In this paper, we center the idea of having proud moments, or feelings of proudness, in physics contexts. First, we outline the idea, list design principles, and explore connections between these principles. Then, we give a concrete example of how students and faculty can work together to enhance proud moments in an already-existing introductory college physics course. Our particular example focuses on a typical moment in physics classrooms: when small groups share their work with the entire class.

As educators, we want students to have moments where they feel really good about their learning and accomplishments—moments where their faces are beaming, where they can’t wait to tell family or friends the story, moments that they can recall years later. We refer to this general idea as “proudness” (rather than “pride”) to highlight the complexity of the idea and the importance of unpacking its meaning.

… we define ideal proudness moments—the moments that we are trying to work toward—as places where we grow together, face frustration, work through it, share with our communities, and get excited about how hard work can result in meaningful accomplishment.

Angela (Angie) Little is currently learning how to become a sustainable farmer in Chicago. Sustainable farming can provide a touchstone example of what we mean by “proudness.” Angie works with a program with a stated goal of increasing equitable food systems. Like an ideal classroom, an ideal sustainable farm is a community of people learning and working together. Angie and her farming team recently had a proudness moment. After spending months tending to the soil, planting, watering, and weeding—through rain and snow—they harvested many pounds of lettuce mix to sell to a wholesaler. The team felt really good. To celebrate, they took a photo in front of the many crates full of lettuce and posted it to social media. Angie also got to tell friends and family that if they bought lettuce in Chicago, it might have come from her team’s farm. Classrooms, too, can build these kinds of moments. This is what we mean by proudness.

One benefit of using the word proudness is that it can help us distinguish the idea from negative connotations around the word proud in U.S. culture. People colloquially use the word proud in both positive and negative ways. Positive examples include phrases like “I’m proud of my kid” or its use in LGBTQ+ “Pride” parades. Negative examples include phrases like “he’s so haughty and prideful” or “pride comes before the fall.” As in the farm example, above, we define ideal proudness moments—the moments that we are trying to work toward—as places where we grow together, face frustration, work through it, share with our communities, and get excited about how hard work can result in meaningful accomplishment.

This paper builds on years of workshops with hundreds of students and educators. We first examine proudness, outline a set of proudness design principles, and then describe how the idea of proudness has many connections to the STEM education research literature. In the second half of the paper, we give a concrete application of how students and faculty can work together to improve a specific physics classroom setting. The setting is an active-learning introductory physics course at Chicago State University. The course uses Learning Assistants (LAs)—undergraduates who support their peers, collaborate with faculty, and receive pedagogy training.1 

Ultimately, we hope this paper will support other educators and students in developing more proudness moments in educational experiences. We see the proudness principles as a particularly exciting tool for student–educator partnerships in classroom design.

If you ask a group of people to describe moments where they have felt proud or “really good emotions”—within physics and outside of it—you’ll find a rich variety of examples as well as a number of common themes. To provide one physics example: Angie can still recall a moment from an undergraduate physics course she took nearly 20 years ago. She said, “I can remember a particularly difficult problem involving conservation of momentum. I stayed after class with my friend to figure it out, working together on a whiteboard. It took us hours, but eventually we managed to show that momentum was conserved. We danced around to celebrate. And we wrote in large letters on the whiteboard: ‘MOMENTUM IS CONSERVED!!!!’ and left the whiteboard with our work outside of our professor’s office door.” There is something special about these moments of struggle, success, and celebration.

To draw attention to the variation across examples and the need to examine the multiple meanings of how we use words like “proud,” we use the word “proudness” to refer to this broad swath of experience. By drawing out proudness themes or principles, students and instructors can reflect on how learning environments can be better designed for success.

The following proudness principles have been developed from discussions with hundreds of educators and students about proud moments. In our proudness workshops, we typically ask participants to share examples of proud moments, notice patterns across those moments, and then name actionable design principles to increase the likelihood of proud moments in science courses. These principles come up remarkably consistently across our workshops as highlighted here:

Challenging Achievement: The task must feel “hard” and/or outside of one’s comfort zone. It “feels like you earned it” is a phrase we’ve heard from some workshop participants.

Improvement: Opportunities are provided for iterative improvement of one’s work, understanding, and skills.

Reflection: Structures and moments to pause and notice success and improvement are important. This could look like keeping early drafts of one’s work to compare them to later drafts. If a person is trying to jump higher during volleyball practice, it could look like keeping marks on the wall of the heights that one was able to jump.

Tangible: The work ultimately culminates in something tangible (e.g., a poster, art project, computer program, mastery sheet, or spreadsheet).

