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
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
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