Research-Based Instructional Strategies

Current Projects

Facilitating Change in Undergraduate STEM


Facilitating Change Conference Web Site

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Collaborators: Andrea Beach, Noah Finkelstein, R. Sam Larson

  The goal of the this project to clearly articulate models for promoting fundamental changes in STEM instructional practices in higher education that are consistent with available empirical and historical evidence as well as theoretical perspectives about human and organizational change. Activities include a June 2008 conference and multi-disciplinary literature review.
  This project is supported by NSF award #0623009 and #0723699

Additional Information



Understanding Instructor Practices and Attitudes Towards the Use of Research-Based Instructional Strategies In Introductory College Physics
Collaborator: Melissa Dancy

Promoting Reform in College Physics

  The goal of this study is to understand the level of knowledge about, attitudes towards, and use of Research-Based Instructional Strategies (RBIS) by instructors of introductory quantitative (i.e. calculus-based & algebra-based) physics courses.  This will be accomplished in two phases through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.  In Phase 1 a web-based survey will be administered to a random sample of approximately 1600 physics instructors stratified by type of institution.  The web survey will ask instructors to self-report their current level of knowledge about and use of RBIS.  In Phase 2, telephone interviews with 96 instructors will focus on the two RBIS that are most widely known.  These interviews will focus on three types of instructors: (1) users of the RBIS, (2) former users of the RBIS, and (3) knowledgeable nonusers of the RBIS.
  This project is supported by NSF award #0715698 NSF Link NSF

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Tools to Promote Reflection and Revision of High School Science Lessons

Collaborators: Herb Fynewever, Heather Petcovic, Marcia Fetters


Peer and self evaluation of curriculum materials can be effective in aligning teachers’ practice with standards.  In this method, teachers share course artifacts and policies such as homework assigned, test items written, grading practices used, etc.  During the 2006-2007 academic year, six Michigan high school teachers met monthly with two of the project staff (Fynewever and Henderson) to develop a rubric to evaluate such artifacts and practices. The rubric is founded on sound research about best practices for test writing, homework construction, formative assessments, and supporting students in developing metacognitive skills.  All of these methods have proven to ultimately have a significant impact on student learning outcomes. 

During the 2008-2009 academic year, an interdisciplinary team of WMU faculty will research the use of this rubric as one part of a professional development program.  The goal of the program is to align Battle Creek regional curriculum with Michigan's new High School Content Expectations.

  This project is supported with grants from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium and the Michigan Department of Education (Project Number 080290-348).


Integrated Apprenticeship in the Teaching of Elementary Science (IATES)

Collaborators: David Schuster, R. Paul Vellom


This project is developing and testing a program for elementary educators that:
i) integrates the design of the science content and science teaching methods courses, ii) adopts an apprenticeship instructional model, iii) develops science content within an explicit processes-of-science epistemological framework, promoting understanding of inquiry and the nature of science, iv) develops pedagogical content knowledge along with content understanding, and v) builds on proven features of existing courses.

Project activities involve the joint development of curricula for a physics course for pre-service teachers and the elementary science teaching methods course. The apprenticeship instructional model is common to both courses, and science content, cognition and method will be interwoven. Epistemology regarding the nature and processes of science is explicit, and inquiry pedagogy is modeled throughout. The project is producing course materials and problem sets that embody these curriculum features. The university is collaborating with several regional community colleges and extension centers in the development of the program and local implementation

  This project is supported by NSF award #0536536 NSF Link NSF


Completed Projects

Evaluation of the Workshop for New Physics and Astronomy Faculty

Since 1996, the Workshop for New Physics and Astronomy Faculty has attracted approximately 25% of all new US physics and astronomy faculty each year to an intensive 4-day workshop. This workshop, jointly administered by the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society with funding from the National Science Foundation is designed to introduce new faculty to instructional ideas and materials based on physics education reserach.  The goal of this project was to measure the impact of the New Faculty Workshop. Data sources include web-based surveys of 527 workshop participants and 206 physics and astronomy department chairs.  Results indicate that the NFW is quite successful in meeting its goals and that it may be significantly contributing to the spread and acceptance of physics education research and instructional ideas and materials based on this research.

