May 3, 2023 Issue #7

SPOTLIGHT is the OPTYCs bi-weekly newsletter. It brings you OPTYCs activity updates, highlights from recent publications related to physics education, and news & resources for Two-Year colleges.


Upcoming events

  • Workshop: Embedding Equity-Mindedness in Physics Questions May 12, 2023. In this 1-hour workshop, you will see how equity-based questions can be asked in your physics classes. Participants will see some examples and have the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss other physics topics where equity-based questions can be asked. 
  • Workshop: Kinematics-Spreadsheets 2023  May 20, 2023.  Are you interested in introducing computational ideas into your introductory physics class? Join us for this virtual, three-hour workshop on teaching kinematics using spreadsheets! During this workshop, you'll be introduced to computational tools available in spreadsheets, and work on creating and/or modifying examples for your own use. This workshop is a collaboration between PICUP and OPTYCs.


  • AAPT-TYC Tandem Conference. Saturday, July 15, 2023 Sacramento, CA, AAPT National Summer Meeting. A one-day event that brings together faculty teaching physics, astronomy, and physical science at two-year colleges to share ideas, learn from each other, and build community.
    NOTE (date change): Poster Abstracts will be accepted until May 31, 2023.

Recent OPTYCs events

Screenshot of video with title to workshop

Kris’ corner

Tips, summaries, and musings from Kris Lui (OPTYCs Director).

From The Science of Learning Physics: Cognitive Strategies for Improving Instruction

By Jose P. Mestre & Jennifer L. Docktor, World Scientific (2021)

How to Improve Problem-Solving Skills

If you want your students to go beyond a ‘plug and chug’ way of approaching physics problems, you need to teach them what to do. Provide a framework to help guide students, and be sure that your examples and explanations follow that framework. Be sure to assess productive problem-solving behaviors, and reward positive skills even if students are not entirely correct. This encourages metacognitive behavior, and moves away from equation-hunting.

Expert solutions begin with the underlying concepts relevant to a physics problem. Just telling this to students is insufficient. Make identification of relevant concepts explicit by stating it, writing it out, and include it in your framework and assessment tools. 

Tip: Provide various scenarios (and don’t pose a question). Have students determine which concepts are relevant to each of those scenarios. You might take it a step further, by having students sketch an appropriate graph, define the salient system involved using diagrams, or write a paragraph about how and/or why they chose a particular concept for a specific situation. Then grade not only on correctness, but also on applying appropriate methods. Or even better, don’t grade, but have students discuss their choices in small groups.


Check out the list of posters already submitted for the Tandem Conference. Abstract submission is open until May 31. 

Books & Articles

IOP Series in Physics Education. Started in 2019 this series covers multiple aspects of physics education. Additional titles are forthcoming in the spring and summer of 2023.

Helping students become proficient problem solvers Part I: A brief review: A review article on the research on problem-solving relevant for physics education across three broad categories: knowledge organization, information processing and cognitive load, and metacognition and problem-solving heuristics.

Instructional Strategies that Foster Effective Problem-Solving: This article reviews foundational research on expertise in physics problem-solving and then discuss research on instructional strategies that promote effective problem-solving

Can an AI-tool grade assignments in an introductory physics course? The author’s conclusion is that the AI-tool is capable of providing feedback that can be helpful in formative assessment scenarios, but that for summative scenarios, particularly those that are high-stakes, it should only be used for an initial round of grading that sorts and flags solution approaches.


How is Mixed Methods Research Used to Study Video in Physics Education?  Corey Larrison is writing a literature review in his Mixed Methods doctoral course at the University of Cincinnati. He recently shared this video update on YouTube.

Screenshot from YouTube video



The work of OPTYCs is supported by NSF-DUE-2212807.