Have questions about teaching with ACORN Physics Tutorials? Contact Amy Robertson.
ACORN Physics Tutorials support learning environments that Attend to Conceptual Resources in Physics. Conceptual resources are potentially generative student ideas: “seeds of science” that can grow toward sophisticated understandings with support and cultivation. ACORN Physics Tutorials support students to construct their own models for physics concepts: the materials do not scaffold students toward a predetermined model.
Have questions about ACORN Physics Tutorials? Contact Amy Robertson.
This project began with the observation that though there is an abundance of topic-specific research on common misconceptions and misunderstandings in physics, there was very little systematic, topic-specific, patterns-oriented research on student conceptual resources for understanding physics. We not only had questions about what those resources would be, but also whether we would learn something new, whether time-tested methods for characterizing ideas would suit a resources-oriented analysis, and whether and how curriculum developed on the basis of our findings would be effective. Ultimately, we wanted to build a pragmatic toolset for instructors who wanted to implement resources-oriented instruction but needed evidence, ideas of where to start, and course materials to work with. We think we’ve done that – at least we’ve started to – and we’ve learned a lot, some unexpected, along the way.
Learn more about resources-oriented instruction in our American Journal of Physics paper:
Have questions about ACORN Physics Tutorials? Contact Amy Robertson.
|Amy Robertson (she/her, PI, Seattle Pacific University) is a Research Professor and physics education researcher with a strong interest in cultivating liberatory classroom and professional spaces. In her work, Amy roots herself in a variety of methodological tools, disciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations, and her lived experience as a disabled and chronically ill physicist. Her research focuses on university students’ conceptual resources for learning physics and how frameworks from equity and justice can help physicists become more critically conscious. She is a proud puppy mama, a disabled hiker, and an avid crafter.|
|Paula Heron (she/her, PI, University of Washington) is a Professor of Physics at the University of Washington. She has been engaged in physics education research with a focus on improving student conceptual understanding and reasoning ability for nearly 30 years. She is involved in a number of international organizations and collaborations in PER and has been recognized by awards from the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers. Dr. Heron is an Associate Editor of Physical Review Physics Education Research.|
|Rachel Scherr (she/her, co-PI, University of Washington) is an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Washington Bothell. A longtime physics education researcher, she has a special interest in educator development, including physics faculty, K-12 teachers, graduate teaching assistants, and undergraduate learning assistants. Dr. Scherr is the producer of Periscope Video Lessons.|
|Raphael Mondesir (he/his, co-PI, Seattle Pacific University) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Seattle Pacific University. As a quantitative sociologist, Dr. Mondesir utilizes a variety of methods to study the intersection of community development, civic participation, and religious pluralism in the Global South. His special interest in civic cultures and social networks often inform his teaching and how he builds relationships with his students. Dr. Mondesir spends his weekends playing soccer or hiking.|
|Lisa Goodhew is an Assistant Professor of Physics at Seattle Pacific University. Her research focuses on university students’ conceptual resources for understanding physics and supporting instructors in effectively leveraging these resources. Dr. Goodhew’s favorite part of her work is getting to know and learn with students in and out of the physics classroom, and she is excited by the ways this research makes her a better teacher.|
|Tra Huynh (she/her) is a postdoctoral scholar at University of Washington Bothell. She is a physics education researcher and she has been conducting qualitative research on faculty and student professional development and equity education through multiple lenses of methodology and theories. She loves creating ideas with people and turning them into research. She is an aspiring knitter and baker.|
|Clausell Mathis is a postdoctoral scholar in physics at the University of Washington - Seattle. Clausell has been engaging in physics education research over the past 4 years with a focus on understanding how physics instructors can incorporate culture-based equitable approaches to teaching from a curriculum development, student learning, and teacher identity lens.|
|Lauren Bauman (she/her) is a research coordinator at the University of Washington Seattle. She first became interested in physics education research while learning physics as an undergraduate and is particularly interested in effectively creating empowering, equitable, and supportive educational spaces that authentically center students' ideas. Most of her research focuses on analyzing written data to identify students' conceptual resources.|
|Anne Alesandrini (they/them and she/her) is a current graduate student with the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington and a former public high school teacher. Their research interests include student explanations and educator development, and they spend a lot of time thinking about the interactions between education, science, and society. They find joy wandering around outside with their kids looking at plants.|
|Brynna Hansen is a current undergraduate student studying Cellular and Molecular Biology at Seattle Pacific University, and does physics education research as a side hobby! She hopes to attend medical school following graduation. Outside of school Brynna loves to read, exercise and spend time with loved ones.
