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Operation Primary Physical Science

Key Features

Operation Primary Physical Science (OPPS), begun in 1995, is a program funded by the National Science Foundation to involve scientists, science educators, and others in a nationwide effort to improve primary grade (K-3) teachers' understanding of science content and process and to promote the teaching of early elementary science in the manner described by the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.

Under the program, 36 three-person lead teams each with college or university affiliations in almost 30 states have already been selected and are being trained in workshops lasting six weeks and spread over two years. The teams are to recruit grade K-3 teachers in their localities and train them in local workshops. The local workshops are to cover the same material as the workshops that trained the lead teams: the same science content is to be covered as well as the modeling of inquiry-centered, hands-on approaches to teaching science.

Workshop materials used for both lead teams and teachers cover nine areas of physical science chosen with detailed guidance from the Standards, the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Benchmarks for Science Literacy, and various state frameworks. The 15-person materials development team conducts the workshops for the lead teams. The materials development team is composed, roughly in thirds, of college or university scientists, science educators, and K-3 teachers.

Operation Primary Physical Science is modeled on, but not identical to, Operation Physics (OpPhys) and Operation Chemistry (OpChem). Important lessons for OPPS were drawn from OpPhys. The differences between the two are worth studying because they show how outstanding projects can grow and evolve. NSF funding for the OpPhys project ended in 1995. NSF funding for the OPPS project ends at the end of 1999.

Becoming Involved

  • Physical scientists who are interested in seeing what K-3 teachers should know about science and about doing and teaching science can visit any one of the Operation Primary Physical Science teacher-training workshops to observe the OPPS approach.

  • Physical scientists who are interested in undertaking the lead team training should pay close attention to the OPPS Website. Teams supported by NSF funds have already been chosen, but local funding for training OPPS lead teams could very well be available in the future, as was the case for Operation Physics.

  • Scientists and science educators at colleges or universities who are already involved--or who want to be--in the preparation or inservice training of K-3 teachers can study the OPPS program, including its training materials.

  • Life and earth scientists may find in OPPS a model for developing analogous programs in their own disciplines.


Goal. The goal of Operation Primary Physical Science is to train carefully selected lead teams in how to improve the science content and process understanding of grade K-3 teachers and then to facilitate the training of grade K-3 teachers by these teams at the local level, particularly in the content and approaches described in the National Science Education Standards.

Organization, Scope, and Funding. OPPS has selected and is now training 36 lead teams, each of which is attached to a college or university. Teams must include at least one scientist or science educator from that institution. Their institutions administer their lead team's share of the program's $3.5-million from the National Science Foundation. In this way, the institutions are responsible for their lead teams.

Each of the 36 teams is committed to training at least 60 K-3 teachers at the local level by the year 2000. The bulk of the NSF grant --$2-million--covers the lead team training. Of the remainder, some $40,000 goes to each institution as seed money to support the training of local teachers by lead teams. It is understood that localities need to raise additional funds to cover the teacher training--usually at least another $40,000.

The program's NSF funding ends on Dec. 31, 1999.

Selection and Composition of Lead Teams. The lead teams were recruited and selected on a competitive basis. Each lead team has three members: a college or university scientist or science educator, a K-3 teacher, and a third person who is deemed complementary to the other two and whose strengths balance the team.


Training of Lead Teams. The lead teams are being trained over a period of two years for a total of 30 days. Materials used in the training workshops were designed by a 15-person team and reflect the National Science Education Standards. The materials development team also runs the lead team workshops.


Training of Teachers. Once lead teams are trained, they begin to train teachers in local workshops similar in structure and scope to those in which the lead teams were trained. The materials are the same. The total duration of the local workshops is 120 hours per year.


Operation Physics -- The Antecedent Project. Operation Physics (OpPhys) was a national project funded by the National Science Foundation between 1987 and 1995 that aimed at improving the physics understanding of teachers and their teaching of physics, grades 4-8. Funding for OpPhys has ended, but some of its lead teams continue to train, to raise local funds, and, in several states, to become part of official state programs. It is estimated that 50,000 teachers have been trained by OpPhys lead teams. OpPhys was the prototype for both Operation Primary Physical Science and Operation Chemistry.


Operation Chemistry -- A Related Project. Operation Chemistry (OpChem) is a national project of the American Chemical Society (ACS). It is funded by the National Science Foundation through 1997. It is aimed at improving the chemistry understanding of teachers and their teaching of chemistry, grades 4-8. Operation Primary Physical Science has benefited from the experiences of OpChem.


Principal Investigators and Contact Information. Go to Detail here for information about the principal investigators, contact, and website information.


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