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ITOP: Graduate Courses for Physics Teachers, Spring Offerings

12 Dec


We are pleased to announce the (completely remote) ITOP course offerings for Spring 2021.  Along with the physics, conceptual history, and pedagogical knowledge content that is normally incorporated, these courses will also explore remote learning activities for discussion and labs.  

Since the classes will be offered in a remote format, teachers from diverse geographical locations can take advantage of them.  
Please share this announcement widely with any teachers you think might benefit from these courses.

Here are course summaries:

  • NS 542: Concepts in Physics III: Fluids and Thermodynamics
    • Including: buoyant force, heat and specific heat, thermodynamics and heat engines such as refrigerators
    • Historical reading on Archimedes’ Principle, and the historical development of temperature; readings on students misconceptions about heat and thermodynamics
  • NS 543: Concepts in Physics IV: Electrostatics
    • Including: charges and electric force, circuits, and magnetic forces
    • Historical readings on the discovery of electric and magnetic forces, readings on research in students understanding of electric fields and circuits.
  • NS 544: Concepts in Physics V: Oscillatory Motion and Waves

See below for more details.

Boston University 
Improving the Teaching of Physics

Offered in remote mode during Spring, 2021

Please pass this announcement along to anyone you think would benefit from these courses.

The Project ITOP ( course sequence consists of ten two-credit courses that merge physics content with readings from the history of physics, the philosophy of science, and the education research literature. The courses are blended in nature. There are seven in-class meetings for 3 hours each week and six online assignments. Class meetings will be held once a week at Boston University in the evenings. 

The goals of the ITOP courses are:

  1. Improve participants understanding of fundamental physics principles.
  2. Provide participants with practice solving typical physics problems.
  3. Increase participants awareness of the historic development of physics.  
  4. Provide participants with opportunities to distinguish between historical models, and discuss the relationship between data, empirical models, and theory.
  5. Increase participants awareness of students’ prior knowledge in physics.
  6. Provide participants and opportunity to apply the above in the development of lesson plans.  

These courses are intended for:

  • Teachers who are working towards licensure 
  • Teachers who need graduate credit

Credits: 2 Graduate Credit Hours 

Class Meetings: One 3 hour meeting a week for 7 weeks 

  • Class meetings proceed in an interactive approach and will include lab activities, demonstrations, and discussions of concepts and readings.   

Online Work: 2 hours a week

  • Online work will consist of definitions, basic concepts, and example problems.  Weekly readings will also be included.  

Grading: Participants grades will include: 

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

For more information contact Prof. Peter Garik ( or 

Dr. Nicholas Gross (

Course Descriptions Below

NS 542: Concepts in Physics III: Fluids and Thermodynamics 

Spring 2021, Monday Evenings in January and February 

This course will explore buoyancy, pressure and fluid flow in the context of Newtonian Mechanics and Conservation of Energy.  The concepts of heat and specific heat will be explored. This will lead to the ideal gas law and thermodynamic processes and cycles as applied to refrigerators and heat pumps. 

Physics Topics will include:

  • Buoyancy, Pressure and Fluid Flow
  • Heat and Specific Heat
  • Ideal Gas Law
  • Thermodynamic processes
  • Thermodynamic cycles and applications to heat engines and refrigerators

Conceptual History and Pedagogy Topics Include:

  • Archimedes and Galileo on Buoyancy
  • Historical discussion of the distinction between temperature and heat
  • Introduction of kinetic/molecular theory of heat and pressure.
  • Student’s misconceptions about buoyancy, thermodynamics and the ideal gas law

NS 543: Concepts in Physics IV: Electrostatics

Spring 2021, Monday evenings in March and April

This course will explore the discovery of electric charge and development of the theory of electric force.  The conceptual value of electric fields and electric potentials will be discussed. This will be extended to the theory of capacitors and electric circuits.  

Physics Topics will include:

  • Forces and Potential Energy between Electric Charges
  • Electric Fields and Electric Potential
  • Ampere’s Law and Static Magnetic Fields
  • Electric Circuits and Ohm’s Law
  • Circuit Elements: Capacitors, Resistors, and Diodes

Conceptual History and Pedagogy Topics Include 

  • DuFay and Gray on 18th century experiments with electrostatics
  • Experiments by Franklin
  • Students Misconceptions about Electric Circuits
  • Concept Inventories for DC Circuits

NS 544: Concepts in Physics V: Oscillatory Motion and Waves

Spring 2021, Monday evenings in May and June

This course will build up waves from simple harmonic motion. Students will explore the properties of waves, including constructive and destructive interference, and standing waves. Standing waves will be used to explore sound and musical instruments.  The last portion of the course will be devoted to ray optics.  

Physics Topics will include:

  • Simple Harmonic Motion
  • Waves, Constructive and Destructive Interference
  • Standing waves on a string and in a pipe, Sound
  • Light as a wave
  • Ray Optics, Reflection, Refraction, and Image Formation

Conceptual History and Pedagogy Topics Include 

  • Galileo on the pendulum
  • Debate on the nature of light between Newton and Young
  • The history of ray optics and the discovery of refraction
  • Students misconceptions about ray optics and real images
  • Students misconceptions about waves