Dissertations and Theses @ UNI

Award Winner

Recipient of the 2006 Outstanding Master's Thesis Award - Third Place.

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Open Access Thesis


Physics teachers--Training of--Iowa; Iowa Physics Teacher Instruction and Resources;


The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of a physics professional development program on secondary science teachers' conceptual knowledge of Newtonian mechanics, instructional practices and the conceptual growth of their students. The University of Northern Iowa Physics Institute enabled a group of twenty-one Iowa high school and middle school science teachers to complete the physics coursework required to obtain the State of lowa 7-12 Grade Physics Teaching endorsement. The Institute provided experiences to improve physics content knowledge and proficiency of constructivist methodologies for teaching high school physics.

Twelve Institute participants completed a two-year program during the 2002 and 2003 summers, and nine completed one of the two years. Background information, pre-test and post-test physics conceptual assessments and other data were collected from participants throughout the Institute. Participants collected pre and post-test conceptual assessment data from their students during the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 academic years. Initial and final conceptual assessments and two years of student assessment data revealed the Institute's influence on participants' and students' conceptual understanding of Newtonian Mechanics.

Participants' previous physics and mathematics education correlated with learning and their continued conceptual understanding. The results show that participants who had completed at least six physics semester hours prior to the UNI-PI were most successful, therefore indicating physics background is necessary for participants involved in a future PI structured similar in content and focus as the UNI-PI. Participants' journal reflection notes and instructional surveys revealed instructional practice improvements due to the Institute.

Results indicated the Institute positively affected the majority of participants' physics conceptual understanding of Newtonian mechanics and instructional practices. Although limitations and confounding factors prevented a thorough evaluation of the UNI Physics Institute's affect upon participants' students' conceptual knowledge, participants' students performed at levels suggesting greater knowledge gain compared to test results published in the literature. Overall, the UNI-Pi indicated a positive benefit and this investigation provided suggestions for future improvements to the program.

Year of Submission


Year of Award

2006 Award

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Science Education Program

First Advisor

Lawrence Escalada, Chair, Thesis Committee


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Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (vii, 205 pages)



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