Physical Science and Everyday Thinking

Developed by: Fred Goldberg, Rebecca Kruse, Steve Robinson, Valerie Otero and Nephi Thompson

middle schoolhigh schoolintro collegeinter-mediateupper levelgrad school   other

Mechanics  Electricity / Magnetism  Thermal / Statistical
Lecture - Small (<30 students)  Lab  Studio

What? A guided-inquiry conceptual physical science course that helps students develop a deep conceptual understanding of big ideas 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: Interactions and the Behavior of Gases introduces the scientists' Small Particle Model (SPM) of matter and applies it to phenomena involving gases, making use of computer simulators that model the behavior of gases on both macroscopic and microscopic scales.
  • Chapter 5: Interactions and Physical Changes focuses on physical properties and changes in the context of liquids and solids. Students investigate physical changes at both the macroscopic and microscopic (small particle) scales.
  • Chapter 6: Interactions and Chemical Changes focuses on chemical changes and their particle-level underpinnings, employing both in-class experiments and simulators that model chemical reactions and decomposition on both the macroscopic and microscopic scales.

Student skills developed

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

Instructor effort required

  • Medium

Resources required

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

Intro Article: D. Harlow, V. Otero, A. Leak, S. Robinson, E. Price, and F. Goldberg, Learning about teaching and learning while learning physics: An analysis of 15 years of responsive curriculum development, Phys. Rev. Phys. Educ. Res. 16 (2), 020155 (2020).

You can order the PSET materials from their publisher, Activate Learning. You can also download the homework and movies for free from this site. You can download a sample activity from PhysPort.

Bronze Validation
This is the third highest level of research validation, corresponding to:
  • at least 1 of the "based on" categories
  • at least 1 of the "demonstrated to improve" categories
  • at least 1 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