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Physics and Science Education Research

The Wieman group’s research falls into the following main categories:


Uses of PhET Simulations across the K-16 curriculum
PhET simulations (phet.colorado.edu) are interactive science simulations that are extensively used by a wide range of students and teachers (around 100 million uses this year in a variety of science classrooms, from elementary schools through college). Because simulations are used by such a wide range of students, we are researching what and how students of different ages and scientific backgrounds learn from them. How effective are PhET simulations at motivating and engaging such a wide range of students in science? We aim to determine which aspects of the simulations best support learning across a range of student ages and backgrounds, and what sorts of supporting materials or instruction are most effective for those different students. In addition, we are looking into what learning outcomes PhET simulations facilitate, from learning specific science concepts, to exploring the underlying mechanisms of the phenomenon, to developing inquiry or metacognitive skills.


Identifying student inquiry skills
We are examining the interplay between content knowledge and problem solving strategies, and how this relation is mediated by technology and socioemotional factors. Problem solving strategies are too often studied separately from social and emotional contexts and are evaluated too universally regardless of the accompanying content knowledge.  The goals of this research are, primarily, to identify which problem solving strategies pave the way to expertise and which strategies paralyze the experts; and, secondarily, how socioemotional factors and technology use can positively or negatively contribute to these processes.


Cognitive principles for instructional design
Although current “active learning” efforts have been shown to provide better learning outcomes than traditional instructional methods, there is currently little guidance on how to design such materials to best support learning.  We are designing, implementing, and studying instructional materials that take into account findings on human cognition, such as the benefits of inventing from a series of contrasting cases (e.g. Schwartz et al., 2011).  By studying the efficacy of these materials, we hope to provide instructors, curriculum developers, and researchers with new principles for designing effective instructional materials for typical classroom instruction.


STEM Expertise--measuring, teaching, and learning
We look at the characteristics that distinguish expert thinking across multiple science and engineering and medical disciplines.  We are developing better ways to measure the degree to which students at various levels have developed these thinking skills, and in laboratory and classroom environments we test various ways to improve the acquisition of these skills. This work is heavily guided by research in cognitive psychology.