NSF Proposal Summary DUE-1836604
1/19–12/20; $299,282

Elizabeth Gire, Tevian Dray, Corinne A. Manogue, & David Roundy


In 1996, the Paradigms in Physics Project at Oregon State University reformed the entire upper-division curriculum for physics majors. This reform involved both a rearrangement of content to better reflect the way professional physicists think about the field and also the infusion of a number of evidence-based interactive pedagogies that are known to engage students more effectively. The resulting curriculum has become a local and national model for curricular reform and includes a variety of active-engagement teaching strategies. The holistic approach of the Paradigms Project represents an essential complement to curriculum development projects that focus on a single course or subdiscipline of physics and to education research that focuses on a single concept at a time. The proposal activities are divided into two strands:

Strand 1: Research on Student Learning: Research questions about how multiple representations can be leveraged to support student learning will be investigated through formal physics education research. New curricular materials will be developed and refined through a cycle of reflective practice.

Strand 2: Learning Progression Development: A learning progression for quantum mechanics will be developed using a process established by the research group in its current project on partial derivatives, including empirically validating expert upper anchors and levels of students' ideas.

Intellectual Merit

This project will produce new knowledge about (1) how students understand and use multiple representations to learn and do quantum mechanics, (2) how to sequence representations in a spins-first approach to support student reasoning about quantum systems, and (3) how computation may be leveraged to support student learning in quantum mechanics. This project is aligned with the research agenda for discipline-based education research recently set by of The National Research Council, including: research in upper division courses examining a range of pedagogical techniques and learning progressions, instructional approaches that help students use visualizations, and investigations of teaching and learning across multiple quantum mechanics courses.

Broader Impact

Paradigms curricular materials are open source and freely available on the Portfolioswiki and linked to the Compadre national digital library and PhysPort. Instructors can easily adapt materials to local contexts and in multiple grain sizes.

The new learning progression will help adopting faculty to understand how instructional activities are linked to learning goals and will articulate a trajectory for sequencing activities based on education research of these materials. This work to increase students' representational fluency and understanding of quantum mechanics is intended to increase the retention of all students, especially including underrepresented populations in physics, as well as to make upper-division physics and other representationally rich disciplines more accessible to a wider range of students. By improving student learning in physics, this project addresses the increasing economic need for STEM graduates who understand the quantum mechanics of contemporary and emerging technologies. A “second-generation” effect in which student who learn using advanced pedagogies become teachers who use those approaches amplifies the impact of both our teaching here at OSU and those faculty who adopt our materials.

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