Personal Alignment: The work feels aligned with a person’s life goals, interests, and/or way of being. This could mean that the work is connected to someone’s career goals in a meaningful way. It could also mean a connection to their particular interest in a topic such as gravity. It could mean that a person’s identity as “creative” or “connected to my family” is part of the work. These identities may be connected to larger cultural communities one belongs to. In addition, it is sometimes the case that personal alignment comes from trying something new and discovering enjoyment along the way.2 

Responsibility: One feels that they are personally responsible for the work being done. There may be collaboration, but each individual feels a sense of “I am in charge of” or “we are in charge of” something important. This would stand in opposition to a frequent problem with group projects where one person may not feel like they have “really contributed.”

Community: Interpersonal interactions of a certain type are key to proudness. We describe four types of community interactions that arose most frequently in workshop participants’ examples:

  • Constructive Feedback: Constructive feedback is given by people in a person’s community (peers, mentors, or mentees). It is important to note that it is difficult to receive constructive feedback unless people are comfortable asking questions and showing their struggles. Therefore, a community where struggle is normalized is key.

  • Cheer Squad: People in one’s community provide encouragement and celebrate one another’s work along the way. Although a person can feel proud of things they do alone, proudness stories often involve celebration with other people. A friend might say something like, “Wow, that’s really cool!” or “I know this is hard, keep going!” In particular, a cheer squad of peers was frequently mentioned.

  • Public and Positive Sharing: People engage in a person’s work publicly and positively (e.g., in a class, department-wide event, or at a conference). Proud moments are often described as interactions with experts, for instance, a faculty member “expert in climate science” who engages with a student’s climate science poster in a meaningful way.

  • Giving Back: A person’s work helps other people. Teaching and tutoring are frequently mentioned in proudness examples.

Proudness principles are interrelated in many ways. We created Fig. 1 to give one possible representation of some of the connections.

Fig. 1.

In this diagram, Challenging Achievement and Improvement are central to proudness. Other proudness principles provide foundation or amplification to these central elements.

Fig. 1.

In this diagram, Challenging Achievement and Improvement are central to proudness. Other proudness principles provide foundation or amplification to these central elements.

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Recent Chicago State graduate Gregory (Greg) Curry has an example from his experience gaming with friends that illustrates the interconnections found in the diagram. Specifically, he notes Improvement and Reflection, feeding into a Challenging Achievement. Greg said, “In gaming, specifically fighting games, it’s not uncommon for people to sit there and practice a combo3 for hours at a time, but not be able to do it immediately in an actual match. So, when you pull it off in a match, especially against a real person, it feels really good. And that’s a proudness moment.” Greg noticed that an important part of achieving this moment also involved recording and watching his matches (part of Improvement and Reflection): “It’s not uncommon for a gamer to look at recordings of your matches to see what you did wrong and where, so when you do another match you can make sure that doesn’t happen. Going back and watching the footage is something I do a lot.” Greg described how he was able to see his improvement on one specific game with a friend: “I have a friend who’s better than me and he was egging me on to beat him. I couldn’t beat him at first, so I’d go and practice against a bot until I could. Once I got the first win it was like ‘ayye that’s nice, but now you have to do it more often.’ Now we’re more on even footing, not just him consistently beating me, but more of us beating each other.” In this last part of the story, we also see the foundation of community in Greg’s example. His friend egging him on could be considered part of a Cheer Squad, and his accomplishment was a moment of Public and Positive Sharing.

It is important to note the larger social and cultural context within which educators and students are designing for proudness. The classroom community has the potential to bolster or dampen proudness moments. One can feel proud on a spectrum from “in spite of” to “because of” an educational experience. In our context, recent Chicago State graduate Jamia Whitehorn describes three components of her experience at Chicago State that influence our design work toward proudness: “the first component is … smaller classrooms make it more accessible for students and professors to build personable and positive relationships … the second component is that minority students have the chance to be surrounded by people who share similar appearances and cultural values.” And, “the third component that makes Chicago State special is its close-knit sense of community.” Chicago State University is a Predominantly Black Institution (PBI). Additional information about Chicago State can be found in our Appendix.4 

We must always be working against racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, classism, ableism, and xenophobia and the ways that they are embedded in structures and interpersonal interactions. There have been important calls to action for physics educators to engage in explicit conversations with each other and with students around topics in social justice.5,6 When educators and students work to limit the ways that students experience harm in the classroom, proudness moments will be as meaningful and impactful as they can be.

