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OPPS: Operation Physics

Operation Primary Physical Science (OPPS) is the direct descendent of Operation Physics, which was funded by the National Science Foundation from 1987 to 1995. Operation Physics (OpPhys) continues as a local program in some parts of the country.

There are a number of important similarities between the OPPS and OpPhys: common leaders--i.e., the OPPS Principal Investigators, Donald and Gayle Kirwan of Louisiana State University--as well as Fred Goldberg of San Diego State University--were the OpPhys Principal Investigators; both projects share the same basic strategy of training lead teams to provide content and teaching methodology training to teachers at locations all across the country; and NSF has funded both projects.

Essential Differences Between Operation Physics and Operation Primary Physical Science. The two projects differ in a number of essential ways, which are summarized here. Careful attention to these differences can be rewarding for those interested in how programs and outstanding projects can grow and evolve.

  • Grade Range. OpPhys targeted teachers in grades 4-8; OPPS targets teachers in grades K-3, also known as "primary" grades. Like their colleagues who teach in grades 4-8, primary teachers teach physical science, but the concepts need to be presented in a manner appropriate for the developmental level of their particular students. In general, this means that the learning experiences need to be as concrete as possible--involving direct observation of phenomena or direct experience. Also developing vocabulary, explanations, and conclusions are much less important than in the primary classroom insuring that the students work with a repertoire of hands-on activities. It is therefore as important for the primary teacher as for the teacher of higher grades to gain an understanding of the relevant concepts.
  • OPPS Lead Teams Include College-level Scientists or Science Educators. In OpPhys, each lead team had to have an experienced physics teacher from the target grades, 4-8, and an experienced physics teacher or faculty member from a high school, college, or university, but the background of the third member was not prescribed. As it turned out, OpPhys teams often lacked a college-level scientist or science educator. In OPPS, the second team member must be a college-level scientist or science educator, and the third team member must be chosen to complement the strengths of the other two.
  • OPPS Lead Teams College/University Based. In OpPhys, the lead teams were not attached officially to any institution; in OPPS, the teams are attached to a college or university, and that institution acts as the team's financial agent. In effect, the institution is expected to make a serious commitment to the program.
  • No Second-Generation Lead Teams in OPPS. In OpPhys, lead teams trained not only teachers but other lead teams, with the obvious hope that this would leverage the initial investment in lead-team training. That feature was discontinued in OPPS because OpPhys experience indicated that the second-generation training was not always comparable to the first-generation training.
  • Seed Money in Teacher-Training Phase in OPPS. In OpPhys, neither the lead teams nor the school districts in which they worked received financial support from the project during the teacher-training phase. In OPPS, the lead teams receive seed money for the teacher-training phase, which is expected to cover about half the expenses for training a total of 60 teachers over three years. The balance of funds needed for teacher training must be raised by the teams and the school districts.
  • Three-year Commitment of Lead Teams in OPPS. In OpPhys, minimum requirements were set for the number of hours each lead-team member would have to teach in the first year, but no requirements were set for subsequent years. In OPPS, lead-team members make a three-year commitment to train for 40 hours the first year and 120 hours in each of the next two years.
  • More Freedom in Designing Teacher-Training Programs in OPPS. In OpPhys, no specific criteria were set for the amount of instruction individual teachers would receive (the average, it turned out, was 35 hours/teacher). In OPPS, it is anticipated that individual teachers will receive much more training, although the precise amount has been left up to the lead teams.
  • OPPS Lead-Team Training Is More Extensive. In OpPhys, the lead team members were trained for three weeks in one summer. In OPPS, the total training is for six weeks spread over three years, only three weeks of which are in the first summer. Lead-team members begin to teach teachers before they have finished their own training, with the thought that this early exposure to teaching teachers will help the lead teams in their second and third stages of training. In addition, lead teams experience and master only a few content workshops at a time, avoding the burn-out that was recorded in OpPhys.
  • More Concerted Effort After Initial Funding Period in OPPS. When NSF funding ended, the OpPhys lead teams were on their own. Although many have continued to teach, and in some states funding has been secured to expand the project significantly, there is no centralized direction of OpPhys, not even a centralized source of information, like a Website, where teachers or school districts can find out about teams in their own areas. If OPPS is successful, it is anticipated that efforts will be made to continue support for the existing teams, for training more teams, and for maintaining a central source of information.

History and Current Status of Operation Physics. During the period of OpPhys' national funding, 81 lead teams were trained, and more than 800 additional workshop leaders were trained by them in state-level programs. In terms of teachers trained, roughly 50,000 received training in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and American Samoa. (The states that did not have OpPhys training are Kentucky, Montana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.)

Many of the OpPhys teams are self-sufficient enough to conduct workshops for teachers with state or local funds. States with significant OpPhys operations include Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Washington, and West Virginia. Michigan and Mississippi provide state funds to teams.

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