.  (See Appendix A in the report.)


Eugenio Gonzalez, the author of the report, told me that articles should be written on it. Who will? 


A staff member at TIMSS headquarters at B.U. wrote me,

"We never published this in printed format (only a paper printout of the PDF), nor is it on our

website.  This is one of our more obscure studies."


The nation is missing a great opportunity by not funding high school programs like Modeling Instruction. As Larry Dukerich told me, "There's a disconnect between those who have money and people like us who have solutions." The evidence must become known by people who can direct funding. Please inform policy makers of this report.



Notes and references:

1. TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study, April 2000. 44 pages.

   Conducted for the National Science Foundation by

   TIMSS International Study Center, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

   Author: Eugenio Gonzalez

Download the report in pdf at  http://modeling.asu.edu/Evaluations/Evaluations.html


2. The six NSF high school programs in the TIMSS study were: Modeling Instruction, PTRA (Physics Teacher Resource Agents: an American Assn of Physics Teachers program), Physics by Inquiry (at the University of Washington), Constructing Physics Understanding (CPU, at San Diego State University), C3P (at the University of Dallas, TX), and Minds-on Physics (at the University of Massachusetts). Only Modeling Instruction, PTRA, and Physics by Inquiry are still active in professional development. Modeling Instruction has flourished: 8% of the 23,000 current high school physics teachers in the U.S.A. have taken a 15-day Modeling Workshop, and Modeling Workshops are held in chemistry and physical science.

See http://modeling.asu.edu/MW_nation.html for some partners and current workshop sites.


3. The founding Director of the ASU Modeling Instruction Program wrote:

Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001

From: David Hestenes

... In reporting that Norway had the highest score in 12th grade physics, TIMSS does not inform you that that represents an exam score of about 40%, which is a POOR SCORE, as any good physics teacher would conclude by looking at the questions on the test. One school in our

Modeling Program got 70%, which may be the best result from any single school in the world.


4. Typical quotes by high school teachers who use Modeling Instruction are:

*  Compared to the "traditional" physics teaching, at our school modeling has created (IMO):

   (A) Larger enrollment in physics and AP Physics

   (B) Higher retention of students majoring in engineering and science when they go off to college

   (C) Greater quantitative analytical skills

   (D) Greater quantitative presentation skills

   (E) Much higher ability for "future nonscience students" to communicate with science people - including being able to make their questions and requests clear to the "science geeks."


*  A modeling teacher wrote:

"I have had nearly two dozen students go specifically into engineering in the past four years, and five of them specifically cited this approach to learning physics as giving a big advantage in their [college] physics courses over former AP and accelerated students."


5. E-mail correspondence with the TIMSS report author, Eugenio Gonzalez:


Subject: RE: TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study

Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2006

From: "Gonzalez, Eugene"

To: "Jane Jackson"

Cc: "Pierre Foy", "Salinger, Gerhard L.", <martinas@bc.edu>

Hi Jane,

Since I'm assuming that you'd post and distribute this for free, I do

not think the "ownership" is an issue. When posting, credit should be

given to whom it's due. By this I mean there should be mention that the

report was written by so and so, from the International Study Center at

Boston College (ISC), with funding from NSF. A link should be provided

so that people can be redirected to the ISC and/or the NSF website where

they can find more info on TIMSS or the NSF.


Of course, if there is money to be made then I'll claim ownership and

I'd like my share of the profits... :-)


As to the article, I suggest you approach the ISC on this. Pierre Foy

should be able to direct you to the right person.



Eugenio J. Gonzalez

Educational Testing Service

Rosedale Road Mail Stop 22-T

Princeton, NJ 08540

phone: (609) 734-1480


-----Original Message-----

From: Jane Jackson

Sent: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 3:36 PM

To: Gonzalez, Eugene

Cc: Pierre Foy; Salinger, Gerhard L.

Subject: TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study


Thanks so much for emailing me the electronic copy of the TIMSS Physics

Achievement Comparison Study (April 2000).


I talked on the phone with Gerhard Salinger at the NSF. He told me that,

in his opinion, the TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study belongs

either to you or to the TIMSS group at BU. Who do YOU think it belongs to?


The reason I ask is that I'd like to post the NSF report on our modeling

website. Pierre Foy <FoyPi@bc.edu> asked his employer if it could be

posted on the TIMSS website, but I haven't heard back from him.


Gerhard Salinger suggested that you (and me, but I'm not skilled at

writing) write a short article ("news & notes") for PHYSICS TODAY

magazine, since many of the results of that study are still timely.



On Aug. 22, Jane Jackson wrote:


Pierre Foy at the TIMSS Intl Study Center suggested that I email you.

Do you have an electronic copy of the TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study? (April 2000). This NSF-funded study of the CPU Project, C3P, Modeling Instruction, PTRA, Physics by Inquiry, and a project at the University of Massachusetts is important. I have a printed copy. I've tried repeatedly to get an electronic copy from the TIMSS Int'l Study Center at Boston College, but they don't know anything about it.