COLUMBIA, Mo— A few years ago, the National Science Foundation presented a $5 million grant initiative to a leading MU Professor. Click play below to listen to KMZU’s Ashley Johnson speak with University of Missouri physics professor, Meera Chandrasekhar: Chandrasekhar-Meera

A leading professor of Physics at the University of Missouri, Meera Chandrasekhar, recently released findings of a multi-year NSF grant initiative among high school students.

During an interview with KMZU, Chandrasekhar spoke about the low number of Missouri students taking a physics course while in high school. This was the area she chose to focus on when accepting the challenge put forth by the National Science Foundation.

“9th grade is not typically when students take physics but there are tremendous advantages in having a student learn physics at that age,” Chandrasekhar explained, “ The first one being that all students then get some education in physics, they learn several concepts. Right now in the U.S., only 36% of students who graduate from high school have ever had a physics course. So, by having a course in 9th grade, every single student gets to learn physics. So, the idea then is that physics is really a fundamental basic subject, the concepts of which are used later on in chemistry and biology and so it forms a really good foundation for students to start learning science.”

Missouri students used to enter into high school and take a basic Biology 1 course. Chandrasekhar said she believes most schools physicsthat participated in the Physics First Program implemented physics at the freshman level and then bumped that Biology 1 course to a sophomore or junior year core class requirement.

Even more interesting was the push for a more age fitting acceptance among high school students. Chandrasekhar addressed the enjoyment in being able to spearhead a mobile-based digital format course based around the “up-and-coming thing.”

“We have now come to the point where we have published a couple of the units in the curriculum as a digital app,” said Chandrasekhar, “The app itself is like a shell and so all of these materials are going to start being available over this academic year.”

With many schools now assigning some sort of mobile device to students, Chandrasekhar hopes this app, complete with data recognition, simulation compatibility, animation processing, will better provide a chance for interactive use.




Top University Teacher Influencing How High School Physics will be Taught
$5 million NSF grant initiative led by MU’s Meera Chandrasekhar leads to mobile instruction module

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, [email protected], 573-882-3346

For photos available with this release, please click here.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— Usually high school students take biology and chemistry before taking physics; yet, only 36 percent of students end up in physics courses, according to the American Institute of Physics. Meera Chandrasekhar, a professor of physics at the University of Missouri, received a $5 million multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to address this challenge. She and her team developed a hands-on physics course for ninth graders designed to give them a better chance at being successful in higher-level high school and college-level science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM courses. The handheld tablet and computer-based curriculum application modules called “Exploring Physics” were developed through this grant and have just become available for instructors and students.

“Knowledge of science has changed dramatically in the past hundred years,” Chandrasekhar said. “Even the order in which classes are presented to students has been studied and evaluated. Biology has morphed into a technical, molecular study that combines elements of both chemistry and physics, so it’s logical that teaching physics first may have more of an impact. Through this grant, we were able to analyze and develop the practical tools science teachers can use in the classroom to help inspire students to higher accomplishments in STEM courses.”

The “A TIME for Physics First” Program is a collaboration among the University of Missouri and 37 school districts in Missouri, and other local colleges and organizations. The NSF Math-Science Partnership Institutes grant funded a teacher development program for 80 ninth-grade science teachers and provided summer academies and year-round support to enhance their physics knowledge and teaching methods. Development of an inquiry- and modeling based experiential physics curriculum that could be used in the classroom, and the transformation of the paper-and-pencil curriculum to digital format, spearheaded by Chandrasekhar and Dorina Kosztin, teaching professor and associate chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Science at MU, were an integral part of the grant.

“In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, about 84,000 ninth-graders took physics nationwide,” Chandrasekhar said. “Missouri students accounted for about 13,000 of them, of whom about 10,000 had been enrolled in MU’s Physics First Program.” The first group of students who took physics first entered college in 2013. While no data exist to document their success at the college level, it is already apparent that improvements are being made.

Chandrasekhar and her team examined student learning and technology self-efficacy gains among MU education majors in a physics course using the mobile-based Exploring Physics curriculum, which they developed through the NSF grant. Deepika Menon, a doctoral candidate in curriculum and instruction at MU, compared students using mobile curricula against those using more traditional science workbooks. She found that students using tablet-based technologies were more confident of using technology in their future classrooms.

“The Exploring Physics curriculum app, which was developed with the support of the National Science Foundation and in partnership with Werkz Publishing, is a wonderful resource for our partner districts and instructors,” Chandrasekhar said. “The mobile app was developed to provide teaching resources to instructors that address key physics concepts such as motion, forces, energy, electricity and waves. Based on pedagogies developed and refined through the grant, we’ve tested the curriculum on more than 10,000 students and over 100 teachers. Exploring Physics is an interactive curriculum where students can view animations, work with simulations, conduct labs, enter data, make graphs and drawings and then submit their work electronically for grading. The app allows students to learn anytime and anywhere without needing the internet continuously.”

Their presentation, “Examining the affordances of a mobile-based physical science curriculum for teaching and learning,” was given in July 2015 at the American Association of Physics Teachers Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Their work was funded by the National Science Foundation (DUE 0928924). The content of the Exploring Physics curriculum is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Editor’s Note: For more information, including a list of publications associated with this grant, please visit

For a list of the 39 partner districts, please visit

For information on the Exploring Physics Curriculum App, please visit: