Minds*On Physics Project

Developing and field testing a research-based curriculum for high school physics
Leonard, William J.
NSF MDR-9050213, NSF MDR-9255713
Starting date: 

To learn about the finished Minds·On Physics product, see the MOP entry in our Resources section.

When the Minds·On Physics (MOP) project began in 1990, there were no exemplary materials for high school physics instruction, the most popular textbooks were full of errors and oversimplifications, and college physics students seemed to be at a disadvantage if they had taken physics in high school. Results of cognitive research were starting to make their way into college instruction (by the researchers themselves, for the most part), but there had been little impact on high school physics instruction.

Pulling together multiple strands of educational research, such as cognitive overload, expert-novice differences, metacognition, and alternative conceptions, UMPERG created a framework for describing how knowledge is stored and used. We also identified 5 stages of cognitive development. Using the framework and stages of development, we proposed to create activities to help students explore existing concepts, interrelate concepts, analyze and reason, solve problems, and organize knowledge.

Minds-On Physics cover (small)At first, the approach was so different from anything that had been done previously that NSF would fund only a small pilot project with four teachers in four very different settings. The activities were found to be useful and effective with the pilot teachers and classes. Now there are more than 180 activities in 6 volumes for students and over 2,000 pages of support materials for teachers.

The materials have many special features. For instance, activities are done first, with little or no preparation, and no need for any introduction by the teacher. The reading assignments are brief (1-2 pages per activity) and done after the activities are completed, rather than before. The activities demonstrate multiple paths to success, while encouraging thoughtfulness, communication, teamwork, and self-awareness as essential features of learning. The program is algebra-based, but it avoids over-generalizations by using graphs and mathematical principles to take into account changing quantities. The materials also support and promote a new approach to teaching that stresses modeling, conversation, advising, and mentoring over traditional, one-size-fits-all lecturing.

Having published the last Teacher's Guide early in 2003, the project has moved into an implementation and adoption phase, with visits to teachers and school systems interested in trying out a new style of teaching and learning. Grand Rapids (MI) Public Schools has recently adopted MOP, and Chicago Public Schools (among others) is currently considering the program.