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OP2 Teaches Physics to Teachers

OP2 Teaches Physics to Teachers

From gaining experience with properties of sound waves and their expression in everyday life, to observing how and why simple machines lead to a study of forces, work and power, 26 central Ohio science teachers embraced their role as students last summer to learn skills they now apply in their own classrooms through the OP2: Operation Physics graduate course.

OP2 is an academic year-long program that offers students the opportunity to study in-depth, current research-based programs and practices related to K-12 science education. It is a tuition-free, five-credit-hour, graded course that combines basic physical science concepts with hands-on materials and activities. It is designed to enrich teachers’ backgrounds in physical science and to encourage them to explore concepts with their own students through classroom activities.

The teachers-turned-students spend two weeks in the summer learning new skills and teaching methods in a classroom setting, then meet once a month through March.

Columbus City Schools teacher Andrew Jenkins participated in OP2, and immediately applied what he learned in his classroom. “I wish I would have experienced OP2 sooner. It had a profound impact on how I teach science. While I previously incorporated hands-on activities, I learned many new approaches. Inquiry based learning became a greater emphasis in my lessons since experiencing the OP2 program.”

“My students get excited more often with fun and effective labs and activities. My classroom is more dynamic than ever before,” he said.

The course is modeled after a successful program developed by the National Science Foundation that has served teachers in northeast Ohio for over 25 years. It was introduced to Otterbein in 2010 by Wendy Sherman Heckler, now the associate vice president for Academic Affairs.

“When I was a professor at Kent State, we had a similar program. When I came to Otterbein, the Improving Teacher Quality consultant at the Ohio Department of Higher Education asked me to consider establishing the program in central Ohio. The first funded year was 2010-2011,” said Sherman Heckler.

Since then, OP2 has brought 201 students from 54 school districts throughout Ohio to Otterbein’s campus. This year’s participants represent 16 school districts across 11 counties throughout Ohio.

OP2’s activities are designed to help teachers learn basic concepts. Most of the activities can be used or adapted for use in the middle school classroom. Topics include energy and heat, forces and motion, simple machines, sound, light, matter, astronomy and more. In addition, they learn about pre- and post-assessments to measure classroom learning through statistical analysis.

“We reach out to high-need districts, where classroom science equipment is often in short supply. Sometimes teachers think they have to buy expensive equipment for experiments,” she said. “We show them how they can perform activities in their classrooms with supplies from their local hardware stores. Rather than reproduce complicated experiments or ‘give up’ and just memorize science vocabulary, OP2 shows teachers how to use simple hands-on activities to teach science with enthusiasm and confidence.”

For one electricity activity, participants must wire a shoebox “house” with Christmas lights and paperclip switches for each room. Other equipment is built with pie plates, Styrofoam cups, empty film canisters, and plastic straws.

In addition to learning content, confidence and fun new teaching techniques, students receive foundational supplies to use in their own classrooms. Supplies include key items not always available to middle grades teachers, like an electronic balance, as well as broadly used items, like measuring sticks, magnets and thermometers.

Students also attend a professional conference and receive a one-year membership in the Science Education Council of Ohio, both paid for by OP2.

“This is the first time many of our OP2 teachers have been able to attend a professional conference. They can network with peers, and vendors often offer free classroom supplies at these events,” Sherman Heckler said.

The OP2 instructors include Sherman Heckler; Otterbein Physics Professor David Robertson; Dave Reber, a teacher at Black River Middle School, Black River Schools; and Karen (George) Richards, a teacher at Siebert Elementary School, Columbus City Schools.

“The four instructors of OP2 are truly outstanding,” Jenkins said. “I learned a lot, had a blast, but most importantly I was more excited about teaching science after this program.” 

The instructors encourage students to keep in touch with Otterbein and their classmates after the course ends to share their successes and frustrations in teaching physical science to children so that they can continue to grow together in providing better science education.

“I really liked the camaraderie with my peers from the state, who were strangers at our first class and now we are resources for each other,” Jenkins said.

OP2 is primarily supported with federal funds distributed by the Ohio Department of Higher Education under its Improving Teacher Quality Professional Development Program.