About the Physics Education Group

The Physics Education Group (PEG) at the University of Washington conducts a coordinated program of research, curriculum development, and instruction to improve student learning in physics from kindergarten through graduate school. The work of the group is guided by ongoing discipline-based research. For more than 40 years, we have been deeply involved in the preparation of prospective and practicing teachers to teach physics and physical science by inquiry. In undergraduate physics, we have been engaged in a major effort to improve the effectiveness of instruction at the introductory level and in select advanced courses. These projects provide a context in which we work toward promoting the professional development of teaching assistants and new faculty.

Professor Lillian C. McDermott, Director, shares leadership responsibilities with Professors Paula R.L. Heron, Peter S. Shaffer, and Suzanne Brahmia. The group includes faculty, lecturers, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, and a small administrative staff. Graduate students in the group earn a Ph.D. in physics for research on the learning and teaching of physics. PEG has awarded over 28 Ph.D.s since the 1970s.

Through in-depth investigations of student understanding, the group seeks to identify and analyze specific difficulties that students encounter in studying physics. The findings are used to guide the development of two sets of instructional materials. Physics by Inquiry (Wiley, 1996) is primarily intended for the preparation and professional development of K-12 teachers. Tutorials in Introductory Physics (Pearson, 2002) is intended to supplement instruction in standard introductory calculus- or algebra-based physics courses. Ongoing assessment, which is an integral part of this iterative process, takes place at the University of Washington and at pilot sites.

Results from research are disseminated through talks presented at national and international meetings and through papers published in refereed journals, magazines, and conference proceedings. The work of the group, which is supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation, has contributed significantly to the formal recognition of physics education research as an important field for scholarly inquiry in physics departments.