Using a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods and tools, PERL at Michigan State investigates a broad range of important topics in physics education across a wide swath of contexts.

Learning,engagement, and diversity

How and which students learn and engage with physics in both formal and informal environments is a major research area for PERL. We study introductory and advanced physics courses, as well as K-12 physics settings, to understand how students understand concepts, make mathematical connections to physics, and draw from multiple disciplines to make sense of phenomena. In these environments we also study how different instructional models support diverse groups of students in learning and engaging with physics. For instance, in a number of studied courses, students work collaboratively towards a common goal. In those courses, PERL studies how students participate in these group-oriented tasks including who participates, what kind of participation is observed, and how that participation develops over time. Learning goals include a focus on science practices including computational modeling, argumentation, problem solving, and experimental design. In these environments, how students engage with and develop their fluency with those practices is central to the research. This work has been supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Science Foundation (DUE-1741575), the CREATE for STEM Institute, Science and Society at State, and the Norwegian Research Council.

Self-efficacy, mindset, and identity

How students perceive themselves with respect to physics can be indicative of their performance and success in physics courses and their broader college experience. PERL investigates how these perceptions manifest in self-efficacy, mindset, identity and their overlapping and intersecting aspects. This work includes research with non-science students, STEM majors, physics majors, and graduate students who are all working towards degrees at Michigan State. Some of this work aims to understand how students navigate the transition between two year colleges and university.PERL also studies how students leverage their sense of accomplishment and identity in one arena (e.g. biology) to influence their beliefs about themselves in another arena (e.g. physics)., as well as how students develop an identity as physicists. We also study the impact of participation on the attitudes and beliefs of university physics students who lead public outreach activities. This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE-1742381, DRL-1423496), the CREATE for STEM Institute, and Science and Society at State.

Teaching practices in formal and informal settings

Learners' experiences with physics are influenced by the instructional environment, and the way that instructors’ engage with learners can strongly shape how learners develop. How instructors in formal and informal environments work with learners to help them develop an understanding of physical phenomena, principles, and practices is an important research area for PERL. In formal settings, researchers focus on the assessments and teaching practices enacted by instructors in introductory physics courses at the college and high school level. In informal settings, researchers investigate how facilitators communicate and engage learners with physics ideas and science practices. This work has been supported by the American Association of Universities and the National Science Foundation (DRL-1423496, DRL-1741575).

Physics education community

The broader physics education community continues to learn about innovative and impactful changes to a variety of educational contexts. PERL research that aligns with this work aims to investigate how the community supports informal and formal learning environments. In informal contexts, PERL studies the current state of informal programs including what kinds of programs exist, what kind of impact they have had, and what makes them successful (or not). In formal settings, we study how faculty come to teach computational modeling in their courses, what supports are needed externally and locally, and what departments and universities can do to support faculty in this work. This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE-1431776, DUE-1504786, DUE-1524128, DRL-1713060) and the Norwegian Research Council.