Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools Summer

I’m at physics summer camp.

That’s what I called the llinois Physics and Secondary Schools Partnership Program today while on the phone with my husband.

It’s not new information that teachers of physics are pulled in a lot of directions and are often under-trained.

Additionally, outside of major metropolitan areas, or areas with Universities, it’s not uncommon that a school has ONE physics teacher without any other physics teachers nearby. This is a deadly combination that not only leads to burnout, but in many cases mediocre to poor physics teaching. This is no fault of the teacher, but rather a consequence of their limited resources: knowledge, time and access.

Enter IPaSS. The program addresses all three.

Three years ago the team at UIUC contacted me about being one of the “master teachers” for the first year of the program. The main intention was to see how AP Physics C teachers would incorporate the recently redeveloped intro sequence (211/212) in their classes. Our summer was a lot of training and messing around, and also some sharing of practices. The four of us all came from very different schools and philosophies of thought, even through 3 out of the 4 had an education from UIUC.

Last year the program started to formalize a little by introducing 8 new teachers to the program, and now we are fully formalized with another 12. We get to spend an entire week (ok 4 days) sharing experiences, pedagogies, philosophies and materials…and we also have access to the high quality research-based materials from the University.


By bringing together teachers with 0-30 years experience, there is a wealth of knowledge in the room. This knowledge is not limited to physics, but also pedagogy and classroom practices. After your first year you are expected to bring your wealth of knowledge to the table in a more formal manner by presenting or running sessionrs.


The University of Illinois has a large and strong Physics Education Research group. The main professor of the program, Tim Steltzer has been doing PER for decades. This program gives teachers access to all of the materials that University Students in introductory physics use in their courses. This includes supplying teachers with a class set of iOLabs.


One of the best parts of the summer institute is that we have concentrated time to focus on specific areas of our teaching that we simply don’t have during the school year. During this time we are working with other teachers who have similar values and goals. The sessions are set up with enough flexibility that if you need to go off and work independently on a project you are able to do so.

Another cool part of the program? It is whatever you choose to make of it.

IPaSS physics summer camp with a smorgasbord of anything your heart could desire:

  • You want to lead other teachers in awesome methods you’ve learned? You’ve come to the right place
  • You need to boost your practice because you’re out of field or new? You’ve come to the right place
  • You are an experienced teacher that feels stuck in old ways? You’ve come to the right place
  • Your school lacks resources for high quality instruction? You’ve come to the right place
  • You want to be involved in scholarly research, publishing and presenting? You’ve come to the right place
  • You’re a PER post-doc or professor and need access to high school students/teachers for research? You’ve come to the right place.

Literally anything you can fathom can come out of this space.

Here was the schedule the first day

I’m so thankful to be part of such an amazing group of educators.

Teaching Methods

My Favorite Retake

At some point while considering equitable grading practices, I found myself searching the archives of TPT looking for some ideas regarding retakes. While I appreciate the idea of an honest retake, my experience has been that it is simply more time and effort on my part, and minimal effort and a hope to just “do better this time” on the part of my students. I ran across Jeff McManus’ article regarding the “box score” (“Retests”: A better method of test corrections)

 In short, when the students turn in their exam, they receive a blank copy of the exam and they get to redo it, using any resources. If the redo is perfect, their old score gets a bump on the square root curve. I liked this notion,  but had a dilemma—my exams in AP Physics are taken from secure college board documents which are not to leave my classroom. Additionally, I knew that certain groups of kids would work together, while others would not take the initiative to join a group, attempt to work on their own, and not reap as much of the benefits. Not wanting to lose the integrity or security of the exams I needed to make a modification on the assignment.

I informed students of the opportunity to do a retake. Since they needed time to really work the exam, I offered them a “collaboration day” during lunch (our students have a shared lunch hour). The retake would be the following day at lunch as well. (Collaboration day came and I was enthralled. Two thirds of my students came (this has increased to as high as 80%) , received a blank copy of the test, and started talking and working together. Large groups of students formed around white boards to tackle problems, the energy was palatable and the camaraderie was invigorating. Since the students had no number to form an idea how they had actually done on the exam, there was a wide range of abilities in the room.

One of my best students commented to me after collaboration day, “I thought I did really well, but I realize there was a lot I didn’t know” The need to score a perfect in order to obtain an increase in points also motivated students to grill each other for explanations until they understood and could reproduce the work themselves.

