It takes a village to teach physics well

Local high school teacher builds community and gains new teaching skills and tools through the IPaSS program at the U of I.

Physics learning for the future: Developing new ways of thinking with Eric

IPaSS program fellow Eric discusses encouraging his students to embrace new views of the world, helping them to transition into adulthood through critical thinking, and finding a reflective and inspiring community in his IPaSS cohort.

Hands-on at a distance: Making sense of physics with Jill

IPaSS program fellow Jill discusses her commitment to teaching physics through hands-on projects, adjusting to remote instruction and being inspired by Interactive Online Labs developed at the University of Illinois.

The IPaSS Approach

Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools (IPaSS) combines the talent, experience and enthusiasm of Illinois’ top high school science teachers with the research and content expertise of the University of Illinois to engage Illinois high school students with the highest quality physics experience.

Our Mission

Opening Pathways for Students into Engineering

Access to high-quality, advanced physics instruction in high school can open pathways for students to attain university STEM degrees by preparing them for the challenges faced in gate-keeping undergraduate physics courses. However, access to such advanced physics instruction is not universally available, particularly in low-income serving districts, in which instructional resources for teachers may be more limited, and physics teacher isolation and out-of-field teaching are most common.

Our Model: The Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools (IPaSS) Partnership Program responds to these disparities in student access by bringing together Illinois high school physics teachers to participate in intensive PD experiences structured around research-based, vetted, university-level instructional materials. Key features of our program include:

  • giving teachers access to materials from an award-winning university curriculum.
  • working closely with teachers as they adapt, adopt and implement these materials.
  • supporting formation of statewide physics teacher communities of practice via sustained professional development rooted in teacher agency and peer collaboration.
  • building continuity between secondary schools and U of I to create more coherent pathways for students into engineering.

Our Goals: This program supports teachers’ adaptation, adoption, and integration of high-quality, university-aligned physics instruction into their classrooms, in turn opening more equitable, clear and viable pathways for students into STEM education and careers. We hope that long-term benefits will include:

  • increased student interest in pursuing STEM degrees, including physics.
  • reduced barriers to entering the University of Illinois to obtain a degree.
  • improved diversity of students choosing and obtaining STEM degrees in general, and from the U of I in particular.

Our Vision

A Vibrant Teaching Community to Strengthen the Next Generation of Engineers

The long-term vision of the IPaSS program is a community of Illinois physics teachers who are engaged in continual development of advanced high school physics curricula, teacher-documented examples of these curricula suited for a range of school and classroom contexts, and a research-based set of PD principles aimed at supporting students’ future STEM opportunities and engagement.

We are committed to recruitment of teachers from low income, rural and URM-serving schools, as students in at these schools are more likely to miss out on exposure to advanced physics curricula in high school than their peers. For schools lacking the budget for up-to-date physics lab equipment or the expertise amongst personnel to offer advanced physics, the IPaSS curriculum and associated teacher PD give schools an opportunity to better align their physics course offerings with what will be expected at the university level while creating a cohesive physics teacher network. In addition to the benefits afforded by implementing a high school physics curriculum better aligned with university expectations, developing a unified secondary and post-secondary physics educator support network will enhance the overall continuity of students’ educational experiences as they transition from high school to college.

Action Research

Identify Best Practices to Support Teachers and Students

Ongoing research on the IPaSS Partnership Program addresses three central questions

  • How does IPaSS impact teachers’ practice and what aspects of the professional development are most useful?
  • Does the program encourage student proficiency in physics and their pursuit of STEM topics beyond the course?
  • What aspects of the U of I curricula must be adapted to the structures of the high school classroom to best serve high school student populations?

To answer these questions, several streams of data will be used: Instructional artifacts and video recordings from teachers’ PD activities and classroom teaching throughout the year will be used to trace the development of teachers’ pedagogical and instructional development. Students will be surveyed on their physics knowledge, attitudes, and future career aspirations before and after their physics course, video recordings of student group work will be made, and student written coursework and grades will be collected. Finally, longitudinal data will be collected via post-graduation student surveys about STEM education and career trajectories.

COVID-19 Response

If online instruction continues into the next school year, the IPaSS Partnership Program's goal of forming supportive relationships based on mutual trust with high school partners becomes even more critical. Now, more than ever, teachers can benefit from this support as they grapple with the new challenges of online instruction, while opportunities for teacher collaboration have become substantially more challenging due to physical isolation. The IPaSS program offers three concrete supports that can alleviate teachers’ new curriculum development burdens as well as the new emotional burdens that come with the shift to online instruction.

  1. Our established online instructional tools (i.e. smartPhysics) take the burden off of teachers to find or create new activities for remote instruction, so they can focus their energies on pedagogy and student learning.
  2. IPaSS staff will be on-call for as-needed, one-on-one pedagogical troubleshooting for teachers, in a time when teachers have fewer options for impromptu pedagogical discussions.
  3. The collaborative teacher Community of Practice component of IPaSS PD provides an online, teacher-to-teacher support group.

Our team is committed to continuing the professional development and research project on schedule, with appropriate adjustments depending on the needs of the high school teachers.


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