Exploring Physics

Exploring Physics is an extra curricular program targeted to female students in grades 5-7.  The program runs for eight 90-minute sessions, twice a week for four weeks.  Students participate on a voluntary basis.  The program focuses on hands-on activities that are concept oriented, with several activities structured to develop a given concept.  Several of the activities are make-and-take projects.  The program is run by science teachers, who receive content training at the Summer Teacher Institutes.  The program is currently available at the Columbia Public Schools, and to other Missouri teachers who have taken the summer institutes.

Program philosophy....

  • Begin with games that use the concept.  These games will serve to internalize the concept, rather than learn it in a formal sense.
  • Use these internalized concepts to build a gadget, game or toy, thereby developing their building and mechanical skills.  In some cases, the students create an art project.
  • More sophisticated development of the concept is done via experiments using both commonly available materials and simple scientific equipment, for example, digital voltmeters or ray boxes.  The student sees that science is manifest in everyday life, but at the same time gains familiarity with laboratory equipment.
  • Commonly used shop tools are used by students under supervision of the teacher.  Many female students express awe at having used an electric drill in the program. 
  • For students in the higher grades, quantitative analysis is introduced.
  • A few "gee-whiz" type exhibits are used on family night, which students (and adults!) find stimulating.  These exhibits are handled with interactive explanatons so that they are not regarded as "magic".  These exhibits provide aesthetic pleasure, and also help  publicize the program.

Units developed....

Eight units have been developed, each with about twenty activities:

Matter and Mechanics I:  Air and Stability
Matter and Mechanics II:  Water, Density and Simple Machines.
Optics I:  Reflection and Color
Optics II:  Refraction and Polarization
Energy (curricular unit)
Electricity I:  Static Electricity, Batteries, Bulbs and Switches, and Circuits (published)
Electricity and Magnetism-II:  Magnets, Solenoids, Resistors, and Capacitors (published)

The developers....

Development and testing of Exploring Physics started in 1992.  The developers were

  • Meera Chandrasekhar, Professor of Physics
  • Rebecca Litherland, Science Coordinator
  • David Rainwater, Michael Wallace, and Gordon Prince, Teaching Assistants
  • Ann Van Nest, Rodney Swope, Laura Jackson, Stan Shollenbarger, Laura Zinszer, and Thuy Nguyen, Science Specialists, Columbia Public Schools.

The following individuals helped in various stages of development...

  • H.R. Chandrasekhar, Professor of Physics, consultant
  • Lloyd Barrow, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, evaluator.

Sample Activities

Evaluation Instruments used for Exploring Physics

Preview our new CD: Exploring Physics, Electricity and Magnetism