The JILA-PFC not only supports, but also participates in the University of Colorado’s physics education research group (PER@CU). PER@CU studies how students learn topics in physics and chemistry as well as how their ideas change as they receive formal instruction. The group also develops the widely used interactive web-based PhET simulations.
PER@CU staff worked with the PISEC program director to integrate PhET simulations into the program’s after-school science lessons on motion and circuits. As a result, the Moving Man, Maze Game, Signal Circuit, and Circuit Construction Kit simulations (run on 10 Mac laptop computers) are now part of the inquiry-based informal science programs for students in grades 5 through 12 in the St. Vrain School District.
The PISEC program also works to implement research-based teaching practices into its after-school science classes. At the end of each semester, the program director and her colleagues assess the changes in students’ attitudes and beliefs about science as well as their progress in content mastery. Content mastery is evaluated with surveys of student performance on the Conceptual Survey of Circuits, which is given before and after a semester of science lessons at each school or community center.
Attitudes and beliefs about science are assessed with the Children’s Attitudes Survey. The survey was adapted for elementary and middle-school students from the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS), originally designed to evaluate college student attitudes about science. PISEC instructors use results from both the Children’s Attitudes Survey and the Conceptual Survey of Circuits to improve their science lessons.
The program director and her colleagues from PER@CU also assess the ability of the program’s instructors to communicate science concepts to students in everyday language. The researchers use the Communication in Everyday Language Assessment (CELA) to evaluate student teaching in the informal science education settings. The CELA includes an examination of the language used by students in the lab notebooks they keep throughout the semester.