Part of why we, and other physics educators,7,8 are drawn to proudness is that it brings together many ideas from the STEM education literature under one umbrella in a meaningful way. There are many possible connections to make between the STEM education research literature and proudness. These are only a selection, and some additional connections can be found in the Appendix.4 

The principles of Tangible and Public and Positive Sharing can be seen as part of constructionism, a learning theory that suggests that learning happens particularly well “in a context where a learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity.”9 

The principle of Public and Positive Sharing can be seen as related to work on science identity, physics identity, and racialized physics identity as involving performance and recognition.10–13 

The construct of self-efficacy is also deeply linked to proudness.14 For instance, mastery experiences—achieving a task successfully—can often be sites of proud moments. Mastery experiences are a key element of building self-efficacy, something we know is critical to STEM major success.15–18 

Aspects of Personal Alignment and Community–Giving Back relate to the importance of STEM experiences that feel deeply aligned with students’ cultures and identities. For instance, Page-Reeves et al. describe the founding of the American Indian Sciences and Engineering Society as beginning with “the vision of its founders in the 1970s that science education could be a path leading to enhanced capacity of Native communities for sovereignty and self-determination.” They note that a common theme in Native American students’ pathways in STEM higher education includes the “repurposing of STEM content knowledge to (re)connect with culturally defined values and goals,” which often includes giving back to one’s home communities.19 Class projects that invite students to give back to communities that they care about can be particularly meaningful for students.

Now that we have described the overall idea of proudness, we turn to a specific application of the design principles. Physics classes are complex, with many elements, and there are a number of proudness principles to consider. How did our group of students and faculty come together to use the proudness principles to propose a concrete change to an introductory physics class?

Our first step was to set up a 2-hour meeting between faculty and students. Mel Sabella is an instructor for the introductory Physics II course at Chicago State University. This is an active learning course on electricity and magnetism and optics. Angie Little played the role of facilitator of the proudness design conversation. Mel and Angie invited three students—Greg Curry, Ember Smith, and Jamia Whitehorn—who all had relevant experience in science education research. First, all of us read Angie’s 2015 overview of the proudness idea.7 We then engaged in a discussion where:

  1. We talked through the proudness principles to make sure that we had a shared understanding. We added to and clarified the 2015 version of the principles, resulting in the description of the principles outlined in this paper.

  2. We asked Mel, the course instructor, and Ember, who had taken his class, to describe a standard class day. We asked them to list typical activities the class engages in along with methods of assessment. We also asked them both—particularly Ember, from her student perspective—to list where small proudness moments might be happening already. We decided to work on enhancing places where proudness moments were already existing for some students.

  3. After identifying small proudness moments, we asked the following questions about the ones we listed:

    • What are more details about the activity (Who? What? When? Where?)

    • How often did students experience this moment?

    • Were there other students or faculty involved in what made it a proudness moment?

    • Did all students in the class experience this kind of proudness moment the same amount?

  4. After identifying a proudness moment that we were interested in—in our case, moments where students presented work from their small groups to the class—we took some think–pair–share time. We asked ourselves: are there two to three proudness principles that could help us enhance this small proudness moment?

By the end of the 2-hour meeting, we had identified an area we would try to enhance. We also had some beginning ideas of how to use the proudness principles to enhance it. We all spent additional time to finalize the ideas represented in this paper. In the next sections, we selectively walk the reader through our conversation that day and give our finalized idea for course improvement.

Students in Mel’s introductory Physics II class were sometimes asked to go to the whiteboard in front of the whole class and solve problems (see Fig. 2). This would usually occur after small groups had worked on a problem. One person from each group would go up to the whiteboard to write out their solution. Their fellow groupmates would assist them when they saw an error or a possible improvement to their answer.

Fig. 2.

Students in Mel’s introductory Physics II class go to the whiteboard.

Fig. 2.

Students in Mel’s introductory Physics II class go to the whiteboard.

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This experience could be a little intimidating to some students since they might not feel confident in their answer. We identified these whiteboard activities as sometimes resulting in proudness moments. Students can showcase their knowledge in front of their peers, learning assistant, and professor. They can feel proud of themselves because they faced something that can be scary—talking in front of the class. They can feel proud of themselves when they achieve success in solving a problem. These moments can bring a warm and joyous feeling.

This particular classroom whiteboard moment leaves room for improvement with respect to proudness. We identified that not all students went up to the whiteboard the same amount, and Ember described variation in her fellow students’ emotions. In addition, we recognized that the roles of each person in a small group were not technically established. Without particular roles in a group to help ensure that everyone achieves understanding, it is possible that some students can feel left behind. If such a student is asked to present, they may feel more intimidation and lack of confidence, and may be less likely to have a moment of proudness. For more information about the Physics II course, see the Appendix.4 

The proudness principles we drew on to make suggested improvements included: Cheer Squad, Tangible, and Public and Positive Sharing. In our context, there are also undergraduate LAs—students who took the course previously and partner with the professor to improve the classroom experience. The proposed changes are outlined on a semester timeline shown in Table 1.

