Grant to fund project on high school physics

By Denis Tagler

An NIU associate professor of technology is pioneering a project that might change the way high schools teach physics and technology.

The National Science Foundation awarded NIU a $298,921 grant for Jule Scarborough’s project, “Frontiers of Applied Physics—High School Teaching Modules.”

“The technology department is excited because the NSF recognized the importance of technology’s role in physics,” Scarborough said. “The department received the grant on its own merit.”

The project involves curriculum and model development during the first year, field-testing in the second year and dissemination of the results in the third year. Scarborough hopes to involve technology students and NIU faculty from several different academic disciplines.

Funding is expected to total $480,000 over several years. Matching funds of $25,000 each from NIU’s engineering college and the Illinois State Board of Education, plus contributions from corporations, will add another $441,000 for a total nearing $1 million, Scarborough said.

Participating companies include Kinetic Systems of Lockport, General Motors of La Grange, Woodward Governor of Rockford, Motorola of Schaumburg and Chrysler of Belvidere. Seven Illinois school districts also are participating in the development of the new model for physics instruction.

These school districts “will be involved in the development of physics and technology materials and they will test the model using non-traditional teaching strategies,” Scarborough said. “Technology, math and physics will be treated as equal academic partners.”

Among the non-traditional strategies that could be employed is team-teaching several disciplines at once and integrating technology into traditional academic courses.

Students with average ability “can handle science and math but often don’t take traditional physics, upper math or technology-related courses,” Scarborough said. “These students make up a large proportion of our college population and they have the ability to do a lot more. We would like to make physics interesting to these students through technology.”