Boston University Improving the Teaching of Physics (ITOP)

19 Aug

The graduate courses offered by Improving the Teaching of Physics (ITOP, are a collaborative effort by the Boston University Department of Physics and BU Wheelock College of Education. The ITOP course sequence consists of ten two-credit graduate level courses that merge physics content with readings from the history of physics, the philosophy of science, and the physics education research literature. The courses are blended in nature. There are seven synchronous meetings (via an online platform) for 3 hours each week and six online assignments.

This Fall we will offer:

CAS NS 540 Force and Motion:  Mondays 4:40 – 7:25 September 14 — October 26

CAS NS 541 Gravitation and Rotational Motion: Mondays 4:40 – 7:25 November 2 — December 14

These courses are intended for:

  • Teachers who are working towards physics licensure
  • Teachers who need graduate credit including for Professional Licensure

Credits: 2 Graduate Credit Hours per course

Synchronous Online Meetings:
Each course meets for 3 hours per week for 7 weeks; Monday 4:40 pm – 7:25 pm

Independent Work: 3 hours per week

The goals of the ITOP courses are:

  • Improve participants’ understanding of fundamental physics principles.
  • Provide participants with practice solving typical physics problems.
  • Increase participants’ understanding of the conceptual history of physics
  • Provide participants with opportunities to distinguish between historical models, and discuss the relationship between data, empirical models, and theory.
  • Increase participants’ awareness of the physics education research literature including the literature on students alternative conceptions
  • Provide participants and opportunity to apply the above in the development of lesson plans. 
  • Fall courses will emphasize using resources appropriate for remote learning.

Participants grades will be based on

  • Two take home exams
  • Online homework
  • Lesson plan
  • Class participation

For more information about registration or questions contact
Dr. Nicholas Gross (

Prof. Peter Garik (

Prof. Andrew Duffy (

Course Descriptions

NS 540: Concepts in Physics I: Forces and Motion

Sept. 14th – Oct. 26th

Fall 2018, Monday evenings in September and October

This is the first course in the ITOP sequence.  It builds the fundamentals of kinematics (motion) and dynamics (forces). A major component of the ITOP courses involves reading and discussing the conceptual history of physics and reading on identifying and confronting students’ prior knowledge.

Physics Topics will include:

  • Kinematics and the study of motion
  • Dynamics and Forces that generate motion
  • An understanding of gravity in light of the above
  • Conservation Laws
  • The concept of energy and the work-energy relationship

Conceptual History and Pedagogy Topics Include

  • Readings from Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton
  • Contrasting these three approaches to physics
  • Readings on students’ preconceptions about motion and force.

NS 541: Concepts in Physics II: Circular Motion, Gravity, and Rotation

Nov. 2nd – Dec. 14th

In this course, participants will apply kinematic definitions and Newton’s Laws to solve problems in circular motion, systems such planetary, and rotating bodies.

Physics Topics will include:

  • Circular Motion
  • Universal Theory of Gravity and Planetary Orbits
  • Kinematics and Dynamics of Rotational Motion
  • Conservation of Angular Momentum

Conceptual History and Pedagogy Topics Include 

  • Readings from Aristotle, Galileo, and Newton on Gravity
  • Readings on students’ preconceptions about circular motion, gravity, and rotational motion.


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