Designing and testing Attending to Conceptual Resources in Physics (ACORN-Physics) tutorials

Lisa Goodhew
Seattle Pacific University

The 2021 National Academies report “Call to Action for Science Education: Building Opportunity for the Future” calls for student science experiences that “provide opportunities for students to explore questions they are passionate about, foster the development of critical thinking and scientific skills, reinforce that science is relevant to students’ daily lives, and inspire them to consider science-related fields as career paths.” At the university level, this vision can be embodied through instruction that takes an assets-based perspective toward student thinking and invites students to engage in complex, open-ended scientific inquiry. Attending to Conceptual Resources in Physics (ACORN-Physics) tutorials are designed to support and scaffold university-level physics teaching that draws out and leverages common “conceptual resources” – that is, common fruitful ideas that students use to make sense of physics concepts. ACORN tutorials are based on research by our team that identifies common “seeds of science” that students in introductory university-level physics courses use to make sense of physical phenomena. These seeds of science include ideas such as “what goes in must come out of an electrical junction” or “force and momentum are related.” One goal of these worksheets is to support more equitable engagement in introductory university physics courses by supporting instructors to notice and leverage their students’ unique and diverse conceptual resources. ACORN tutorials begin with conceptual questions that our research has shown elicit a range of conceptual resources and are designed to help students refine and extend these resources toward more sophisticated scientific concepts. ACORN tutorials have a distinctive open-ended exploratory style that supports students to develop and test models of physics phenomena in their own terms. In this poster, we describe the process of developing and testing ACORN tutorials. We give an overview of our work to characterize students’ common, fruitful ideas and to identify effective conceptual questions to elicit and leverage these ideas. Then, we describe our process of developing instructional materials based on these questions and pilot testing these materials in introductory university-level physics classrooms.


Amy D. Robertson, Seattle Pacific University; Paula R. L. Heron, University of Washington – Seattle ; Lauren C. Bauman, University of Washington – Seattle ; Clausell Mathis, University of Washington – Seattle ; Rachel E. Scherr, University of Washington – Bothell