  Additional Information


Best Case Faculty Project
Collaborator: Melissa Dancy

The goal of this project was to understand the lack of use of research-based instructional ideas and materials by typical physics faculty. In-depth interviews were conducted with five senior and respected traditional physics faculty with no formal involvement in educational research.  Interview questions focused on the practices, beliefs, and experiences of these instructors with respect to educational innovation. Significant findings:

  • Beliefs More Alternative than Practices: The beliefs of these faculty were more closely aligned with educational research than were their more traditional instructional practices.
  • Situational Barriers:  Faculty were often aware of inconsistencies between their beliefs (e.g. students learn best when allowed to develop ideas for themselves) and self-reported practice (e.g. lectures where the instructor develops ideas for the students).  They generally attribute these inconsistencies to situational constraints and barriers (e.g., need to cover a lot of material, student resistance, class size and room layout).
  • Divergent Expectations Result in Faculty Reinvention:  Standard dissemination in physics has often taken the form of developing ready-to-use curriculum and then presenting it to faculty with the expectation that faculty will use it directly.  This can come across to faculty as disrespectful, since it disregards their individual teaching situations, experiences, and insights.  They see themselves as professionals and expect educational researchers to work with them to adapt new knowledge and materials to their unique instructional situations.  An unintended result of this standard dissemination model is that, if faculty change their instruction at all, they are likely to work alone and invent or reinvent new instructional strategies.
  Additional Information


Physics Faculty Conceptions About the Teaching and Learning of Problem Solving

Collaborators: Edit Yerushalmi, Kenneth Heller, Patricia Heller Vince Kuo


The purpose of this project is to begin the process of building a model to describe the beliefs of physics faculty that influence their choice of curricular materials and pedagogy when they teach introductory physics.  It is anticipated that this model can be used to formulate a set of testable hypotheses that will lead to an elaborated and corrected model with features that can be applied to curriculum and professional development.  The focus is on the beliefs that physics faculty have about the teaching and learning of problem solving in the context of a calculus-based, introductory physics course. Semi-structured, artifact-driven interviews were adminstered to 30 physics faculty from a variety of institutions. The initial model developed suggests that:

  • Although many physics instructors present their courses in a manner in which their goal appears to be to transmit information to students, this is not the case.  Indeed, their unstated “learning theory” could be characterized as extreme constructivist. Their pedagogical style does not arise from a belief that students learn from clear explanations, a transmissionist learning theory.  Instead it is the result of a more complex interplay among their beliefs about student learning, professional values, and perceived external constraints.
  • There is often a gap between the grade that an instructor assigns to a student problem solution and the goals of the instructor.  Although almost all instructors reported telling students to show their reasoning in problem solutions, about half graded problem solutions in a way that would likely discourage students from showing this reasoning.
  This project was supported in part by NSF award #9972470 NSF Link NSF
  Additional Information


Co-Teaching to Promote Instructional Change - A Case Study

Collaborators: Andrea Beach, Michael Famiano


Co-teaching is a cost-effective model that shows significant promise as an effective way to promote research-consistent instruction in new faculty.  It is rooted in an apprenticeship instructional paradigm and is effective because it immerses the new instructor in a teaching role in the new instructional context and provides scaffolding and modeling to ensure success.The goal of this study was to develop a better understanding of the prospects of co-teaching for promoting instructional change through the in-depth investigation of one semester of co-teaching.

A new instructor (MF) co-taught with an instructor experienced in PER-based reforms (CH).  The pair worked within the scaffolding of the course structure typically used by the experienced instructor and met regularly to discuss instructional decisions.  An outsider (AB) conducted separate interviews with each instructor at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester and observed several class sessions.  Classroom observations show an immediate use of PER-based instructional practices by the new instructor.  Interviews show a significant shift in the new instructor’s beliefs about teaching and intentions towards future use of the PER-based instructional approaches.

  Additional Information
  • Henderson, C., Beach, A., and Famiano, M. (2009). Promoting Instructional Change via Co-Teaching. American Journal of Physics (Physics Education Research Section), 77 (3), 274-283.
  • Beach, A., Henderson, C., and Famiano, M. (2007) Co-Teaching as a Faculty Development Model, To Improve the Academy, 26, 199-216.


PhysTEC Redesign of Calculus-Based Physics Sequence

Collaborators: Alvin Rosenthal, Robert Poel


Western Michigan University is one of the original six member institutions of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC), funded by the National Science Foundation and jointly administered by the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics. The primary goal of PhysTEC is to improve the preparation of future physics and physical science teachers.

One important aspect of this project at WMU has been the redesign of the introductory calculus-based physics sequence to be more consistent with the recommendations of educational research.

  Additional Information


Case Study of Instructional Change
  The goal of this project was to better understand the change process and to identify factors that can impede the change process of instructors who want to improve their instruction.  A comprehensive case study was conducted of an experienced physics instructor as he attempted to change his instructional practices.  Although the instructor appeared to have all of the prerequisites for successful change, he still encountered difficulties.  Four factors were identified that limited his ability to change: (1) an implicit instructional model constrained thinking; (2) a lack of “how-to” and “principles” knowledge of instructional strategies limited successful implementation; (3) overly optimistic initial planning led to discontinuance; and (4) a desire to work within perceived external constraints limited options.  An additional finding is that, contrary to common models of instructional change, when considering new instructional techniques the instructor did not attempt to learn many details about available techniques; instead he engaged in a significant amount of invention of new instructional techniques and reinvention of existing techniques.
  Additional Information
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