Physics & Everyday Thinking was based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and relies on the proven NSF-developmental process as well as contemporary research on how students learn. The curriculum is designed from both the constructivist and social-cultural theoretical perspectives and builds on a conceptual change framework.
Guided Inquiry Learning
Although not project-based, Physics & Everyday Thinking is an inquiry-based program carefully designed and scaffolded to enable students to develop a deep understanding of physics concepts in ways consistent with how science knowledge is developed in a scientific community and with an understanding of how people learn. The course is hierarchical, with both topics and skills developed in a structured progression. In addition to the physics content focus, there is also a unique Learning about Learning component, which includes activities designed to help students focus on the nature of science, on the learning processes of elementary school students, and on their own learning.
In Physics & Everyday Thinking, students construct meaningful understanding of physics concepts through hands-on experiences, computer simulations, and discussion activities. The program employs a learning-centered pedagogy that consists of elicitation of initial student ideas, development of new or modified ideas (based on experimental or simulator evidence), building student consensus on final ideas, and the application of ideas to new situations. The activities are designed to elicit and challenge students prior knowledge, and to provide evidentiary support that helps students decide, if appropriate, to change their ideas. In the classroom, students spend most of their time working in small groups, performing experiments and making sense of their observations, and then sharing ideas in whole-class discussions
Technology Enhanced Learning
In addition to using simple apparatus to conduct hands-on experiments, students also have access to some important technological tools: the motion sensor and specially designed computer simulations. The hands-on equipment, motion sensor, and the computer simulator play mutual and complementary roles in student investigations. For example, students may begin by applying successive pushes to a cart and observe its motion. Then they use a motion sensor to examine the motion, and finally they model the situation on a computer simulator. Computer simulations are used extensively throughout the curriculum, both to support in-class activities and as part of regular homework assignments.
Resources are available to help faculty implement Physics & Everyday Thinking in their classrooms and for staff-development leaders to implement workshops for practicing teachers. These resources include a DVD with a comprehensive text-and-video package that explains and illustrates the pedagogy behind the programs; the videos needed for activities; the files needed for software that interface with motion sensors or temperature probes; lists of equipment; handouts; and installers for the physics simulators. The Instructor Resources DVD is meant to be used in concert with the on-line Teacher Guide, which provides guidance for the actual implementation of each activity, along with activity and homework keys and other resources not available on the DVD. Introductory workshops are also offered at professional meetings.