Goals of physics education research (PER)

Approximately eighty-five institutions in the United States conduct research in science and physics education. The primary goal of physics education research is to develop pedagogical techniques and strategies that will help students learn physics more effectively. Research often focuses on learning more about the common misconceptions that students bring to the physics classroom, so that techniques can be devised to help students overcome these misconceptions. A variety of interactive learning methods (sometimes also called active learning methods) and laboratory experiences have been developed with this aim. The recognition of the value of interactive engagement over more passive lecturing strategies has been promoted in large measure through studies initially using the Force Concept Inventory.

The Kansas State University Physics Education Research Group has developed a program, Visual Quantum Mechanics (VQM), to teach quantum mechanics to high school and college students who do not have advanced backgrounds in physics or math.1 The material is taught visually using software and supplemented by written text and hands on activities.2 The program is divided into units. The units can be used alongside traditional curriculum.3 The program seems to be more for high school teachers to insert units at appropriate stages thereby showing how quantum mechanics explains certain observations that classical cannot. However, a college course on modern physics or quantum mechanics could make use of the units either in class or as further independent study. More information about Visual Quantum Mechanics and the KSU Physics Education Research Group can be found at http://web.phys.ksu.edu/vqm/.

Dahncke et al. (2001) argued that there is a split in the science education community. On the one hand the major focus in on science whereby the group is usually organized close to the domain discipline, like physical societies. On the other hand, there are science educators whose aims are to balance the domain and educational issues.