APS News

Focus on Committees

Committee Works on Improving Education

Robert Beck Clark
Robert Beck Clark
Education and outreach are among the Society's most important areas of activity. A central role is played by the Committee on Education, which advises the APS Department of Education and Outreach, provides a source of new ideas to improve physics education in America.

The COE works not only in all areas of graduate and undergraduate physics education, but also tries to increase cooperation between the education and physics communities. One of their key initiatives in this area is the support and development of the Physics Teachers Education Coalition (PhysTEC), which aims to bring physics and education faculty together to improve the science education of future K-12 teachers.

This initiative, spearheaded by the APS under the leadership of Director of Education Fred Stein, is a joint effort with the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers, and is funded by both the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education (see APS News, October 2002).

"Another important role of the COE," said committee chair Robert Beck Clark, a physics professor at Brigham Young University and Texas A&M, "has been the pre-paration of statements on educational matters for consideration of the APS council to represent the official APS position on these issues."

Their most recent statement was created to help physics students explain to others what they're doing, and why.

"We rather often have parents call up and say that their child wants to be a physicist, but they don't have any idea what that means," said APS staff liaison Sue Otwell.

The statement, "Why Study Physics?" is designed to help everyone answer that question.

Other APS policy statements sponsored by the COE include the APS Statement on Research in Physics Education and Policy Statement on Student Assessment and Accountability. They are currently working on a new statement, "Physics for Everyone," with the APS Panel on Public Affairs.

"The COE also actively monitors educational developments of interest to the physics community," said Clark. Examples include the state of federal funding for science and mathematics education; the recent National Research Council (NRC) report on the role of advanced placement physics programs; and the current national initiative to encourage the study of physics earlier in secondary education.

"The traditional sequence has been biology, chemistry and then physics," said Otwell, "but that's starting to change."

The committee usually has nine members, six of whom are appointed by the President-Elect to staggered three-year terms. The other three slots are filled by the Chair, Past-Chair and Chair-Elect from the Forum on Education, which works closely with the Committee.

The COE has supported the APS Department of Education and Outreach in its efforts to undertake innovative activities and initiatives. One such is the 2003 Conference on "Physics on the Road", which took place in February in Fort Collins, Colorado.

"This conference," said Clark, "brought together the leaders of a variety of successful traveling physics programs conducted by university physics departments that share the excitement of physics with children in their geographical regions."

Future COE plans include continuing to work on a proposed future APS education award to reward excellence in educators, as well as considering the thorny issues of program accreditation and review.

—Pamela Zerbinos


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