APS News

Physics Departments Endorse Statement on Education of Teachers

By Susan Ginsberg

Approximately 250 US physics departments have endorsed a joint APS/AIP/AAPT statement that calls for the active involvement of physics departments in improving the science education of future K-12 teachers.

The executive officers of APS, AIP and AAPT sent a letter to physics department chairs last spring and again this fall to ask for endorsement of the statement, first issued in 1999. The response has been much stronger than expected.

APS, AIP and AAPT plan to post the list of endorsing institutions on their websites and send the list to the NSF. "This has been an amazing outpouring of support," says Judy Franz, Executive Officer of APS. "It's easy to sign a statement saying that K-12 pre-service education is important; it's quite another for a physics department to get behind a statement saying that the department itself accepts direct responsibility to make the change."

As APS News goes to press, two hundred and forty physics departments, ranging alphabetically from Albertson College of Idaho to Youngstown State University, have endorsed the 1999 statement. "This sort of activity is a natural outgrowth of what we're already doing in my department," says Jon Bagger, Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "In addition to major efforts through QuarkNet, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the FUSE Satellite, many of our individual faculty members make outreach a part of their work." Bagger believes that the location of his school has in large part prompted their efforts, " Johns Hopkins is located in the middle of a tremendously underserved community, and it's our responsibility to find ways to empower the next generation of scientists." Stanford University also endorsed the joint statement. Doug Osheroff, Chair of the Physics Department, says that his department did so because "the statement suggests a mechanism for improving the science education of K-12 teachers so that they will feel more comfortable with questions from students, and appreciate the motivation of the students asking them."

The Stanford Physics Department is in the process of creating a BA program in physics to provide a broad science education for students destined to be either K-12 teachers, science writers, or go into some other profession requiring a strong background in the physical sciences.

"It is essential that these students leave Stanford with an understanding of a body of knowledge of science and an understanding of what physical research is all about and how it is carried out," says Osheroff.

But despite their commitment to K-12 education, some schools are wary of increasing faculty responsibilities. At the University of Pennsylvania, the Department of Physics and Astronomy is acutely aware of the time-crunch placed on their young faculty. "We ask them to do top-notch research and to teach top-notch undergraduate and graduate courses. It's tough to make pre-service teaching arequirement as well," says Tom Lubensky, Chair of the University of Pennsylvania Physics Department.

Lubensky further points out that good K-12 training requires a large investment in time and money from the local school districts, "and we just don't have that here currently." He says that it will not be easy to implement programs that go beyond current ones, which include participation in QuarkNet and a very successful Penn Summer Science Academy for high school students, which for the past two summers has employed local high school teachers.

Lubensky's department endorsed the statement, although he cautions, "It's going to take more than signing documents to fix the K-12 system." The text of the joint statement follows:

AIP-MEMBER SOCIETY STATEMENT ON THE EDUCATION OF FUTURE TEACHERS (Adopted by the APS Council, 21 May 1999)

The scientific societies listed below urge the physics community, specifically physical science and engineering departments and their faculty members, to take an active role
in improving the pre-service training of K-12 physics/science teachers.

Improving teacher training involves building cooperative working relationships between physicists in universities and colleges and the individuals and groups involved in teaching physics to K-12 students.

Strengthening the science education of future teachers addresses the pressing national need for improving K-12 physics education and recognizes that these teachers play a critical education role as the first and often-times last physics teacher for most students. 

While this responsibility can be manifested in many ways, research indicates that effective pre-service teacher education involves hands-on, laboratory-based learning. Good science and mathematics education will help create a scientifically literate public, capable of making informed decisions on public policy
involving scientific matters.

A strong K-12 physics education is also the first step in producing the next generation of researchers, innovators, and technical workers.

American Physical Society
American Association for Physics Teachers
American Astronomical Society
American Institute of Physics
Acoustical Society of America
American Association of Physicists in Medicine
American Vacuum Society


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