Physics Education Research group awarded $2.6M grant for Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools (IPaSS) Partnership Program
Siv Schwink for Illinois Physics
The goal of the new program will be to provide high school students across the state with the highest quality high school physics experience, engaging students’ interest in STEM fields and preparing them to succeed at competitive research institutions like the U of I. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math—fields the U.S. government has recognized are a high educational priority for a strong tech-field workforce. The program will not only help align existing high school physics courses with university-level expectations, but will also provide support for under-resourced high schools to offer physics courses for the first time.According to Illinois Physics Professor Tim Stelzer, two recent PER hires in the Physics Department—secondary education partnership coordinator Maggie Mahmood and Professor Eric Kuo—were key in winning the award and will provide critical expertise needed to run the new program.
Lundsgaard notes, “Teachers in the program will benefit from an intensive summer institute, as well as weekly meetings throughout the school year dedicated to lesson planning and sharing best teaching practices.”
Mahmood brings eight years of high school physics teaching experience to the project, giving her a unique perspective on the program’s benefits.
“As a teacher, my experience is that co-planning with other teachers can help you get a new perspective and transform your teaching practice more than you would imagine,” asserts Mahmood. “But often, schools have only one physics teacher on staff. By bringing together high school physics teachers and University of Illinois physics education researchers, IPaSS aims to cultivate a community of educators collectively working to develop high-quality high school physics classroom experiences for students.”
Kuo will lead the project’s research component, which seeks to understand how the program improves the quality of high school physics teaching and contributes to students’ future STEM engagement and success.
Kuo notes, “At the U of I, introductory physics effectively acts as a gatekeeper for students who want to get an engineering degree. This project will help us better understand how to enhance the overall continuity of students’ educational experiences as they transition from high school to college and will increase interest in STEM degrees like engineering, while also making them more attainable.”
“Dale planted the seed for future implementation, encouraging the PER group to assemble a team capable of fulfilling this vision,” Stelzer notes.
According to Kuo, the new program builds on the department’s history of educational outreach, led by Lundsgaard. The program will take advantage of the department’s award-winning curriculum titled smartPhysics, developed for the department’s introductory courses. And it will introduce an affordable, first-of-its-kind, hand-held laboratory measurement device called iOLab, created by Illinois Physics Professor Mats Selen, which is currently used in the department’s introductory physics courses. It also relies on departmental IT infrastructure and data management solutions managed by the department’s director of information management, Rebecca Wiltfong, who will act as a point of contact for teachers as they navigate the university’s web systems on a daily basis.
Mahmood notes that, although this project builds on the past, it’s all about a brighter future.
“Our goal is to open more equitable, visible, and viable pathways for students into STEM education and STEM careers,” she says.