Implementing Next Generation PET and Learning Assisstants

Ben Van Dusen

Assistant Professor

Course Name & Description: SCED 141 - Concepts in Physical Science

Project Abstract: My lab innovation will be the implementation of a suite of new tools with the support of Learning Assistants (LAs). The hub for this transformation will implement the Next Generation Physical Science and Everyday Thinking (NGP) curriculum. NGP is a research-based curriculum that is a modernized version (technologically and otherwise) of the Physics of Everyday Thinking (PET) curriculum (Otero & Gray, 2008; Goldberg et al., 2010). NGP and PET were both developed and tested by faculty in the CSU system. The NGP curriculum is being developed through an NSF funded project (NSF # 1626496) being led by Fred Goldberg (Professor at San Diego State) and Ed Price (Professor at CSU San Marco). As a member of the Expert-Cadre NGP development team I am providing feedback on the curriculum and serving as a mentor over a 4-year period to 12 faculty members across the country who are adopting the NGP curriculum. Learning Assistants (LAs) will support the course transformations. The LA model is a near-peer model used in over 80 university’s around the world (Otero et al., 2016; An LA is an undergraduate student who, through the guidance of course instructors and a special pedagogy course, facilitates discussions among groups of students in a variety of classroom settings that encourage student engagement and responsibility for learning.

Keywords/Tags: Learning Assistants, simulations, accessibility, Next Generation PET

Instructional Delivery: In-class

Pedagogical Approaches: Learning Assistants, simulations, active learning, collaborative learning, online resources, accessibility, and whiteboards.

About the LIT Redesign (Stage 1)

Background on the Redesign

Why Redesign your Course?

  • SCED 141 is a required course for both Natural Science majors (most of whom wish to be future middle school science teachers) and Liberal Studies majors (future elementary teachers). SCED 141 is also the first science course these majors take and is a prerequisite for several of their future courses. For Natural Science majors, the course is the foundation of their entire degree. For Liberal Studies majors at Chico State, SCED 141 is the first of four required science courses they take for their major. For most of these students, science is a topic which they have very low self-efficacy about and little practical experience with. The Liberal Studies program at Chico State is in the process of completing an entire overhaul that would provide their majors with a waiver for the state teachers examination. The state credentialing examinations (CBEST and CSET) cost students $100 for each attempt and is a significant barrier to student success. The Physics CSET has a passing rate below 60% and the CBEST passing rate for first time test takers is below 70%. As part of the program redesign, SCED 141 must transform to increase the number of topics it covers to include several more chemistry units (currently the course focusses on physics topics) which will allow Liberal Studies majors a waiver on their examination and better prepare the natural science majors to pass their examination.
  • To accomplish this course transformation, SCED 141 is reintroducing its lab component and adopting a technologically enhanced curriculum. With the support of the LIT funding, this transformation will allow the course to cover more material, incorporate new technologies, improve course accessibility, strengthen the course’s student support, and provide students with low-science self-efficacy additional opportunities to explore their science identities.

High Demand/Low Success/Facilities Bottleneck Issues

  • The course represents a significant hurdle for students to receiving their teaching licensure. Our state and country is in need of more qualified teachers, particularly in the STEM disciplines.

Course History / Background

  • The course is the first science education course for both liberal study (future elementary teachers) and science education (future middle school science teachers) majors. It lays the groundwork for how science education courses are run, thinking about the nature of science, and the next generation science standards.

(Upload syllabus from pre-designed course)

Pre-redesign syllabus
SCED 141 Spring '18 syllabus (pre-redesign)

About the Students and Instructor(s) (Stage 2)

Student Characteristics

SCED 141 is primarily composed of future elementary teachers (~80%) and middle school science teachers (~20%). It's the first science course that either group needs to take for their major. The future elementary teachers are liberal studies majors and many of them are somewhat science-phobic. The future middle school science teachers are Natural Sciences majors and typically have decent high school science preparation. None of them have taken college level physics or chemistry prior to enrolling in the course.

Advice I Give my Students to be Successful

As the NextGen PET curriculum that I use in SCED 141 is based on a collaborative-learning model of education, it's critical that students show up to every class and engage with their small groups. Students are asked to complete on online guided activity after each class. They then complete an online quiz based on the last class and online activity. The quiz is worth only a couple of points. In class they then take the same quiz as a group. This allows each of them to create their own set of ideas for how a physical system works and then to bring those ideas into alignment with their peers. All of these things come down to really engaging with their peers to understand the material.

Impact of Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives (SLOs) on Course Redesign

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify an objects velocity and acceleration from a graph of its position over time.
  2. Identify the forces acting on an object and whether they are balanced or unbalanced.
  3. Predict the behavior of charged objects in the presence of an electric field.
  4. Predict the behavior of magnetized objects in the presence of a magnetic field.
  5. Explain how a magnet can be used to create an electric current.
  6. Identify and track the transfers and transformations of energy as it moves through a system.
  7. Calculate the efficiency of a system.
  8. Identify heat transfer through conduction, convection, and electromagnetic radiation
  9. Predict how changing features of a wave will affect the waves behavior
  10. Track light through reflection, refraction, and reemission

Alignment of SLOs With LIT Redesign

The course redesign is part of an entire course overhaul that added several of these new SLOs. These are the central ideas for each of the 8 units from the Next Generation PET curriculum that we will be covering in the class.

Assessments Used to Measure Students' Achievement of SLOs

Student outcomes will be measured using two research-based pre/post assessments. The first assessment, called the Conceptual Physics Diagnostic Assessment (CPDA), is of students conceptual change and has been under development by the Next Gen PET research team over the last two years. The assessment will cover each of the 10 SLOs. A PDF of the assessment questions are attached.

The second research-based assessment, called the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS), is an assessment of student attitudes about science. Specifically it gets at what students think science is about and how they fit into that process. A PDF of the assessment questions are attached.

Both assessments will be administered online during the first and last week of the course. The CLASS will be administered through the LASSO platform and the CPDA will be administered through googleforms. Student outcomes for both assessments will be compared to national normative data. The CLASS data will also be compared to CLASS results from prior semesters of the course.

NGP Assessment
CLASS survey

Accessibility, Affordability, and Diversity Accessibility

The course materials on blackboard are all being brought up to accessibility standards through the use of BB Ally.


All of the online course materials are free to students. The only cost of the course are the clickers and the lab workbooks. The clickers will be reused in future courses and the workbooks are used up as students progress through them


The course is designed to value students lived experiences as a resource for making sense of scientific phenomena. The use of Learning Assistants have been strongly associated with meaningfully larger gains in learning for students from traditionally marginalized groups (Van Dusen et al., 2017; Van Dusen & Nissen, 2018).

About the Instructor

Ben Van Dusen

I am a science education researcher that specializes in physics education research. I am the director of the Learning About STEM Student Outcomes (LASSO) platform as well as Chico State's Learning Assistant program. My teaching philosophy is grounded in the notion that knowledge cannot be transmitted between individuals but must be built up with each individual. I also believe strongly in the social nature of learning and that my job as an instructor is to create environments in which students might collaboratively generate knowledge.

Me and my son

Curriculum Vitae

See attached CV.

Van Dusen - CV

LIT Redesign Planning (Stage 3)

Implementing the Redesigned Course What aspects of your course have you redesigned?

  • I used to teach the lab as two 1.5hr lectures/week. I now now have 1 hr of lecture and several lab sections to create smaller classroom settings. Outside of class students engage in interactive activities and simulations that prepare them for their daily online quizzes. These quizzes are then repeated in class as a group. This helps ensure that students have the opportunity to test their own knowledge while holding them accountable to engaging with their peers in developing activities.

Describe the class size(s) What technology is being used?

  • My lecture has 48 students and my labs have 24 students. Learning Assistants are used in both settings to facilitate small group discussions. We use PhET simulations, interactive online activities created by the NextGen PET curriculum developers, online quizzes, video demonstrations, low tech clickers (i.e., colored pieces of paper), wireless projectors, Blackboard, and Blackboard access, and an iPad. Everything is created to get students engaged with their peers to make sense of phenomena so that they can create, test, and refine models for how the world works.

What professional development activities have you participated during your course redesign?

  • I lead monthly online seminars where faculty from across the country support each other in their implimentation of the NextGen PET curriculum. I am also leading another group from within the community to examine the impact of the curriculum on student identities as scientists.
  • I led a range of sessions at the International Learning Assistant Conference in Boulder, CO. During these sessions I helped faculty from across the country think about how to train and implement LAs in ways that supported small group collaborative learning activities.
  • I have attended the online monthly LIT meetings where I have learned about other instructors implementation of LIT funds and technologies they are developing.

Which Additional Resources Were Needed for the Redesign?

  • I relied on the colleges Learning Assistant program to prepare and support my LAs.
  • Campus technology to support the adaptation of materials to be accessible.
  • Campus IT to install a wireless projecting system in the classroom that I'm currently lecturing in so that I can be out with the students while controlling my slides on my iPad.

Revised Syllabus

LIT Results and Findings (Stage 4)

LIT Redesign Impact on Teaching and Learning

  • How has the course redesign strategies affected your instruction and your students’ learning? Did your redesign strategy solve the issues that motivated you to redesign the course?

My redesign offered students more opportunities to develop their ideas in groups and reach class consensus. We also were able to cover several more units of material than in prior semesters. 

  • Describe how your students mastered the student learning outcomes. Were the students more successful in the redesigned course than in previous courses? Explain.

Students learned markedly more, as measured by the Next Gen PET assessment. The cohen's d effect size from pretest to posttest was 0.65 in the Fall '18 semester and 1.55 in the Spring '19 semester (figure below). Grade distributions were also improved. The DFW rate dropped from 11% (Fall '18) down to 4% (Spring '19). Tables and figures are linked attached.

Student Feedback

Students have generally been very positive about the changes in the course.  When asked about their favorite part of the course, student often discuss how they like the small group work and getting to really engage with ideas. For example, one students said, "[He] lets us work in groups so we can work w/ other students. He always walks around the room to make sure we all understand. Also, the iclickers are really helpful." Students also discuss that clickers and whiteboards are important to their learning. The course SETs have been very strong for the last several years.

Challenges my Students Encountered

Some of the simulations still require Java, which is always a technical hurdle for students to setup. At the start of the semester, students sometimes get confused about the differences between extensions and the quizzes themselves.

Lessons Learned & Redesign Tips

Teaching Tips

  • Reach out to the Next Gen PET community as there are lots of resources and training opportunities. This curriculum requires a real rethinking of what it means to learn science. It moves away from the teacher as the purveyor of knowledge and toward students being the authors of their own scientific knowledge.

Course Redesign Obstacles

  • The hardest part is integrating the lecture and labs such that there is a continues flow of activities between the two learning spaces.

Strategies I Used to Increase Engagement

  • The course is nearly all small group work. Me and the LAs cycle between groups giving them nudges as needed. We also do a lot of whiteboard work to make student ideas visible and to come to class consensus on ideas. 


  • The only part of the course that requires sustaining funds are the LAs. Chico State's LA program will likely be able to continue their support moving forward. 

Instructor Reflection

  • I am part of two communities to support my use and reflection on my implementation of Next Gen PET. The first is the LIT community and the second is the Next Gen PET FLC. I am not planning on publishing findings specific to my course, but I am working with the Next Gen PET developers to test and train others in its use. It is possible that I will end up co-authoring an article about the curriculums broader use.