News Release

UNF awarded NSF grant to help college students studying physics and chemistry

Grant and Award Announcement

University of North Florida

Jacksonville, Fla. – Dr. John “Caleb” Speirs, University of North Florida physics assistant professor, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant to develop tools to assist college students with conceptual, integrated and functional understanding of concepts in STEM courses. The grant is awarded to UNF in collaboration with North Dakota State University, Penn State (Greater Allegheny), and University of Maine.

Despite decades of sustained efforts by education researchers to improve student learning of physics and chemistry by developing and implementing research-based instructional materials, emerging evidence suggests that students who demonstrate correct conceptual understanding and reasoning on one task often fail to use the same knowledge and skills on related tasks.

This project will employ innovative assessment methodologies to gain deeper insight into students’ critical thinking skills so that instructors can optimize their courses to promote effective reasoning. Speirs will work to develop online reasoning chain construction assessment (ORCCA) tools that may be flexibly incorporated into collegiate physics and chemistry courses.

The ORCCA tools present students with reasoning elements and challenge them to assemble the elements into an argument to answer a target question that would often elicit incorrect intuitive responses. By assembling the elements into an argument, students learn how to successfully integrate their intuitive ideas into formal physics and chemistry knowledge.  

About University of North Florida

The University of North Florida is a nationally ranked university located on a beautiful 1,381-acre campus in Jacksonville surrounded by nature. Serving 17,000 students, UNF features six colleges of distinction with innovative programs in high-demand fields. UNF students receive individualized attention from faculty and gain valuable real-world experience engaging with community partners. A top public university, UNF prepares students to make a difference in Florida and around the globe. Learn more at



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