“Teacher primers” on physics PhET sims published!

by Stephanie Chasteen on August 5, 2016

Over the past several years, I’ve been working with the PhET Interactive Simulations to determine how best to do video “walk-throughs” of their simulations for teachers, showing the main features and how they can be used in a teaching setting.  We call these short videos “teacher primers,” and I’ve got a set of them that I’ve made up online now that I wanted to share:  (note that you will need to be logged into the PhET site to view them — that’s to keep students from short-cutting the learning process by looking at the primers.  Click on “for teachers” to find the primer.).

  1. Color vision
  2. Resistance in a wire
  3. John Travoltage
  4. Balloons and Static Electricity
  5. Faraday’s Law
  6. Wave on a String
  7. Ohm’s Law (coming soon)

It was a great pleasure to work with master teacher Mike Dubson on most of these.  I am but an instrument, bringing his great ideas to life.  There are also other great primers out there on a lot of other HTML5 sims.  We certainly learned a lot while we were putting these together, both about the technical requirements of making a walk through, but also how to guide the viewers’ eye as you talk them through a visual landscape.  These are fun to make, but more work than you’d think!  If anyone needs access to our guidelines for doing these, just let me know.




(liveblogging from the AAPT).  Adrian Madsen shared some work to identify faculty ideas and beliefs around research based assessments in physics, such as concept inventories (think FCI) or non-content instruments (e.g., CLASS).  This work is part of a project by PhysPort.org to collect research-based assessments on a website, to provide a more coherent portal to such assessments so they’re more accessible to the broader faculty.

To design the site, they undertook a wide variety of semi-structured interviews with faculty, to figure out what their needs are regarding assessment.

The following themes emerged:


  1. Faculty have practical needsHow do you find and administer assessments, how can you score and interpret them?  PhysPort is addressing these by organizing the assessments, providing guidance in using them, and giving automated analysis through the Data Explorer.
  2. They believe research based assessments are limited.   They might not be well aligned to the course the faculty member is teaching, or be hard to interpret in a small course, and they are concerned about the content that is covered by the assessments.  These are valid concerns, and suggest a need for more flexible assessments, which assess non-content knowledge, and that these research-based assessments can be coordinated with other assessments.
  3. Faculty want help.  What do the scores mean?  How do I compare to other faculty?  How do I use these results to improve my teaching?  How can I talk to colleagues about my scores?  So, community resources are helpful (like learning communities), as well as more accessible information and comparison.
  4. Faculty consider broader contexts.  There are programmatic assessments they need to consider, as well as accreditation requirements.  Some faculty are also skeptical of these assessments, feeling that they will limit their academic freedom.  To address these issues, PhysPort is currently working on creating departmental assessment tools which can feed into accreditation reports.

So, faculty make decisions about their teaching in complex ways, and what we really need are different kinds of data, as well as help in interpreting data, rather than just more data.  Physport’s assessment page is at http://physport.org/assessments, and the Data Explorer, where you can upload your data and compare it to national samples, is at http://physport.org/DataExplorer.  Their Expert Recommendations which give helpful guidance are at http://physport.org/expertrecommendations.


eAlliances: Mentoring for women (#AAPTsm16)

July 19, 2016

Another interesting resource from the AAPT conference:  An online mentoring community for female physicists.  The eAlliances project (eAlliances.aapt.org) provides peer mentoring networks so women can get advice, support, and connections to other women physics (and astronomy) faculty.  This sounds awesome, and a real opportunity for providing the kinds of mentoring that women need.  There is […]

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Teaching: The Ultimate State of Happiness (#AAPTsm16)

July 19, 2016

(Liveblogging from the AAPT)  I always find Eugenia Etkina to be inspirational, and today is no exception.  In the session, The Art and Science of Teaching, she got a chance to philosophize about her teaching.  She’s noticed that, no matter how experienced she is as a teacher, she always feels that she runs out of […]

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Make your own interactive video vignettes (#AAPTsm16)

July 18, 2016

(Liveblogging from the AAPT).  I just learned about a really helpful tool for creating short videos, which seems useful for flipped classrooms in multiple disciplines:  The Interactive Video Vignettes.  These vignettes are more than just a video, it includes a simple “wrapper” where students can make predictions about what will happen in the video (including […]

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Postdoctoral positions in STEM education

June 14, 2016

Just a reminder that I’ve been actively updating my ongoing list of postdoctoral positions in STEM education!  Feel free to add your own.

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How to help students engage in active learning?

May 27, 2016

So, about 4 years ago now, Andrew Boudreaux asked me a simple question:  “Hey, wouldn’t it be neat to gather materials to help instructors avoid student pushback to active learning strategies?”   What I thought would be a fun little one month project to archive some strategies has turned into a detailed research project.  Thanks […]

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Envisioning my business: Consulting for educational change

May 13, 2016

I’m in the process of re-visioning my business, and would love some help from my community.  My business, sciencegeekgirl enterprises, has been really successful and brought me great joy — and I’m wanting to thrust my energies for fully into it.  However, my vision has morphed and crystallized over the years, and it’s time to […]

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Postdoctoral positions in STEM education

April 26, 2016

There have been several postings for postdoctoral positions in educational change lately.  Please add to this post in the comments if you have others to share, and this can be a good repository. (Added 7/10) Physics Education Research in Sweden The Swedish National resource centre for physics education (fysik.org) at Lund university has an opening […]

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Measuring teaching practice: Surveys

April 21, 2016

Last week I wrote about using COPUS observations to document what happens in a classroom.  This week, I wanted to talk about some of the survey measures we’re using to document change, and how. It’s tough to ask people about how they teach.  This was pointed out to me recently in my evaluation of the Workshop […]

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Measuring teaching practice: COPUS observations

April 14, 2016

I’ve said this before, but I *am* going to start posting in this blog again!  I miss the chance to share ideas and reflect on what I’m learning. So today I’m going to talk about something I’ve been involved with lately, which is the problem of how to measure teaching practice.  There are many of […]

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Take a MOOC in research-based teaching!

August 25, 2015

I had the good fortune to be involved in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) aimed at teaching graduate students and new faculty about evidence-based teaching strategies.  The MOOC is running again this year — check it out! An Introduction to Evidence-Based STEM Teaching is run through the CIRTL network (great folks, good mission, great […]

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Drawing to Learn: Sketching and Peer Instruction

August 4, 2015

Many aspects of learning require the ability to visualize – the structure of the cell, the interconnected relationships of historical figures, the forces on a figure skater, the shape of a population distribution graph. But students rarely have the opportunity to create their own visualizations – a critical part of learning. This month’s article will […]

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Everything you ever wanted to know about peer instruction: Part 2 (How to use it).

July 2, 2015

This is a continuation of last month’s post, summarizing the results of a recent literature review of Peer Instruction,  Research-Based Implementation of Peer Instruction: A literature Review. In this month’s post, I’ll review the results on how to use peer instruction effectively. Peer instruction is the recommended use of clickers, following the following cycle: Instructor lectures for a […]

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The history of Tutorials at CU Boulder

June 15, 2015

I’ve got a new short video to share, focusing on the history of Tutorials at CU, featuring our own Steven Pollock: This is part of some work I’ve been doing for PhysPort.org, which makes evidence-based resources available for physics instructors. All videos for the project, including our short introduction to Tutorials, can be found on the YouTube […]

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Everything you ever wanted to know about peer instruction: Part 1 (How PI Helps Students Learn)

June 2, 2015

Confused about what the literature recommends for best use of clickers? Want to have all the information summarized and synthesized for you in a nice, trustworthy reference? Well, I’ve certainly been hungry for such a reference, and now we have it: A team of scholars in chemistry education have just published a very comprehensive review across […]

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NSF 2015 Teaching and Learning video showcase – going on now!

May 11, 2015

This week there’s a great opportunity to learn more about lots and lots of NSF-funded STEM education projects.  Check out this showcase of more than 100 videos. The videos offer a 3-minute glance into the variety of innovative work being funded by the National Science Foundation in education. http://resourcecenters2015.videohall.com You can do stuff during this week: […]

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Free Webinar: ClickerStarter for College Faculty

April 28, 2015

I’m giving another free webinar for i>clicker next Tuesday, May 5th, at 3pm ET.  This is called “ClickerStarter for College Faculty” and is intended as a quick primer on the effective use of clickers for those who want an overview of the benefits and best uses of clickers. Have you heard about using clickers in class, […]

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Reacting to their votes: Instructor agility

April 10, 2015

You don’t know how your students will vote on a clicker question, but you can anticipate and prepare yourself for the likely outcomes. It’s really important to use a clicker system which lets you have a sneak-preview of student responses – as i>clicker does, shown below. This lets you “hold back” the histogram from students […]

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New meta-analysis: Active learning improves student performance

March 27, 2015

It’s not quite so new anymore, but still exciting! While we have more and more data that active learning techniques improve student learning, this field has been sorely needing a systematic review of the evidence on active learning. Recently, a crackerjack team of education researchers stepped up to the plate with just what I’ve been […]

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