|Jon Owen (he/him) is a current undergraduate student in physics at Seattle Pacific University. He is currently working to analyze video of classrooms using ACORN tutorials to understand how students’ conceptual resources are activated and refined.|
Al Snow (they/them) is a graduate student in Physics at the University of Washington. They are currently working on classroom discussion video analysis and pretest response analysis. Al enjoys reading and writing, as well as listening to and performing music.
|Sam McKagan (she/her) is the creator and director of PhysPort, a website that supports physics faculty in research-based teaching and hosts open-source curricular materials, including the ACORN Tutorials. She has conducted research into physics faculty members’ and department heads’ needs around research-based teaching and assessment, and conducted several meta-analyses of the impact of research-based teaching in physics. For this project, Sam worked with Adrian to design the ACORNS Tutorials website on PhysPort, and helped analyze interviews with faculty.|
|Adrian Madsen (she/her) is the assistant director of PhysPort, a website that supports physics faculty in research-based teaching and hosts open-source curricular materials, including the ACORN Tutorials. She has conducted research into physics faculty members’ and department heads’ needs around research-based teaching and assessment, and conducted several meta-analyses of the impact of research-based teaching in physics. For this project, Adrian worked with Sam to design the ACORNS Tutorials website on PhysPort, and helped analyze interviews with faculty.|
|Yohannes M. Abraham (he/him) is an undergraduate cellular and molecular biology student at Seattle Pacific University interested in STEM teaching and learning as well as the medical field. He joined physics research to better understand why students’ have common conceptual misconceptions about physics and how to address these difficulties with a resource-oriented teaching and learning approach. He plans to work in a biology laboratory and wishes to attend medical school in the future. During his free time, he loves to play soccer, try different cuisines, and read Italian classic books.|
|Cheyenne Broadfoot is a graduate from University of Washington Bothell with a B.S. in Physics and is currently pursuing a M.S. in Coastal Zone Management and Marine Conservation from University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She has a passion for learning and wants to use the acquired knowledge to work for an organization addressing wastewater and pollution in third world countries, specifically Costa Rica.|
|Beth Gallatin is a current undergraduate student at South Puget Sound Community College studying computer science. She joined the physics education research project to help develop a deeper understanding of students' conceptual resources and begin exploring strategies to create a more inclusive and diverse society of physicists. She is currently participating in research for the LIGO Collaboration working on the search for continuous wave gravitational radiation. She loves thinking and wondering about gravity, and the role it plays in our understanding of the universe. She has a persistently curious mind, and plans to focus on a career that bridges scientific resources, nature, and humanity.|
|Jon Geiger is a recent graduate of Seattle Pacific University, where he received degrees in Physics, Applied Mathematics, and Honors Liberal Arts. He served as a Learning Assistant for three years, and has worked with the team on a project investigating the utility of natural language processing in characterizing students’ conceptual resources in physics.|
|Katie Marvin is a recent graduate of UW Bothell with a BS in physics. Before becoming a student, she was a dog trainer who taught large classes to the general public. Her experience in behavioral training, communication, and observation served her well as she worked her way through an associate's degree at South Seattle College. These same skills would prove useful when she was encouraged to join the physics education research project for her independent research credits. She has a passion for learning, teaching, and bringing out the best in others. After graduating she landed a job within the semiconductor industry. She plans to become a physics instructor someday after she has gained some real world application experience. With the free time she has, she likes to practice her woodwind instruments, hike, play retro games, and hang out with her dog, Zac.|
Olin Sorby is a current Undergraduate student studying Applied Physics and Norwegian language at the University of Washington. He has been working with Tra on CR in kinematics, pertaining to productive use of force reasoning in kinematics problems.
