Paradigms in Physics

Link: Paradigms in Physics Website (The Portfolioswiki)

The Paradigms in Physics Program at Oregon State University is a restructuring of the traditional upper-division curriculum to be more modern, more flexible, and more inclusive. The focus of our current NSF-grant is to understand how students and experts in physics, mathematics, and other sciences, understand and use partial derivatives. Four main strands have been identified:

  1. Experts' Use of Partial Derivatives: How do experts in a variety of disciplines use partial derivatives?  How do the understand and explain partial derivatives?  What ways of using partial derivatives are common across many disciplines?

  2. Students' Understanding of Partial Derivatives: What language and representations do students currently employ when discussing derivatives across disciplines?  In what ways is students' existing knowledge context dependent? 

  3. Curriculum Development in Multivariable Calculus:  What text materials and classroom activities will enhance students' understanding of partial derivatives?  What representations of partial derivatives can be used in multivariable calculus classes that are useful in many disciplines?

  4. Curriculum Development in Middle-Division Physics: How do representations of partial derivatives in physics differ between sub-disciplines?  How can we teach partial derivatives in electrostatics, quantum mechanics, and thermal physics such that each subject prepares a foundation for further student development in the next next, in an effective learning trajectory?

We have also received a Supplement to this grant to ``reboot" the Paradigms program to reflect the need for updated content, to adjust to new faculty research preverences, and to incorporate advances identified in our current understanding of student engagement.  We are also carrying out a retrospective study of the original Paradigms curricular change process and studying the institutional change inherent in the reboot process.


NSF DUE Grant Nos. 9653250, 0088901, 0231032, 0231194, 0618877, 0837829, 1023120, 1323800.



Raising Physics to the Surface

Link: Coming soon.

The Raising Physics to the Surface project is to create a set of hands-on, discovery-style, discussion-based classroom activities where students develop meaningful understandings of physical systems that depend on multiple variables.

Most physical systems depend on more than one variable. However, when solving problems about these systems, many students merely apply algebraic manipulations to memorized formulas. Students gain meaningful understandings by thinking conceptually and geometrically about the relationships between variables. During the Raising Physics activities, students develop these understandings by working with custom, dry-erasable, 3D surfaces, corresponding contour and gradient maps, and computer-based models. The activities span physics topics in classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and thermal physics. 

The research components of this project will investigate the effectiveness of the activities and will advance understanding of how students reason about multivariable functions in physics using multiple representations.


NSF DUE Grant No. 1612480.



The Vector Calculus Bridge Project

Link: Vector Calculus Bridge Project Homepage

There is a "vector calculus gap" between the way vector calculus is usually taught by mathematicians and the way it is used by other scientists. This material is essential for physicists and some engineers due to its central role in the description of electricity and magnetism. The goals of this long-term project to understand this gap and to develop curricular materials to help bridge it from both the mathematics and physics sides.   NOTE:  In recent years, this project has been recombined with the Paradigms Project (above).


NSF DUE Grant Nos. 0088901 & 0231032.



Teachers that Integrate Science & Literacy Learning

Link: Physics 111 Wiki

Physics 111, Inquiring into Physical Phenomena, is a course for prospective early childhood, elementary, and middle school teachers in which participants learn how to enhance literacy learning as they engage students in inquiries into physical phenomena. Emphasis is on questioning, predicting, exploring, and discussing what one thinks and why. The course meets in a laboratory for 2.5 hours, twice a week, for ten weeks. Link:


NSF DUE Grant No. 0633752