ACORN Physics Tutorials

Developed by: Amy Robertson, Lisa Goodhew, Lauren Bauman, and Paula Heron

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

Intro College Calculus-based
calc based
 Intro College Algebra-based
alg based
 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics  Thermal / Statistical
Lecture - Large (30+ students)  Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Recitation/Discussion Session  Lab  Homework  Studio

What? Designed to help students build models and engage in sense-making about physics, often by asking students to recognize and appreciate their own good ideas as "seeds of science". Based on research identifying common productive student ideas.

Why? Focus on building students' productive ideas rather than confronting misconceptions, which can help build confidence and enjoyment. Free and open source. Instructor guides help you notice student ideas as they come up and decide what you might do next.

Why not? They require more skill to facilitate because students take their own paths towards building their own models, rather than being guided on a pre-determined path towards a particular model. Some students may be frustrated by the open-ended nature of activities and the lack of a satisfying conclusion.

Example materials


Activity outline

Students engage in three main activities as they iteratively build a model they can use to explain and predict phenomena:

  • Gather: Students respond to conceptual physics questions that research has shown to consistently elicit generative student ideas about specific physics topics (e.g., wave propagation, dc circuit behavior, collisions).
  • Articulate: Students express their ideas more formally, often as a set of rules.
  • Apply: Students apply and test their models for a phenomenon.

How to implement ACORN Tutorials:

  • Use these tutorials in person or in synchronous online classes in a 50-90 minute period.
  • Arrange for students to work on the worksheets collaboratively in groups of 3-4.
  • Plan for intermittent but regular instructor engagement with every group: If possible, there should be one instructor for every 2-4 student groups. Near-peer facilitators (LAs or TAs) are helpful.
  • Instructors should prepare for both the general approach taken by the worksheet and the specific worksheet questions in a preparation session that takes place before class.
  • The worksheet should not be graded, so that students can explore a variety of ideas without feeling pressure to get the right answer.

Topic outline

Topics covered:

  • Momentum
  • Circuits
  • Waves
  • Heat and temperature

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Using multiple representations
  • Building models

Instructor effort required

  • High

Resources required

  • TAs / LAs
  • Tables for group work

Developer's website: ACORN Physics Tutorials

You can download the tutorials and instructor guides for free from the developers' website.

Silver Validation
This is the second highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 2 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 4 of the "studied using" categories
(Categories shown below)

Research Validation Summary

Based on Research Into:

  • theories of how students learn
  • student ideas about specific topics

Demonstrated to Improve:

  • conceptual understanding
  • problem-solving skills
  • lab skills
  • beliefs and attitudes
  • attendance
  • retention of students
  • success of underrepresented groups
  • performance in subsequent classes

Studied using:

  • cycle of research and redevelopment
  • student interviews
  • classroom observations
  • analysis of written work
  • research at multiple institutions
  • research by multiple groups
  • peer-reviewed publication


Compatible Method

Similar Method

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