Periscope: About

What is Periscope?

A collection of lessons for faculty and LAs/TAs to:

  • watch and discuss videos of best-practices physics classrooms
  • apply lessons learned to actual teaching situations
  • practice interpreting student behavior
  • become more effective teachers

For details on how to implement Periscope lessons, see the Periscope Facilitator's Guide.

Periscope lessons in 3 easy steps

1. Watch classroom video; 2. Discuss in small groups; 3. Discuss with whole group

History of Periscope

In the early 2000s, when video cameras became small enough to use unobtrusively in classrooms, members of the Physics Education Research Group at the University of Maryland started videotaping tutorial classrooms for the purposes of research. Rachel Scherr and Andrew Elby selected episodes from this video corpus to illustrate the Maryland Open Source Tutorials in Physics Sensemaking, which were under development at the time. Some of these video episodes proved useful for preparing graduate teaching assistants to teach the Open Source Tutorials. Renee Michelle Goertzen was then conducting her doctoral research on tutorial teaching assistants, studying their interactions with students in tutorials as well as their beliefs about tutorial instruction [1]. Around this same time, Scherr began thinking explicitly about the value of classroom video data for research and professional development [2].

The first collection of classroom-video-based lessons for instructor development was created with support from the Physics Teacher Education Coalition. This project, called the Learning Assistant Video Project, produced 19 video lessons highlighting big ideas in physics teaching and learning. The lessons corresponded to most of the weekly topics addressed in Colorado’s widely-disseminated LA pedagogy course (e.g., types of questions, formative assessment). The LA Video Project was the pioneering effort to produce a resource that would be flexible enough to be useful in a variety of LA preparation contexts, relevant to the instructional formats LAs teach in at their institution, and supportive of collaboration among LAs and faculty members, promoting faculty professional development and institutional change as well as LA development.

In 2013, the National Science Foundation supported Scherr and Goertzen to transform the LA Video Project into what is now Periscope. The transformation included brand development, user needs analysis, lesson redesign, website development and usability testing, the development of comprehensive supporting materials (e.g., a lesson guide for every lesson), and dissemination through publications, presentations, and workshops. Multiple institutions contributed video of their best-practices physics classrooms, so that now Periscope includes dozens of lessons showcasing a variety of exemplary instructional environments.

  1. R. M. Goertzen, R. E. Scherr, and A. Elby, “Accounting for tutorial teaching assistants’ buy-in to reform instruction,” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 5, 020109 (2009); “Tutorial teaching assistants in the classroom: Similar teaching behaviors are supported by varied beliefs about teaching and learning,” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 6, 010105 (2010); “Respecting tutorial instructors' beliefs and experiences: A case study of a physics teaching assistant,” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 6, 020125 (2010)
  2. R. E. Scherr, “Gesture analysis for physics education researchers,” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 4, 010101 (2008); R. E. Scherr, “Video analysis for insight and coding: Examples from tutorials in introductory physics,” Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 5, 020106 (2009); R. E. Scherr and D. Hammer, “Student behavior and epistemological framing: Examples from collaborative active-learning activities in physics,” Cog. & Instr. 27(2), 147-174 (2009).

The Periscope Team

Rachel E. Scherr (Periscope creator and director) considers Periscope to be one of her most significant accomplishments. Periscope embodies the value she places on understanding and appreciating the complexity of human interaction in physics learning environments. Scherr is responsible for the vision and mission of Periscope and creates all of its content. Scherr is a senior physics education researcher with a 20-year history studying the teaching and learning of physics. She obtained her PhD in physics from the University of Washington in 2001 for investigations of student understanding of special relativity. She has authored dozens of publications, supervised five doctoral dissertations, and served as principal investigator on numerous awards from the National Science Foundation. She was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society for “foundational research into energy learning and representations, application of video analysis methods to study physics classrooms, and physics education research community leadership.”

Renee Michelle Goertzen (Periscope co-founder) contributed substantially to the first release of Periscope. Before retiring, she was the Senior Program Manager at the American Physical Society and worked on a variety of programs to improve education and diversity in physics nationally, including the Physics Teacher Education Coalition and the Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Goertzen earned a PhD in Physics from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests are professional development for physics instructors and developing community among physics learners and instructors.

Sam McKagan (Periscope website director) led the design and development of the Periscope website. She is also the director of Periscope’s parent site, PhysPort, and is the design and development director of the Living Physics Portal. She is an expert on physics faculty needs around teaching and on user-centered design of web resources for physics educators.

Sandy Martinuk (Periscope website designer) conducted usability research and designed the Periscope website. He is an expert in user experience design for physics education resources, and has done user experience design for several STEM education websites, including PhysPort, PhET Interactive Simulations, and the Living Physics Portal.

Lyle Barbato (Periscope website developer) built the Periscope website. He is the lead developer for PhysPort and ComPADRE.

Adrian Madsen (Periscope website researcher) conducted usability research for the design of the Periscope website. She is the assistant director of PhysPort and a research scientist for the Living Physics Portal.

Stephanie Chasteen (external evaluator) conducted research on Periscope use and gave feedback on the design process. She has been an external evaluator for over a dozen STEM education projects.

Rules for sharing Periscope videos

Periscope video is contributed to Periscope by physics programs that video record classrooms for their own reasons, typically for research. These programs collect the video ethically under supervision of their own institutional review boards. People who appear in Periscope videos have consented to have the video shared with educators. They have not necessarily consented for their video to be shared with the public. Therefore:

  • You may share Periscope videos with faculty, teaching assistants, learning assistants, and other instructors.
  • You may show Periscope videos at professional meetings for educators, such as meetings of the American Association of Physics Teachers.
  • You may not show Periscope videos publicly or post them publicly online, e.g., as unprotected YouTube videos or on your publicly accessible class website.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1323699.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.