The Physics Education Research (PER) Group was founded in 1964 by Prof. Amos de-Shalit, the scientific director of the Weizmann Institute who also headed it in its early years. The importance Amos saw in the integration of research and development paved the road for the group’s work to these days: the group members are rooted in physics teaching in Israel, as well as in the PER community around the world. The group has seen its role for over 50 years in developing and operating research-based materials and learning environments and frameworks for professional development – at the service of physics teachers.
The research-based development of learning activities in diverse environments, textbooks, and teacher guides – focuses on the advanced level physics curriculum in high school (grades 10-12), and the teaching of physics in junior-high school (grades 7-9) as part of the science and technology curriculum, or the honors classes operating the Gateway to Physics program. The learning environments and materials aim to develop learners’ agency in independent and collaborative learning, conceptual understanding, and scientific ways of thinking and working. They also aim to promote personalized teaching through the PETEL Project – a Learning Management System serving as a central hub for Physics teachers. The group also developed unique curricula that serve as additional units for advance-level physics students – “Physics and Industry”, “Soft and Messy Matter”, “Research Physics Project” and “Interdisciplinary Computational Science”, in order to bridge between the world of contemporary science and technology and students experience in science classrooms in school.
The development and operation of research-based professional development frameworks for physics teachers is at the heart of the group’s work. The group leads the National Center for Physics Teachers, the physics track in the Rothschild Weizmann program – a non-thesis master’s degree for outstanding teachers, and a teaching certificate for research students at the Weizmann Institute. For the past decade, the group has operated a nationwide network of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for high school physics teachers – one PLC of teacher leaders and eleven regional PLCs spread across the country. Additional frameworks include workshops and learning communities to promote personalized teaching through PETEL, workshops and PLCs for junior-high school physics teachers and a biennial training program for teachers supervising a “research physics project.” The group is engaged in the development and research of SEMEL communities – internships for second career teacher whose first career was in the high-tech industry. These professional development frameworks promote attentive teaching to the learner, and the learning and renewal of the teacher anchored in their practice.
The research in the physics education group takes a variety of approaches, qualitative and quantitative, experimental and design-based, depending on the project: from case studies and diagnostic interviews, to large-scale surveys and analysis of big data collected via Learning Management Systems. The research reflects and refines theoretical frameworks of knowledge integration, cognitive apprenticeships, cognitive processes in problem solving, and more. The group places emphasis on developing leadership. Over two dozen students completed their studies in the group, and were integrated into research and teaching in higher education institutions and colleges; in organizations developing educational materials and environments and in educational and public administration.
The members of the group are active in leading reform initiatives via the physics committee at the education ministry, the national policy-making committee. The group has fruitful collaboration, both in the development of learning materials and in the professional development of teachers, with scientists at the Weizmann Institute, with researchers in other science and mathematics education disciplines, with the Davidson Institute and with the Schwartz Reisman Center, with scientists and engineers in other institutions in Israel and with physics education researchers in the world.