Activities of the Physics Education Research Group

The Physics Education Group is continuing research and development on a variety of projects related to understanding better how students learn physics.  Our efforts have moved toward investigating how students use the knowledge that they bring to a physics class and how they adapt and transfer knowledge from both other classes and everyday life experiences. 


As is the case with any research group some changes in personnel have occurred. Both Lili Cui and Edgar Corpuz completed their PhDs in Physics during the summer of 2006.  Lili accepted a lecturer position at University of Maryland – Baltimore County, while Edgar is now an assistant professor at University of Texas - Pan American. Dr. Meera Nagarajarao, a professor of physics from Bangalore University in India, is visiting for the academic year and is working on research and development related to teaching magnetic resonance imaging.  Her visit to KSU is supported by an American Physical Society KPR Fellowship and a grant from the Fulbright Commission.


Dean Zollman has taken a sabbatical this year and is conducting research at Ludwig Maximillians University in Munich.  In February he will be going to the Institute for Science Education (IPN) in Kiel, Germany for a semester to conduct research there.  At both places his research is focusing on creating teaching materials to be used in both the US and Germany.


New GRAs in the group include Jackie Haynicz, graduate of Drew University, Fran Mateycik, graduate of RPI, and Dyan Jones, graduate of Miami University.

Dr. Zollman and postdoc Brian Adrian are still busy working on the Physics Teaching Web Advisory (Pathway), project.  This effort, which is an expansion of a pilot project funded through the National Science Digital Library, emphasizes support for teachers who are already teaching physics but have less than adequate preparation in physics or the pedagogy of physics.  Pathway is a new type of digital library for providing ongoing enhancement and preparation for physics teachers and combines state-of-the-art digital video library technology with contemporary ideas about pedagogy and materials contributed by teachers.  Carnegie Mellon University’s “synthetic interview” technology provides the foundation for a system that allows physics teachers to ask questions of a virtual mentor and get video responses. The group at Carnegie Mellon is enhancing the software so that users may add media from our collection or others and create their own Synthetic Interviews.  The net result will be a cooperative in which teachers contribute, modify and keep up-to-date high quality instructional materials and at the same time have the opportunity to learn from expert physics teachers. For more information or to see how it works see

As part of the NSF-funded Modern Miracle Medical Machines project, PER graduate students have been conducting research on student mental models using two methodologies.  They begin with traditional clinical interviews that help us investigate how students are using their knowledge of physics to understand medical diagnostic tools such as CT scans and positron emission tomography.  This part of the effort is based on the transfer of learning research in education and psychology.  Using the results of these interviews we then build instructional materials.  Students work in small groups of two or three to learn from these materials.  As they do we simultaneously learn more about how students think about the topics and what parts of our materials are successful in promoting transfer of learning.  Additional research is being conducted on X-rays, lasers and the eye and magnetic resonance imaging.  To create successful instructional materials we need to base our development on research in physics teaching and learning.  Much of the research that has been done previously will be useful, but we need to do more as well.  Thus, we are now conducting some research on students’ reasoning and mental models related to some topics in modern physics as it relates specifically to medical imaging.

Dr. Sanjay Rebello has also had a busy year.  He was awarded one of 10 Hewlett Packard Technology for Teaching Leadership Grants. This grant provided K-State with Tablet PCs along with other computer software and hardware to be used in the classrooms and labs.  The system is currently being used in Physical World I labs with students. 

Dr. Rebello and his graduate students are conducting research on Student Modeling of Real-World Devices and Phenomena as part of his CAREER grant.  In this research they are investigating students’ mental models of real world devices and everyday physical phenomena. These devices have included the bicycle, musical instruments, electrical appliances and phenomena such as friction.  Through previous research in our group, we had developed a model to describe how students transfer their learning from one setting to another. 

Dr. Rebello is also working with Dr. Sadhana Puntambekar at the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Roland Hubscher at Bentley College on the NSF-funded CoMPASS project.  This project investigates the use of hyperlinked concept maps in conjunction with hands-on, design-based activities to help students at the middle school level learn concepts in physics such as simple machines or force and motion.  Dr. Rebello’s efforts in this project have focused on developing the instructional materials as well as investigating students’ conceptual development  as they use these materials.

In addition we are beginning work on several new projects that have recently received funding. One of these projects will expand the Pathway project as the first step toward creating a version which will enable individual teachers to create Synthetic Interviews for their students.  The research will investigate what types of Pathway style multimedia are most effective in providing foundations for student learning of physics concepts, for encouraging students to reflect on their learning, and for enhancing transfer of knowledge to the learning of physics.  As with the previous Pathway projects our primary collaborator is Scott Stevens at Carnegie Mellon University.

A research effort in collaboration with David Jonassen at University of Missouri-Columbia is starting a study of problem solving in introductory physics classes.  This work is based on research in psychology which seems to indicate that students learn problem solving techniques better if they compare and contrast problems with different strategies.  However, this research has generally focused on problems that are somewhat simpler than a typical physics problem.  So, we will build a  system that requires students to compare and contrast problems and thereby develop their problem solving abilities.  Then, we will investigate whether students’ problem solving abilities transfer to  problems that they have not seen. 

One other project is a collaboration with Dennis and Cynthia Sunal at the University of Alabama and Cheryl Mason at San Diego State .  The research effort will investigate how undergraduate science courses that serve pre-service teachers affect their teaching once they are in the elementary school classroom. 

If you would like any additional information about any of our research, please go to our website at or send email to