APS News

Conference Connects Physics Teacher Educators

By Gabriel Popkin

Photo: Ted Hodapp

Former APS President Helen Quinn (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center), Stamatis Vokos (Seattle Pacific University), and Valerie Otero (University of Colorado at Boulder) have an animated discussion between PTEC conference sessions.
The fourth annual Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PTEC) Conference took place Austin, Texas, on February 29th and March 1st. This conference provides a once-a-year opportunity for physics teacher educators to connect with a community of people who share a commitment to improving physics and physical science teacher education. PTEC is a project of APS, AIP, and AAPT to organize a coalition of universities, colleges, and national labs that support physics department engagement in teacher education. Over 100 institutions have joined PTEC.

For the second straight year, the conference attracted a capacity crowd of around 120 physics and education faculty, administrators, teachers, and students, who soaked up two packed days of one-and-a-half-hour workshops led by national experts on master teachers, assessment and evaluation, curriculum and teaching methods, and institutional partnerships. Among the best-attended sessions were the workshop on interactive pedagogy, “Are you really teaching if no one is learning?”, conducted by Ed Prather of the University of Arizona, and the workshop on “Student Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Program (SCALE-UP),” led by Bob Beichner of North Carolina State. Also popular was a full-day workshop at the University of Texas at Austin on UTeach, one of the best-known and most successful science teacher preparation programs, which is now being replicated at thirteen universities around the country through grants from the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI).

Along with workshops and plenary sessions, the conference provided an opportunity for members of the physics education community to build bridges with colleagues in other disciplines and with university administrators. Representatives from the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, the American Chemical Society, and Math for America attended the conference and organized several conversations and planning sessions for future multi-disciplinary initiatives in science and math teacher education.

Conference attendees were overwhelmingly positive about the program, commenting that the meeting’s compact size and intense focus created a particularly rich environment for teaching, learning, and networking. Valerie Otero, a University of Colorado Education Professor, remarked on the collegial atmosphere. “There were no ‘knowers’, only learners. The problem of preparing qualified physics teachers is so hard that everyone is looking for someone who knows the answer,” she said.

The 2009 PTEC Conference, with the theme “Institutional Change,” will take place in Pittsburgh on March 13th and 14th, preceding the APS March Meeting. Another topical workshop similar to last fall’s Learning Assistant workshop (reported in the February APS News) is also being planned, and the project will to continue to  reach out to the physics community through booths at future APS and AAPT meetings, as well as a scholarly book on teacher preparation, to be published in 2009. Project leader and APS Director of Education Ted Hodapp says, “At a time when policy makers are requiring more students to take physics in our nation’s already understaffed classrooms, it is critical that we turn the excitement and momentum from the PTEC Conference into action, and results.”

For full proceedings of the conference, please go to the PTEC Conference web site.  

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff