University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Physics Education Research

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Professor Heller's research involves finding the most effective way to assist students in learning Physics. In particular he and his group are investigating better ways to teach problem solving using cooperative group techniques to solve context rich problems using more expert strategies. (

Heller with graduate
Heller with one of his graduates.

Physics with Education

Welcome to the Physics Education Research Group at the University of Minnesota!

Physics education research combines the application of fundamental knowledge about learning and the discipline specific knowledge of physics to investigate ways of making the teaching and learning of physics more effective and efficient, primarily at the university level. It is an interdisciplinary area with strong roots in the two core disciplines of Physics and Education. Students receive a PhD in either Physics or Education, depending on their choice, after a masters degree in another field of physics research.

The focus of the Minnesota physics education group has been the investigation of student difficulties with problem solving in the context of physics. It applies its results to develop practical curricular materials and techniques that can be used by physics faculty members in typical physics departments. This research has led to the development of problems that facilitate the learning of problem solving skills (Context-rich problems), a peer coaching pedagogy using a cooperative group framework (Cooperative problem solving), a problem solving framework for the use of students, a laboratory style that emphasizes problem solving, a program of educating and supporting teaching assistants, and a set of computer problem solving coaches. The group also develops research methodology such as techniques to effectively determine the goals of non-physics faculty for physics courses, the interactions of individuals solving problems in groups, and techniques to determine the beliefs and values of physics faculty teaching introductory physics. The group also develops assessment tools to evaluate student progress in problem solving, technical writing, and the correlation between algorithmic mathematical skills and problem solving.

Read more at the Physics Education group page.

Physics Education Faculty

Kenneth HellerResearch in high energy particle physics currently focuses on neutrino oscillations as measured in long baseline accelerator experiments. Research in physics education focuses the use, learning, and teaching of problem solving in physics.

Physics Education Graduate Students

Jie Yang