Physics and Everyday Thinking

Developed by: Fred Goldberg, Valerie Otero and Steve Robinson

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

 Intro College Conceptual

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Waves / Optics
Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Lab  Studio

What? A guided-inquiry conceptual physics course that helps students develop a deep conceptual understanding of big ideas in physics through small groups, whole-class discussion, and laboratory work. Incorporates activities that focus on the nature of science and the nature of learning.

Example materials


Topic outline

  • Chapter 1: Interactions and Energy introduces students to all of the common themes of the course, in particular the themes of interactions between objects and the energy description of interactions. 
  • Chapter 2: Interactions and Forces introduces students to an alternative framework (that of forces) within which they can explain interactions they first see in Chapter 1 that involve objects pushing or pulling on one another.
  • Chapter 3: Interactions and Fields introduces students to the ideas of "fields of influence" mediating interactions that can occur over a distance, specifically the magnetic, electric charge and gravitational interactions. The concept of potential energy is also introduced.
  • Chapter 4: Model of Magnetism concentrates on the nature of science as students develop a model for magnetism, and then track its evolution among elementary students and historically, among scientists.
  • Chapter 5: Electric Circuit Interactions introduces students to electric circuit interactions and how to describe electric circuits in terms of energy and current.
  • Chapter 6: Light Interactions introduces students to light interactions. Students examine the interaction of light with mirrors, eyes, transparent objects, white and black objects, and objects of different colors.

Student skills developed

Designed for:
  • Conceptual understanding
  • Using multiple representations
  • Metacognition
Can be adapted for:
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Lab skills
  • Making real-world connections

Instructor effort required

  • Medium

Resources required

  • Computers for students
  • Advanced lab equipment
  • Cost for students
  • Tables for group work

Developer's website: Physics and Everyday Thinking
Intro Article: F. Goldberg and S. Bendall, Making the invisible visible: A teaching/learning environment that builds on a new view of the physics learner, Am. J. Phys. 63 (11), 978 (1995).

You can order the PET materials from their publisher, Activate Learning. You can also download the homework and movies for free from this site.

Gold Star Validation
This is the highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • both of the "based on" categories
  • at least 4 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 5 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