APS News

APS and AAPT Launch The Campaign for Physics

The APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) have officially launched the jointly sponsored Campaign for Physics to raise $5 million in support of science education reform. The Campaign, which has raised over $3.2 million in its pre-announcement stage from corporations, private foundations and individuals, seeks to improve the teaching, learning and application of the physical sciences from kindergarten through graduate school. APS and AAPT leadership feel that the Campaign offers an excellent opportunity for physics researchers and educators to join together to make a significant contribution to the improvement of science education in the U.S.

"Rapid technological advancement, shifting economic conditions and growing global interdependence require a work force that is flexible and well-educated," said William Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Company and honorary chair of the Campaign. He estimates that nearly three-quarters of the new jobs for U.S. workers over the next decade will be in technology and will require creative and analytical thinking skills. "Without improved science education, the nation is at risk of raising a new generation that is unable to function effectively in a world where scientific understanding is essential to economic competitiveness and national security," he said.

In a recent national survey of elementary and middle school teachers, 85 percent said that they did not feel adequately prepared to teach the physical sciences. And while there are many excellent, tested curricular materials available to support them, many of the teachers who need them are not aware of their existence. Because of disappointing classroom experiences in science, many students avoid taking it when given an option. But even those who become science majors in college are often ill- prepared to meet job demands when they graduate, due to training that is insufficiently matched to today's workplace needs.

Scientists, whether employed in industry or academia, can play an immensely important role in making sure America's children are better educated in science, according to APS Past President Burton Richter (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center). "Our special talents and expertise complement those of science educators," he said. "Together we can bring about the kind of positive change that will have enduring benefits to our society."

According to Nicolaas Bloembergen, chair of the Campaign's Administrative Group, The Campaign for Physics consists of five initiatives designed to support the teacher, engage the student, involve the scientist, and build a support structure among business, academia and government that will foster ongoing cooperation. The Physics Teacher Resource Agent (PTRA) Program and Minority Scholarships for Undergraduate Physics Majors were chosen for their proven effectiveness. The Teacher-Scientist Alliance Institute, Physical Science Resource Center and Academic-Industrial Government Roundtable Program were added to address unmet needs.

The Teacher-Scientist Alliance Institute trains research scientists from local universities, laboratories and corporations to collaborate with K-12 teachers in school districts that are committed to science education reform at a system-wide level. The program has been carefully developed with the input of national science leaders and education reform experts. "Volunteer scientists are trained to work directly with a school system's science curriculum planning and strategy specialists, to help organize and participate in teacher in-service training workshops, and to learn how to become effective advocates for systemic science education reform in the communities where they live and work," said Ramon Lopez, APS director of education and outreach programs.

Ann Bedford, an interdisciplinary specialist and science teacher for Maryland's Montgomery County Public Schools, believes strongly in the importance of involving research scientists in education reform efforts. "I consider it essential to be able to work with trained scientists who can provide support as we introduce into our classrooms the kind of hands-on science that engages students and provides all children with the opportunity to succeed in science," she said.

Launched in 1985 with pilot funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the PTRA Program prepares experienced, well-qualified physics and physical science teachers to mentor less-experienced teachers at the middle and high school levels. Four hundred teachers have received PTRA training through a series of in-service workshops, and these in turn have influenced the work of another 60,000 science teachers. "Because the PTRA program is tremendously effective, it can provide encouragement to local school system administrators to consider more comprehensive science education reform based on the Teacher-Scientist Alliance Institute model," said Bernard Khoury, AAPT executive officer.

A crucial component to the Campaign's teacher support and mentoring programs is the proposed Physical Science Resource Center, envisioned as the first central collection of the best in physical science teaching technologies, materials and procedures. It will catalogue and disseminate this information using electronic and print communications in order to create a national resource link among teachers, scientists and curriculum specialists. The center will be professionally staffed and housed at the American Center for Physics, the headquarters for APS and AAPT as well as other physics-related organizations, located in College Park, Maryland.

The APS Minority Scholarship Program for Undergraduate Physics Majors was established in 1980 to provide encouragement and financial support to talented minority students interested in majoring in physics, but lacking role models and financial assistance. Nearly half of the 289 recipients have earned an undergraduate degrees in physics, and 20 percent have gone on to pursue Ph.D.s. Over 300 scolarships have been awarded to date. However, only about a third of qualified applicants can be supported with the program's current limited resources. Funds from the Campaign will be allocated to increase the number of scholarships that can be awarded.

The program's success lies in its coupling of financial support with a mentoring system. Each student is paired with an established physicist who acts as the student's advisor, which many recipients find as valuable as the scholarship. "I sought out the APS scholarship program because I needed money," said scholarship recipient Nicholas Scott, who attended the New York Institute of Technology. "But the relationship I have developed with the mentor they assigned me has made the big difference. Without his advice, I would not have applied to graduate school right now."

Finally, the Academic-Industrial-Government Roundtable Program seeks to inspire the kind of dynamic collaborations in new regions of the nation that gave rise to Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle. The roundtables serve as forums for communication between academia, industry and government to promote local economic development, and to facilitate academic-industry cooperation that will ensure that graduating scientists emerge better- equipped to meet today's industrial needs, thus strengthening and expanding employment possibilities.

The first roundtable was held at the University of Virginia in May 1994; the second at California State University in San Bernardino in April 1995; and a third will be held early next year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Encouraged by the substantive outcomes of these initial roundtables, the APS hopes to carry out as many as 15 more roundtables across the country over the next few years.

"The Campaign for Physics' initiatives are based on collaborative action, and their success will depend on the collective commitment of the 50,000 APS and AAPT members, of national, state and local educators, and of the industrial and civic communities," said John Armstrong, who chairs the Individual Gift segment of the Campaign. "I believe strongly in the essential need for scientific literacy for the future of our nation. The Campaign represents a timely and worthy opportunity for us to strengthen the future of the profession that has nurtured our scientific pursuits and contributed so much to our country's technological innovations and strength."

In officially announcing the Campaign's kickoff at the November APS Council meeting, current APS President C. Kumar N. Patel said, "I am honored to lead APS as it launches this collaborative enterprise of such critical importance and long-term potential benefit to the scientific and industrial community of tomorrow."

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Barrett H. Ripin