Retake day arrived and I had a full house. Students were able to finish their previously 40 minute exam in 20 or less because they knew how to attack the problems and most students were able to perfectly answer the problems.

I struggled, however, with the notion that students might memorize steps to a solution, rather than it being truly valid. I added a reflection component to the retake. Students needed to explain to me what they had previously misunderstood that now they comprehended. The reflections were telling. Students who had obtained 100% on the exam could clearly indicate their faults in either concept or problem-solving approaches. Students who were unable to obtain 100% were unable to adequately reflect on what they misunderstood.

I have continued this practice, in particular with the energy exam, for the last 5 years since I first came across the article. It is not my first or only method for re-assessments, but it is certainly a powerful one. A few changes and observations I’ve made over the years:

  1. To avoid the memorization piece, instead of testing next day, we test 5-7 days after the collaboration day in order for students to “forget”
  2. I had a really hard time not bumping a student who earned a 60% and then got all of the FRQ right and missed one MC. So I do a half-bump… so if the full bump is 10*sqrt(60) = 77, the half bump is 77-60/2 = 8.5 60+8.5 = 68.5, which I’ll likely round to 70 out of generosity.
  3. I’ve had one instance where a student with extreme anxiety and perfectionism this was problematic. I made alternative arrangements for that student ahead of the retake (they got 100 anyway).
Teaching Methods · Uncategorized

“Physics of” Projects – End of Year

Did you come here from a schoolology link? I’d love to know how you’re using this post! Feel free to contact me!

That time between AP exams and summer break is weird and special all at the same time. (If you’re looking for review ideas, here’s what I do before the exam) Depending on when your year starts it’s also possibly extensive. Watching movies and playing games is really only fun for about a week. If you are in all AP classes it gets old pretty fast when the whole day is mind-numbing for the next four weeks.

To use the time productively, and enjoyably, I assign a “physics of project”. I was actually inspired to do something like this after seeing Professor Gordon Ramsey continuously bring his undergraduate students in to Chicago Section AAPT meetings to present their original research. Most memorably I recall a project on music. The student who played saxophone in marching band, make a sax out of PVC and compared the tonal quality to a real sax using the same mouthpiece. He also did an acoustical analysis of his playing vs Professor Ramsey’s playing (which was really cool to basically see the differences between a “novice” marching band player vs an experienced improvisational player).

I believe that same meeting was the one where we hosted Rhett Allain who presented on the Science of Superheros.

The Prompt and Parameters

The prompt is simple: students are asked to research the physics behind anything they want.

The only real parameter is that whatever they choose they need to be able to collect and analyze data. If they cannot directly collect data then they need to find a way to come up with assumptions for measurements (analyzing videos, researching quantities) or find a way to model what they hope to research.

That’s it.

Ok, ok… I provide a little more structure than that, because we all know if given 2-4 weeks to complete a major project most students will put in 40 hours of work the 2 days before the deadline.

Here is what I provide:

Your task: In a group of 1-3 people:

  • Pick a topic to study the physics of. This can literally be anything, but it needs to be something that you can find a way to either physically model and/or otherwise collect data.
  • Research the topic and collect data. You may collect data inside or outside the classroom. Inside the classroom you have access to all probeware and software. If you are wondering if I have something, ask because I probably do. Outside the classroom your cell phone is your largest asset. Additionally, I have 4 iOLabs from the University of Illinois that can run nearly all of the data collection as my Vernier probes can. You may check one out for 2 consecutive days at a time. A sign up will be available next week.
  • Write a formal lab report (background, theory, purpose, procedure, data, analysis, conclusion etc)
  • Present your results in a 10-15 minute presentation. Come prepared with either a poster or slides because physics is visual!
    • When you present, you will be asked questions about the physics of your project and considerations to make it better. Be sure you’ve considered all of the assumptions you’ve made carefully and intentionally!

The first assignment students must provide me with is a project proposal. They need to have a concrete plan for how they plan to measure and analyze their data. This is submitted to me within the first week of the project. I provide students with feedback regarding their plans and suggestions as appropriate.

Next, I ask them to do some background research. It’s like a super watered down literature review. I want them using sources and learning a bit about what they are planning to study before they dive in. I ask for just a page.

The following few weeks they have a simple check in: what have you accomplished, what challenges are you running into, what do you need to do next. These check ins hold them accountable. All of the smaller assignments are included in the final grade.

The final product is a presentation and a paper. The paper is effectively a large lab report.

Students are given the following outline (dates were when we used to end on Memorial Day)

Student Products

Student projects are AMAZING

I will have many students analyze real data they’ve collected like this student who looked at the oscillations of her dog drying himself

Or I will have students analyze the physics of something they maybe cannot capture data directly, but they find ways to make estimates. Like this project on the physics of Nathen Chen

These projects have spanned everything from “is it possible?” in the movies, to students analyzing themselves in their own sport, to topics like rainbows that we don’t cover in AP Physics 1.

Students regularly report that this is their favorite activity the entire year, and the activity they are most proud of. (It also gives me a great story to tell in rec letters!)

When students give their presentations I want to run this much like if they were presenting research. I expect them to talk about what they might do or change if they did it again, or if they wanted to explore further. I ask them questions about their methodology and assumptions. During this process we also open the discussion to the whole class to brainstorm ideas as well.

Student work

If you want to see a sample, here is The Physics of Nathen Chen paper and the Wet Dog Slides and because we all need a little Monty Python, here’s a really extensive student paper on the Black Knight

Teaching Methods

Student Self-Evaluations for Growth

Grading. Feedback. Oh how we want it to be effective, but too often our time is not exchanged for valuable student learning. When the focus is the grade, rather than the learning, and the grade is “final” with no opportunities to grow, why would students care about the feedback? They look at the grade, make a judgment of themselves as learners of physics, and toss it. Not only do they miss out on the growth opportunity, they miss out on all of the things they did correctly. 

I always love when students come to me and we have one on one conversations because these are really fruitful, but there’s literally not enough time in the day to do this for 100-200 students. 

Besides, as a high school teacher my lasting lessons need to be the ones that will carry them through college and beyond. None of those have to do with properly using F=ma. 

Recently in my regular physics classes I’ve worked to make the process more transparent. We do regular “check-in’s” (yes, they are quizzes) that are focused on 1-2 objectives, but the other piece I’ve added is having students self-evaluate their work in the same way I evaluate their work. 

This is not about providing solutions (yes, it’s part of it). It’s about making the students go through the process in a non-threatening way so they can look for trends and patterns in their work. 

Here’s what it looks like

Currently we are wrapping up reflection. I want students to be able to do ray tracing and mathematical calculations. 

One of the changes I made years ago was to ask students to do the ray diagram first, making it roughly proportional, and then work the math and verify the two answers check out with one another. I proclaim to students they won’t need me to ask if they did it right, they should know

Historically I’ve had the solutions available at my desk for students to check the work. But you know what they do? They look at the final answer and move on. 

My biggest problem? Students just will not draw that image in on their ray diagram! I also have a problem with students not putting arrowheads on their light rays. Now, from a student learning objective process, both of these omissions are not problematic if the goal is to locate and describe the image. However, for a student who is struggling, these omissions can make it really difficult. I don’t want to punish students who clearly know what’s going on, but I don’t want to settle for incomplete work, either. 

Enter the self-evaluation. 

I create a checklist for students to go through, and I have them go through this checklist for each question. I reproduce the checklist for each question so students are required to look at each piece of their work rather than trying to summarize everything from the start. Why do I do this? I want them to see patterns in their work.

Here’s what it looks like for ray diagrams

Here’s what the math check list looks like. 

I ask students to evaluate their answers with my solution guide. I also ask them to give themselves a score. 2 points if everything is right. 1 point if something is right but there are things missing or incorrect. 0 points if nothing is correct. Their score out of 4 gives them an idea of the letter grade they would earn from the work. 

So the whole document looks like this:

I explain they might notice they are marking “no” over and over again. When they notice this, that piece is the piece they now know they need to work on. 

To make sure students are self-aware, I asked them to summarize what they did correctly, and what they did incorrectly or omitted. 

I will be honest, part of me expected students to kind of half-ass the assignment. But something magical happened: students who hadn’t finished the assignment evaluated the ones they did… and then they worked the rest of the problems and corrected themselves!!!

We will see how the test goes next week, but I’m really hopeful! 

Teaching Methods

AP Physics 1 Review Unit

As a general rule I kind of hate reviews. They make the students feel good, but I’m not sure how much they actually get from the traditional review session a day or so before the test. I do a lot of problem solving work with my students all year long, using different strategies to help maximize their efforts on both the multiple choice and the FRQs. So by the time we are two weeks from the AP exam I want to build their confidence, let them have some fun and have some meaningful conversations along the way.

We dedicate a day to each of the topics on the AP exam. Each day there is a new challenge. (Links to activities provided!)

For the kinematics challenge students have to “match the graph” but unlike the first week of school, I want them matching the values and intercepts as well!

Last year for day 2 we did a long forces FRQ practice. We had 25 minute classes in SY 2020-21, so I did not have time to do the practice as I described in this post until finals week. My practicum asks students to determine coefficients of friction using only a meterstick.

For UCM I focus students in on rote practice drawing force diagrams and writing sum of forces expressions for multiple scenarios.

Work and energy has so many cool opportunities for a lab practicum. I have students choose their own adventure from one of several Pivot Interactives videos

For momentum I give students a random ziploc bag of stuff (beans, pennies, highlighters…literally anything I can find)… and I ask students to come up with two methods to determine the mass of the bag!

Simple harmonic motion is a card sort. I have position, velocity and acceleration vs time graphs generated for a mass-spring system and a simple pendulum. (link to jamboard version from 2020-21 SY) I also have some extra graphs. (Here’s an example of a completed assignment!)

I believe firmly in the power of deep conversations. The challenge is making those conversations into something cohesive and reflective. Each year I move further away from “traditional” review. At some point we have to trust that we’ve done the best we can as their educators and that at some point we have to let them fly.

Teaching Methods

Tackling the Long AP FRQ

Sometimes APP1 is literally the worst.

The folks on the writing committee for questions must get really excited about writing interesting questions for the long FRQs… the issue, however, is that students generally suck at them.

Average and standard deviations for the last 4 years of long FRQs (2020 omitted for obvious reasons)

Here’s the thing though: I know that in a non-testing environment, my students should be able to perform way better than these national numbers. However student responses in an exam setting tend to be long-winded, lacking a clearly defined direction and often taking too much time down useless avenues.

So how do we correct this?

Firstly, I believe it is more important to give students the confidence that they can tackle these problems than insisting they do tackle these on a unit exam. Mindset makes a major difference.

Also, given the suggested time of 25 minutes, it’s not fair or appropriate to put one of these on a unit exam because it means the students grade will mostly be based on the question type, rather than their actual mastery.

To build student skills and prepare for the exam I set a few days aside during the year to specifically practice the long FRQs. Sometimes it’s the lab question, sometimes it’s the quantitative reasoning problem, but I try to do it at least once per unit.

Here’s the cycle:

Round 1: Skim and annotate on your own (5 minutes) I want students to have the feeling of sitting down for this question cold, with only their brain available to them. However, I also want to build their testing strategies and problem solving skills. For English we teach students to skim the passage and annotate the text by making a note of big ideas for each paragraph (I’ve worked as an ACT tutor). Why shouldn’t we do the exact same thing for these items in physics?! In fact, sometimes there are some easy points nestled in at the end… or… we can find the meat of the problem doesn’t show up until part c or d. Students often sit at the problem and begin at the begining and work until the end. While this is ok for homework, on a high stakes exam they are possibly leaving minutes and points to waste.

Round 2: Friends No Pens (10 minutes) you may have seen me talk about this strategy before a test. Many folks comment about how this reduces anxiety. I see friends no pens serving two extremely valuable purposes. First, it helps students organize their thoughts by saying them aloud. Second, it forces students to clearly and accurately communicate with their peers. By doing this, they will write more succinctly when it comes time to do the work.

Round 3: Individual Work (10-15 minutes). I explain to students they’ve already had 15 minutes to “work” the problem, so they should only need 10 more to finish. I ask them to complete as much as they can in the time.

Round 4: Discuss in a group: Sometimes I omit this phase and give them the scoring guides immediately. Other times I let them discuss their solutions in a group. When I do this, I mix up the groups from the students they talked with during friends no pens. Students are asked to make corrections as needed

Round 5: Self-score: Lastly I give students the AP scoring guidelines. This is a really important piece because they should see exactly how they are evaluated. A student noticed today “Ms R… there’s no point for the answer” NOPE! It’s all about the work. Other students noticed how stating momentum is conserved is worth points. At this time in the year we’ve pretty much covered all of the physics and now I want to work to maximize the points they can earn on the exam so their score reflects what they are actually capable of.

Sometimes (especially the first one we do) we debrief afterwards about the activity. Sometimes I have them turn these in for quiz points. Sometimes I let them keep the assignment. Sometimes I skip friends no pens. I will have them annotate, then solve the problem then discuss. I ask them to give themselves a “my score” grade and a “with friends” grade so they can see the difference between the two. Much of our conversation is focused on identifying big ideas and writing in a conscience manner.