|Marcella Su (she/her) is a graduate of the University of Washington Bothell with a B.S in Biochemistry and a minor in Health Studies. She is pursuing medicine to become a doctor. She believes that research is essential to medicine in order to propel the field of medicine to create effective treatments for the members of our community. She hopes to practice and provide quality care for her community after medical school, as closing the gap between ethnic and marginalized groups is a core passion of hers. She is currently a Research Assistant at Veterans Affairs, Seattle Epidemiologic Research and Information Center. During her time off she helps her family in residential housing management, volunteers at International District Emergency Center, located in Seattle’s Chinatown, and does sewing with a sewing machine to help tailor clothing for family and friends.|
|Andrea Wooley (she/her) is an undergraduate physics student at Western Washington University with experience in physics education research and Mossbauer spectroscopy. The culture of physics is central to her research interests, in particular she is passionate about issues about justice, equity, inclusion and diversity. She’s a transfer student from South Seattle College where she studied students’ perspectives of physics in addition to working as a tutor and peer navigator. She spends her weekends hiking in Larabee state park, playing pool and taking care of her house rabbit, Monty.|
ACORN Physics Tutorials are developed iteratively, in conversation with research:
Researchers from our team first use student written responses to conceptual questions to identify specific, common conceptual resources for understanding a particular topic. This research shapes the initial design of an ACORN Tutorial, which elicits and then builds from identified conceptual resources, toward models, mechanisms, and concepts. These tutorials are then implemented in focus groups or classrooms, where students are video-recorded as they learn. Video analysis identifies ways in which the tutorial is working or not working as planned – or working well in unexpected ways – and this analysis then shapes the refinement of the materials. Often materials iterate through this process multiple times before being shared more broadly.
L. C. Bauman, L. M. Goodhew, and A. D. Robertson, “Students’ use of conceptual resources for understanding superposition,” in 2019 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by Y. Cao, S. Wolf, and M. B. Bennett, DOI: 10.1119/perc.2019.pr.Bauman (2019).
L. M. Goodhew, A. D. Robertson, P. R. L. Heron, and R. E. Scherr, “Student Conceptual Resources for Understanding Mechanical Wave Propagation,” Physical Review Physics Education Research 15(2), 020127 (2019).
A. T. Alesandrini, T. Huynh, L. C. Bauman, and A. D. Robertson, "Identifying student resources for reasoning microscopically about heat and temperature" in 2022 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings [Grand Rapids, MI, July 13-14, 2022], edited by B. W. Frank, D. L. Jones, and Q. X. Ryan, doi:10.1119/perc.2022.pr.Alesandrini (2022).
Y. A. Abraham, M. Valentin, B. Hansen, L. C. Bauman, and A. D. Robertson, “Student resources for understanding heat and temperature,” in 2021 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by M. B. Bennett, B. W. Frank, and R. E. Vieyra, p. 21-26, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1119/perc.2021.pr.Abraham (2021).
A. D. Robertson, L. C. Bauman, Y. M. Abraham, B. Hansen, H. Tran, and L. M. Goodhew, "Resources-oriented instruction: What does it mean, and what might it look like?," American Journal of Physics, 90(7), 529-537 (2022).
A. D. Robertson, L. M. Goodhew, R. E. Scherr, and P. R. L. Heron, “Impetus-force-like drawings may be less common than you think,” The Physics Teacher 60(4), 254-257 (2022).
J. M. Geiger, L. M. Goodhew, and T. O. B. Odden, "Developing a natural language processing approach for analyzing student ideas in calculus-based introductory physics in 2022 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings [Grand Rapids, MI, July 13-14, 2022], edited by B. W. Frank, D. L. Jones, and Q. X. Ryan, doi:10.1119/perc.2022.pr.Geiger (2022).
L. C. Bauman, C. Mathis, S. B. McKagan, A. Madsen, K. Marvin, and A. D. Robertson, “Centering physics faculty ideas about resources-oriented instruction,” in 2021 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by M. B. Bennett, B. W. Frank, and R. E. Vieyra, p. 33-38, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1119/perc.2021.pr.Bauman (2021).
L. M. Goodhew, A. D. Robertson, P. R. L. Heron, and R. E. Scherr, “Students’ context-sensitive use of conceptual resources: A pattern across different styles of question about mechanical waves,” Physical Review Physics Education Research 17, 010137 (2021).
A. D. Robertson, L. M. Goodhew, R. E. Scherr, and P. R. L. Heron, “Impetus-like reasoning as continuous with Newtonian physics,” The Physics Teacher 59(3), 185 (2021).