Table I.
The semester-long plan to enhance proudness moments, broken down by week and proudness principle. The main goal that our group took on for course improvement is: every student will have an individual opportunity of presenting a difficult problem before the entire class at the whiteboard, such that they feel really good about it.
When? Proudness Principle Suggested Improvement
Week 2  Cheer Squads 

Have a Cheer Squad classroom discussion facilitated by the faculty member and LA.

The discussion would start with the central goal: that every student would present a difficult problem to the class at least once during the semester and feel good about it. Each small group in the classroom would be asked to consider themselves a “cheer squad” for one another when working through problems together. A conversation with the class would outline possible roles students could take on in their small groups. For instance, students could be the writer, the encourager, the helper, and the question asker, but aren’t limited to these. Students would be asked if other roles would be helpful, and what they would personally find encouraging. Each role’s job would be unique. The writer would focus on writing out the answers on the whiteboard, the encourager would be the moral support, and the helper could be skimming through a book or notes.

 
Weeks 2–4  Cheer Squads 

Students practice the Cheer Squad and receive feedback from the LA and instructor.

Students would assume distinct roles in their small groups and get to practice as a group. Students should also take turns switching between whatever roles are decided on.

Students would receive feedback from faculty and LAs on how to improve their skills as a group. This feedback should aim to strengthen the squad’s group dynamic and prepare them for a whole-class presentation at the whiteboard. By the end of week 4, most groups should have an understanding of how the cheer squad works and the responsibilities of each role.

A student’s small group/cheer squad would be a group that they establish a relationship with and develop trust. Developing this trust with a cheer squad provides structure and can alleviate apprehension and embarrassment. With this support, students will be more likely to have the confidence to share their answers and feel comfortable and excited to participate in these classroom-wide whiteboard sharing activities.

 
Weeks 5–12  Cheer Squads 

Students are given opportunities to present at the whiteboard to the entire class.

By week 5, students should be reasonably familiar with having roles and taking turns in different roles. Each student within each small group should go up to the board to present to the whole class at least once, supported by their cheer squad.

 
Weeks 5–12  Tangible; Public and Positive Sharing 

At the end of each student’s class-wide presentation, the whiteboard is digitally photographed (with its presenter if they would like) to be shared in multiple locations.

Once a student completes their work and it is correct on the whiteboard, they will have a photo taken and have the opportunity to showcase their work for others. The professor would validate this effort and hard work by having these images displayed in the Physics and Chemistry building hallway near the classrooms. The instructor will purchase some frames and students can decide to decorate their photos in any way they want to. In addition, the student’s work would be digitally displayed via Google Drive where others can access it for studying purposes.

 
When? Proudness Principle Suggested Improvement
Week 2  Cheer Squads 

Have a Cheer Squad classroom discussion facilitated by the faculty member and LA.

The discussion would start with the central goal: that every student would present a difficult problem to the class at least once during the semester and feel good about it. Each small group in the classroom would be asked to consider themselves a “cheer squad” for one another when working through problems together. A conversation with the class would outline possible roles students could take on in their small groups. For instance, students could be the writer, the encourager, the helper, and the question asker, but aren’t limited to these. Students would be asked if other roles would be helpful, and what they would personally find encouraging. Each role’s job would be unique. The writer would focus on writing out the answers on the whiteboard, the encourager would be the moral support, and the helper could be skimming through a book or notes.

 
Weeks 2–4  Cheer Squads 

Students practice the Cheer Squad and receive feedback from the LA and instructor.

Students would assume distinct roles in their small groups and get to practice as a group. Students should also take turns switching between whatever roles are decided on.

Students would receive feedback from faculty and LAs on how to improve their skills as a group. This feedback should aim to strengthen the squad’s group dynamic and prepare them for a whole-class presentation at the whiteboard. By the end of week 4, most groups should have an understanding of how the cheer squad works and the responsibilities of each role.

A student’s small group/cheer squad would be a group that they establish a relationship with and develop trust. Developing this trust with a cheer squad provides structure and can alleviate apprehension and embarrassment. With this support, students will be more likely to have the confidence to share their answers and feel comfortable and excited to participate in these classroom-wide whiteboard sharing activities.

 
Weeks 5–12  Cheer Squads 

Students are given opportunities to present at the whiteboard to the entire class.

By week 5, students should be reasonably familiar with having roles and taking turns in different roles. Each student within each small group should go up to the board to present to the whole class at least once, supported by their cheer squad.