How do you tackle preparing students for these items on the AP exam?

Teaching Methods

Sneak Peak to Reduce Test Anxiety

Have you ever looked at the gender discrepancies on those who score a 5 on the AP Physics 1 exam? It’s nearly a 3-1 ratio!

“Surely not MY students” I thought. “I’m a female teacher AND I’m super aware of the issues around female performance in the physics classroom”

I checked my data. The same patterns persist.

So I dug a little deeper. I knew that I had female students who were on or above the playing field of some of my male students. What was going on that it was so hard for my female students to earn 5’s?

What I realized was it was their performance on the multiple choice.

Then 2020 offered an incredible opportunity. I could test my hypothesis by pulling the national data when AP had no multiple choice on the exam.

Guess what happened? The gaps were reduced.

In my college experience the classes I recall learning the most were the ones where exams were not “gotchas” but opportunities to deepen our understanding of the material. I had one teacher give legit take-home exams. It was nice, but not exactly a learning opportunity.

The next professor did something different. He gave us twice as many problems as would be on the exam a week ahead. We got together as a group and worked all of the problems over the week. The exam was “open annotated textbook” and the questions were ever so slightly different from the originals. The course was Physics 470 – subatomic physics. It’s the class I learned the most in.

The third professor who did something similar orally read us the exam the week before. He would leave out important details or specifics. “You have a circuit that looks like this… you will need to find the potential across two of the nodes” I also learned a lot in that course.

Taking all of these things into consideration, I’ve really modified the way I approach unit exams in my class. I don’t do the same thing each time, and I do offer the exams in a more “traditional” format as we start out. However, as we progress I become more flexible in my practices to allow students more learning opportunities.

One of these strategies is I give students the entire test the day before the test.

But won’t they memorize the answers?

Isn’t that cheating?

How do you know it’s really their work?

Simple! I take off the part of the question that says “determine the _______”.

What do I mean by that? Here’s an example problem:

Now let me make this clear: students are expected to stow away all electronic devices before we begin so there’s no photos or google searches. Additionally, students are only allowed to use whiteboards. No paper. Nothing leaves the room.

Here’s another example

At first students are probably more stressed. The questions could be ANYTHING! The only thing students CAN do is EVERYTHING I want them to do! They have to draw force diagrams! Make graphs! Write out expressions for sum of torque and sum of forces. They have to consider all of the possibilities. And this is exactly what they need.

And the results?

Well… my rotation test is not a disaster. Students generally perform where they normally perform but with one HUGE difference: the students to typically underperform perform at a level equal to the work they do in class outside of a testing environment. When these students can see they can earn a high grade, they start to view themselves as a person who can do physics. When they view themselves as a person who can do physics they are ready to do more physics.

Teaching Methods

Retrieve Note Taking

“Ms. R I feel smart today!”

That was an exclamation I received from a student that made my entire week. What gave this student so much confidence? Retrieve note-taking.

Here’s how retrieve note-taking works.

  1. You lecture to the students as normal. Students have their full attention on you. No one is permitted to write.
  2. You stop talking and let the kids start writing.

That’s pretty much it! But wait… we can make it more powerful

3. Let students discuss their notes together so they can fill in any of the gaps
4. Put the slides back up on the screen so students can fill any gaps that remain.

I did today’s retrieve-note taking with my lecture on curved mirror rules. The first time I did this I was really concerned about the extra time it took. However, I’ve learned that the right kind of extra time always pays off in the end, and this is a perfect example.

I break the lecture down into 3 parts, and I have a packet for students to follow along. The packet also reduces the cognitive load and allows students to feel at ease that they don’t have to remember EVERYTHING

Here’s page 1. I do these notes up on the smart board for the first round:

Note: my smartboard notes are NOT a carbon copy of the packet. See below

Next we do the rules for the concave mirror, and last we do the rules for a convex mirror.

Here’s where the magic happens. When students are left to retrieve the information and record it in their packets, they are immediately processing the information. They are asking each other clarifying questions, it’s AMAZING. And because they are working with the material right away, there’s not a lot of time to forget.

So where’s the big pay off? In the homework. Previously I would find myself going from group to group re-explaining how to do the ray diagramming. Using the retrieval method I no longer have to do this and I can work with just the few students who really need extra support! My students actually complete more work more quickly and with more confidence than had I lectured traditionally.

So why does this work?

Whenever we receive new information our brain tries to fit it in to what we already know. The more connections the brain can make, the stronger the new connection will be, and the better we will be able to retrieve that information later. Making connections also allows you to chunk information, similar to why phone numbers are written like 123-456-7890.

This retrieval exercise provides students four different encounters with the material: orally, visually, written and verbal.

  1. First they get the material orally and visually as it’s presented on the slides.
  2. Then they reproduce this material by drawing and writing
  3. They are also discussing the information

By the time they are using and practicing, since they have engaged at such a high rate they are more than ready to go!

Did you like this? Read more about how I use retrieval practices in my classroom here!


University-High School Physics Partnership Enhances Classrooms Statewide

The following article I wrote was published in the Rockford Register Star October 17, 2021

Only 15-25% of students in the region graduate with a physics course on their transcript.

Yet physics is seen as a gateway course to science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors.

Simply taking a physics course in high school correlates to higher ACT and SAT scores, success in any college science course and tenacity in college science programs.

Physics majors, on average score highest on both the medical (MCAT) and law (LSAT) entrance exams.

In the region, we have many employment opportunities in these fields such as Collins Aerospace, Thermal Fisher and three different hospitals. In short, robust high school physics programs have a direct impact on college admissions and future employment. Yet our programs are lacking.

This is not a problem unique to the Rockford region. Though the state of Illinois boasts some of the top physics degree programs in the nation and two of seventeen national labs, low enrollment is typical across the state outside of the Chicago area.

It’s a vicious cycle: few sections means a full-time physics teacher is not necessary so the physics sections go to an out-of-field teacher. This is not unusual; only 24% of physics teachers nationwide have a physics degree.

Without a robust background in physics, and without other colleagues with whom to collaborate, teaching physics can be an immense challenge and very isolating, particularly for out-of-field teachers. This directly impacts the quality of instruction which ultimately impacts the student population and the community at large. The physics enrollment problem also disproportionately affects communities with lower incomes and higher diversity. 

To address this challenge, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) established the Illinois Physics and Secondary Schools (IPaSS) partnership last year.

In 2019 four “master” teachers were invited to the program, of whom I was one. For the second year, the program opened up eight more fellowship positions.

Three of those have gone to Rockford area teachers Jennifer Grady at Hononegah, Elizabeth Gonzalez at Belvidere High School and Leonard Friedhoff at Freeport High School. Anna Wetherholt at Dekalb High School and Julie Zaborac from West Aurora are also involved, creating a local network of skilled, passionate teachers.  

The program consists of strong support from the university and intense professional development. Teachers spent two weeks together over the summer learning how to use the research-based materials from UIUC that are also used in their courses and then modified and developed these materials for their own use.

These materials include the online lectures, homework system as well as the iOLab, an innovative device created at the University that does everything the thousands of dollars of typical equipment can do, but in a small box for about $150. At UIUC every physics student purchases one of these devices for their lab sections, typically running smaller experiments at home prior to the lab section.

During the pandemic my high school students had these devices at home which allowed them to fully engage in labs remotely. Often students struggle with the college transition. Students of IPaSS teachers who move on to UIUC will use the same content and materials, bridging the gap between high school and college expectations. 

The four of us “expert teachers” also lead daily workshops related to not only the University material use in classrooms but also strategies related to teaching physics and course layout ideas.

We have discussed using this model to prepare teachers to present at local and national conferences. Not only is the program equipping teachers with resources, it is also empowering teachers as leaders.

During the school year teachers meet every other week for an hour to check in on goals, share ideas, struggles and materials. Indeed, it is exactly what district administrators expect us to do in our professional learning communities, but we never have other physics teachers to work with.

All of the participants have positive reflections. Jennifer Grady at Hononegah shared how valuable having concentrated time to work and connect with so many physics teachers is for her own practice.

Elizabeth Gonzalez at Bleivdere shared that she would encourage others to apply because “We can always find other ideas and resources that can improve our practice and we can always help others to find what they need.” Julie Zaborac at West Aurora shared, “I get more ideas and feedback from this group than I could possibly receive anywhere else.”

Most teachers care deeply about their craft, but often must find a balance between the ideal classroom they envision and what they have the time and resources to create. The IPaSS program provides a space where teachers can make these decisions with evidence-based practices while also growing in our craft. 

UIUC would like to see the program continue to expand, doubling participation each year, to increase the quality of physics education state-wide. Applications are currently being accepted for 16 spots for next year.