R. Mondesir and A. D. Robertson, “Characterizing the demographics of introductory physics,” in 2020 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by S. Wolf, M. Bennett, and B. Frank, DOI: https://doi/org/10.1119/perc.2020.pr.Mondesir (2020).
A. D. Robertson, L. M. Goodhew, P. R. L. Heron, and R. E. Scherr, “Pulses as not-objects: Student responses to a new question about the superposition of mechanical waves,” Physics Education 54(5), 055023 (2019).
L. M. Goodhew, A. D. Robertson, P. R. L. Heron, and R. E. Scherr, “Examining the productiveness of student resources in a problem-solving interview,” in 2018 Physics Education Research Conference Proceedings, edited by A. Traxler, Y. Cao, and S. Wolf, DOI: https://doi/org/10.1119/perc.2018.pr.Goodhew (2018).
These materials are suitable for a pedagogy course to support LAs and TAs in using resources-oriented instruction. We suggest weekly readings, weekly reflections, one project per term, and one peer observation per term.
Student resources for learning introductory physics
Misconceptions Reconceived: A Constructivist Analysis of Knowledge in Transition
Discovery Learning and Discovery Teaching: Cognition and Instruction
Implications of cognitive studies for teaching physics
Newton's Zeroth Law: Learning from Listening to Our Students
Attending and Responding to Student Thinking in Science
"Charges are everywhere": A case of student sensemaking about electric current
Examining the productiveness of student resources in a problem-solving interview
Boosting Achievement with Messages that Motivate
Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines
Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups
G: The Miseducation of Larry P
Why Peer Discussion Improves Student Performance on In-Class Concept Questions
Peer Instruction for Active Learning - Eric Mazur
Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom
Becoming physics people: Development of integrated physics identity through the Learning Assistant experience
Reflection is a key practice for integrating experience. In general, we suggest that satisfactory teaching reflections must do the following:
Identify one ‘take-away’ related to how you will respond to students’ contributions this term. What will you commit to try out in your practice to shift deeper into an asset-based view of sense-making? ("Asset-based" means you think of students' ideas as being valuable, instead of wrong or absent; it is the opposite of "deficit-based.") A possible prompt: “In order to__________, I will work to_______. I will know I am making progress if__________."
Why do you think groups are effective for learning? You may refer to the course you are helping teach or your own experience as a student.
What is your best skill as a group member? What skill do you think you should work on as a group member?
Describe an experience you have had with “collective intelligence” of a group that you have been in.
How do you decide to start interacting with a group of students?
Have you thought that there is a “physics brain” or that someone can be a “physics person”? What attributes did (do) you associate with being a “physics person”? How might this affect how someone participates in a physics class?
What evidence of fixed or growth mindset have you observed this term? This could come from working with students, reflecting on your own mindset, or observing other instructors.
Share some teacher questions that you remember from recent interactions: either questions you asked when you were teaching, or questions that a teacher asked you. What type of question is it? What is its function? What does it say about the kind of teaching that is happening?
How do you know someone has learned something? You can’t see into their head. Think of someone you know who has a lot of expertise in some area, and it’s not the kind of thing where you take a test. How does their expertise show?
Describe a time when you had a feeling of learning, but later realized that your learning was not as high-quality as it felt at the time; or when you felt like you were not learning, but later realized your learning had been deeper than you realized.
Describe a teaching experience you had recently that felt successful to you. What about it felt successful? Describe a teaching experience you had recently that felt less successful to you. What leads you to see it this way?
How can students/ instructors cultivate a classroom learning community where everyone gets to show their expertise, and where their resources are welcome contributions?
Describe a student interaction that gave you insight into the student's mental model and/or prior knowledge about a physics concept.
If you could go back in time and give your students some advice at the beginning of the term (or the year), what would it be? Why?
If you have a future career or other life goal, how is being an LA applicable to that goal?
Beyond your development as a LA, we are also interested in your development as a student and as a person. To what extent have the topics discussed in this course been useful beyond your LA experience?
Reflect on your teaching interactions now as compared to the start of the term, including the "specific commitment" you made early on. What have you gotten better at this term?
