OBJECTIVES

Background

The Modeling Instruction Program at Arizon State University has been under development since 1980. Its approach to curriculum design and teaching methodology has been guided by a Modeling Theory of Physics Instruction, the focus of an educational research program directed by Prof. David Hestenes. The theory has been implemented in a practical Modeling Method for high school physics, developed and tested in the doctoral dissertation (1987) of Malcolm Wells, a high school teacher who brought more than two decades of classroom experience to the task. Based on the impressive results of this research as documented in precursors to the Force Concept Inventory 1 and Mechanics Baseline Test 2 , Hestenes and Wells were awarded an NSF grant to further improve the modeling method and develop workshops to train other teachers to use it. Six week pilot workshops on three successive summers(1990-1992) were found to exert a powerful influence on the teaching behavior of participants. This experience provided the foundation for a nationwide program of Modeling Workshops.

Objectives

The Modeling Workshop Project(1994-2000) was a $4,400,000 NSF grant to conduct a nationwide series of workshops for in-service high school physics teachers. We are acutely aware, however, that new teaching methods have limited value without providing teachers with much stronger institutional support. Accordingly, we are committed to using the Modeling Instruction Program as an instrument for institutional reform of high school physics. The objectives set forth below cannot be met without sincere cooperation of schools and universities. The problems they address belong to all of us, so we invite our fellows in the physics community to join us in trying to solve them.

Leader preparation and teacher ownership

Phase I of the Modeling Workshop Project was devoted to the organization and preparation of leaders and to establishing teacher ownership. Fifty participants from twenty-three states were selected; they are experienced in-service high school physics teachers with exceptional qualifications and motivation. In successive summer workshops (1995-97) these teachers consolidated a new full year high school physics curriculum, which they tested in their own classes between workshops. Electronic networking provided support from the project staff and enabled the teachers to continue interacting during the school year.

Though all participants were exceptional teachers, most did not previously have the opportunity to fully integrate the insights of educational research into their teaching. The workshops familiarized them with a well-developed system (the Modeling Method) for doing that. For many this entailed a radical revision of their teaching approach from teacher-centered to student-centered. The change is not easy, as it requires mastery of many details. Experience has shown that a full two year workshop-teaching experience is not too much to complete the transformation.

Modeling Workshops are conducted by exceptional high school teachers who have several years experience with the Modeling Method. The method is introduced in the context of a complete high school curriculum, including specific activities and course materials. However, during the workshops the teachers collaborate in critically evaluating and revamping the curriculum. In this way, ownership of the program is passed to the teachers.

The new curriculum was further tested and revised during Phase II Leadership Modeling Workshops (1997-99), involving 150 more teachers for 8 weeks of training. Since that time, thousands of teachers have participated in modeling workshops in numerous states, averaging fifteen days each.

Organization and support of local teacher alliances

An essential component of high school physics reform is eliminating the professional isolation of individual teachers. This can be achieved by organizing physics teachers into "local alliances" which are linked electronically for easy communication, collaboration and mutual support of teaching activities

It is worth recalling that nationwide high school physics reform has been tried before, most notably with PSSC and Harvard Project Physics. They were worthy efforts, but their effect was limited, we surmise, because some of the ingredients for sustained reform were missing. Though focused on course content, the PSSC teacher workshops, almost inadvertently, had a powerful social component. Some participants are still teaching today, and they retain a strong impression of the invigorating camaraderie among teachers that the workshops engendered. To promote and sustain such camaraderie is one reason why local alliances and networking are needed.

Professional development

The teacher is the crucial factor in educational reform, because the teacher sets the course agenda, creates the classroom environment and interacts directly with the students. The training required to become an excellent teacher is vastly underestimated by all who fail to recognize the complexity of learning and knowing. There is no reason to count it as less than required for professions, like medicine or scientific research -- that is, about ten years. From this perspective, the typical training of a few years for a high school teaching is seen as pitifully inadequate. Surely, further in-service training comparable to a medical or scientific apprenticeship should be standard practice. But it is rare, and teachers are so burdened with demands of the job that they have little opportunity to upgrade their teaching skills. No wonder so many quit in frustration after only a few years.

Considering the requirements for quality teaching, institutional mechanisms to promote lifelong professional development should be seen as essential for sustained educational reform.

Educational research and evaluation

Modeling Workshops are grounded in educational research, and we are committed to continued research to improve and extend them. We seek collaboration with other investigators to help us integrate the best available ideas and materials into the Workshops. We are developing a battery of evaluation instruments and techniques that enable comparisons of different teaching methods and curriculum designs.


Updated September 2, 2008

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