 
Weeks 5–12  Tangible; Public and Positive Sharing 

At the end of each student’s class-wide presentation, the whiteboard is digitally photographed (with its presenter if they would like) to be shared in multiple locations.

Once a student completes their work and it is correct on the whiteboard, they will have a photo taken and have the opportunity to showcase their work for others. The professor would validate this effort and hard work by having these images displayed in the Physics and Chemistry building hallway near the classrooms. The instructor will purchase some frames and students can decide to decorate their photos in any way they want to. In addition, the student’s work would be digitally displayed via Google Drive where others can access it for studying purposes.

 

Our work on this paper originally started before the COVID-19 pandemic, paused for nearly a year, and finished as classes were still online. Our original idea for an in-person classroom is the central context of this paper, but we provide a recent example of bringing proudness into online instruction. The LA model provides scaffolding for LAs and faculty to work together and create effective, collaborative partnerships where they can co-think about different ways to engage students in the classroom.20,21

The weekly preparation sessions between the LA and course instructor are one place where they can think about how to incorporate proudness principles into the classroom. For instance, in their Spring 2021 Physics II course that was taught online, Mel and his LA, Mya, read through the 2015 proudness resource and brainstormed some new activities. They started the course with students introducing themselves and describing one thing they are proud of either from within or outside an academic setting. The idea of Public and Positive Sharing using a shared online space and Cheer Squads came up in Mel and Mya’s discussions, and they decided to leverage an online display board (Google Jamboard) that they called a Proudness Wall. During this early implementation, Mya and Mel served as the cheerleaders. They were attentive to students’ work and highlighted moments that they felt the students should be proud of. They encouraged students to recognize and post these examples on the Proudness Wall.

Proudness can lead to exciting course revisions, such as the ones we present here, but it can also permeate other aspects of student and instructor life. For instance, Greg recently leveraged the idea of proudness with a group of friends that is learning about coding in Python. Greg often finds himself motivating the group using proudness principles. Angie frequently brings proudness into her work managing teams, using spreadsheets to help people keep track of accomplishments that they can reflect on.

Leveraging student–faculty partnerships to improve courses can be beneficial as these partnerships bring in a rich set of experiences and expertise. One of the challenges of this collaborative work can be knowing where to start. The framework of proudness brings together a set of STEM educational research principles, creating a workable organizing structure to support co-construction.

We hope that others will join with us in research and programmatic work on proudness. There is much to explore in how to practically support proudness as well as its complex landscape—smaller vs. larger proudness moments, collective vs. individual proudness, the role of classroom culture in proudness, and much more.

Angie Little would like to acknowledge the Compass Project and Access Network communities in the development of her ideas around proudness, particularly Dr. Dimitri Dounas-Frazer, with whom she developed the original proudness workshop. She would also like to acknowledge all of her workshop participants over the years for their participation and willingness to share their great ideas. Mel Sabella would like to acknowledge the contributions of the Chicago State University STEM Education Research Team, which includes past and present members. He would also like to acknowledge Mya Powers-Nash, who served as an LA in Physics II. Andrea Van Duzor co-leads the Chicago State LA Program and the STEM Education Research effort at Chicago State, and her insights significantly influenced portions of this work. The authorship team would like to acknowledge those that gave us feedback on this article: Dr. Dimitri Dounas-Frazer, Ira Che Lassen, Andrea Wooley, and the ANSER Research Group at Michigan State University. This work is supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE# 1524829 and 1911341), the Illinois Space Grant Consortium, and the Department of Education.

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), DOI: .

Angela J. Little is a research academic specialist at Michigan State University and a beginning farmer based in Chicago, IL. She regularly collaborates with Chicago State on efforts to build supportive communities in STEM education. She is an organizer with the Society of Indigenous Physicists.

Gregory Curry graduated from Chicago State University with a degree in computer science. During his time at CSU, he was a learning assistant and researcher in STEM education, specifically on the topic of proudness. He currently works with the Center for STEM Education and Research at Chicago State.

Ember Smith graduated from Chicago State University with a degree in chemistry. During her time at CSU, she was a researcher in STEM education. She is now a cosmetic chemist working for Avlon Industries in R&D.

Jamia Whitehorn graduated from Chicago State University with a degree in chemistry. During her time at CSU, she was a researcher in STEM education. She received her master’s degree in biotechnology from Rush University and is now working on her PharmD at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

Mel S. Sabella is a professor of physics at Chicago State University and past president of AAPT. He is a co-founder of the Learning Assistant Program at CSU. He enjoys partnering with students to make education the best it can be.

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