By Gabriel Popkin
The APS-led Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) recently announced it would fund five additional universities to develop their physics teacher education programs into national models. The new awardees are California State University, Long Beach; Chicago State University; Middle Tennessee State University; Towson University; and the University of California, Davis.
The winning institutions were selected during a two-stage review process that began with a pool of 52 applicants, which were evaluated based on their capacity for large increases in the number of physics teachers graduating from their programs, as well as strong departmental and institutional support for teacher preparation efforts. The review panel included representatives of APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), which jointly manage the project, as well as external reviewers.
Funding for the awardees will begin this Fall and will last for three years. The new sites will join the thirteen institutions that have already received money from the project since it began in 2001. According to data collected by the project, many of these institutions have made significant gains in the number of high school physics teachers graduating from their programs. Several have been recognized as exemplary programs by the national Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics, which is in the process of completing its report on the state of physics teacher education in the US.
According to Theodore Hodapp, APS Director of Education and Diversity and PhysTEC project leader, PhysTEC sites have achieved success by increasing teacher recruiting efforts; hiring master teachers to work within physics departments; developing early teaching experiences; revamping content and pedagogy courses; and developing collaborative relationships between physics departments, education schools, and local school districts. Hodapp says, “Through its work with the funded sites, the project has identified a number of key components that we feel drive success in teacher preparation, and we expect our new sites to adopt these pieces as they move forward. We were impressed that so many applicants were clearly aware of these best practices.”
The site selection committee also considered applicants’ ability to address recognized demographic and geographic shortages of qualified physics teachers. “We are excited that two of our new sites–Chicago State and Cal State-Long Beach—serve large minority populations that traditionally have not had access to a high-quality physics education,” says Hodapp. “Very few under-represented minorities become physics teachers, and this lack of role models in physics is a significant contributing factor to the low number of physics degrees awarded to under-represented minorities in the US.”
Mel Sabella, project leader at Chicago State University (CSU) echoes this sentiment. “Chicago State is a minority-serving institution, and PhysTEC will allow us to support Chicago Public Schools in increasing the diversity of its physics teacher workforce. Students at CSU have a strong desire to positively impact the community from which they come, and we believe pursuing a teaching career in a high needs area is one of the best ways to do so.”
The new PhysTEC sites will also benefit from existing large-scale efforts to prepare more science and math teachers, according to project leaders. The chancellor of the University System of Maryland, of which Towson is a part, has called for the system to triple the number of science and math teachers it graduates; UC Davis is part of the state-wide CalTeach effort to prepare more science and math teachers; and Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) recently became a replication site of the UTeach program that began at the University of Texas at Austin.
“The state of Tennessee graduates fewer than 5 teachers with physics degrees each year, and our university, with the help of PhysTEC, is well positioned to significantly increase the number of qualified physics teachers,” says Ron Henderson, project leader at MTSU. “The Physics Department shares our president’s ambition of becoming the institution graduating the most secondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers in the state.”
PhysTEC is now funded by a five-year, $6.5-million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation in Fall 2009, as well as APS’s 21st Century Campaign.