Official Project Website:


Raising Physics to the Surface is an NSF-funded project 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,
  • design and manufactor hands-on learning tools: dry-erasable plastic surfaces, contour & vector maps, and inclinometers for measuring slopes,
  • provide professional development for faculty to develop the skills necessary to implement and adapt these activities to their classrooms, 
  • identify best practices for using the materials, and
  • research how students reason with these prompts and tools.

Most physical systems depend on more than one variable. However, when solving problems about these systems, many students merely apply pointless 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 will develop these understandings by working with custom, dry-erasable, 3D surfaces, corresponding contour and gradient maps, and computer-based models. The activities will span physics topics in:

  • classical mechanics
  • E&M
  • thermodynamics

Instructors from various colleges and universities will learn how to use the Raising Physics materials effectively during a summer workshop then deploy the materials in their physics courses.

The goals of the Raising Physics project are to (a) produce and disseminate curricular materials, (b) identify the best practices for using these materials in various classroom settings, and (c) study the impact of these materials on student learning and on instructors' attitudes, beliefs, and teaching practices. The curricular materials will be informed by results from research in physics and math education that demonstrate the importance of (1) using tangible models, maps and tools to explore geometric relationships, (2) representing physical quantities in multiple ways, and (3) discussing ideas in small groups for meaningful and flexible learning. 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.