How has the experience of being a LA impacted you as a student? Do you find yourself thinking/acting differently (in class, when studying, when discussing or working with peers, or in other areas of life) in ways that you think have been influenced by your LA experience? Explain/describe.
Below are multiple suggestions for term projects for LAs. We suggest one project per term.
The task for this project is to interview a single person to learn about their ideas about a physics concept. Your only purpose in this interview is to learn about their idea. Your purpose is NOT to teach them anything.
Conduct your interview and video- or audio- record it. Post either a video of your entire 30-minute interview, or the entire transcript of your interview. You can use Zoom’s AI transcription for this, or an AI transcription service like otter.ai.
Write a reflection on your experience of conducting this interview and/or the content of the interview. Address the following questions:
Satisfactory reflections must do the following:
In class, we’ll role-play each other’s transcripts and discuss what we notice.
This project is to analyze a video episode of yourself interacting with students, especially in terms of [theme - e.g., student ideas or group dynamics].
Describe how you will record yourself interacting with students in class. A satisfactory recording plan will enable you to
You may recruit fellow LAs to help. If there is anything you will want the professor to do, make that request now.
Make a sample video recording of yourself interacting with a group of students and submit it here. A satisfactory sample recording meets these criteria:
Record and submit three video episodes of yourself interacting with students in class.
A satisfactory episode meets the same criteria as for the sample video recording PLUS:
Transcribe one of the three episodes you submitted and submit the transcript here. A satisfactory transcript meets these criteria:
Write a reflection on the episode you transcribed, including responses to the following questions:
A satisfactory reflection:
In class, we’ll watch each other’s videos and discuss what we notice. [Alternative: In class, we will re-enact the episode using the transcript and discuss what we notice.]
At the end of this term, you will share your development with other Learning Assistants, Faculty Mentors, Pedagogy Instructors, and the campus community at large during the [name of poster session].
How have you developed as an LA and student throughout your LA experience? How has your development been related to your specific class? Track your own development from the beginning to the end of your time as a LA by examining how you understood and implemented concepts discussed in your pedagogy class and prep sessions. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your learning in this class, and also, the aspects of your role and development as an LA that you are excited to share with others! What have you learned as a LA that’s worth sharing with the rest of the LA community?
Each poster presentation should answer one of the following prompts:
These examples show the type of content we expect: [examples here]
(To help you follow through on this commitment, your instructor will create specialized assignment(s) for you in the coming weeks: e.g., if you’re going to administer a survey, she will create assignments for you to (1) create and (2) administer the survey.)
By now, you have gathered evidence to support your poster presentation. Analyze this evidence and share it visually. If your evidence includes quantitative data, use data visualizations (bar charts, pie charts, etc) to show patterns and trends in the data you collected. If not, think about how you will visually show what you’ve found.
Submit a draft of your poster presentation here. In class, we will display and discuss each draft, to give you feedback before you prepare your final presentation.
Presenting your poster at a poster session actually means having conversations, not delivering a speech. In class, we will each practice the opening line of our poster conversation.
Meet one or two other LAs at other universities and teach us about them. [Instructor] will provide you with contacts.
Attend a virtual LA poster session hosted by another university. The assignment is to re-present three of the posters you see to us in the class.
During the poster session: Get the information you need and document your experience so as to complete the tasks below.
During a class period of your choosing: Spend at least 5 minutes of class time teaching us about each poster of your choice (at least 15 minutes total).
We recommend that all LAs engage in peer observation 1-3 times per year. The following structure may support your LAs in engaging in productive peer observation.
During the observation, the observer should complete an Observation Log that identifies the observed LA’s teaching behaviors and the effects on the students. This log should be a rather complete transcript of actions, interactions, and discussions during the instruction. Personal notes, comments, and reflections could be included as well. The format used should be similar to the following:
What the LA did
What the students did
After observing another LA, use the Observation Log to answer the Observation Questions. Your responses will guide your debriefing session with the LA you observed. Submit your written responses here.
During class, the LA pairs who observed each other will engage in a dialogue. The sequence is as follows:
The intent is to have the LA who was observed reflect accurately on the teaching session and identify aspects that were very effective in promoting student learning, as well as to see areas that may need work and how to address those areas.
When are guiding questions unhelpful?
When do students pursue challenging questions?
Students will be able to:
Students will be able to: