APS News

Four Funded Sites Join APS Teacher Education Project

By Gabriel Popkin

The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project recently announced it would provide funding for four universities to develop their physics teacher education programs. The new awardees are Boston University; California State University, San Marcos; State University of New York at Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo); and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech.

The winning institutions were selected during a two-stage review process that began with a pool of 70 applicants. Proposals were evaluated on a number of criteria, including sites' ability to develop their programs into national models, the strength of departmental and institutional support for teacher preparation efforts, and the experience and commitment shown by the proposing teams. The review panel included representatives of APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), which jointly lead the project, as well as external reviewers.

The new awardees will begin major project activities in Fall 2011 and will receive funding for three years. They will join the eighteen institutions that have already received awards from the project since it began in 2001. According to data collected by the project, most of these institutions have made significant gains in the number of high school physics teachers graduating from their programs. PhysTEC sites are expected to increase teacher recruiting efforts; hire master teachers to work within physics departments; develop early teaching experiences; revamp content and pedagogy courses; improve advising and mentoring; and develop collaborative relationships between physics departments, education schools, and local school districts.

According to Theodore Hodapp, Director of Education and Diversity at APS and PhysTEC project director, this year's crop of new sites shows exceptional institutional commitment to making their programs sustainable. "We fund sites for three years, enough to get their programs off the ground," said Hodapp, "but we expect them to show us up front how they will sustain things in the future. We're confident that this year's sites will be able to keep their programs running after PhysTEC funding ends."

Hodapp also noted that the universities joining the project increase the geographic diversity of the project's sites. "We have found that most PhysTEC teachers tend to find jobs close to the universities they graduate from, so it is important that the project be represented in as many parts of the country as possible. We now have our first site in New England and our first in the Appalachian region."

Beate Schmittmann, physics department chair and project leader at Virginia Tech, agrees that her department is poised to address regional needs for physics teachers. "We know that physics is significantly less available to students in smaller high schools, and most of the schools in our region are relatively small, with 300 seniors or fewer," said Schmittmann. "We felt that we would be able to impact both the rural parts of the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as the more urban areas where some of our alumni are teaching."

Monica Plisch, Assistant Director of Education at APS and PhysTEC project co-director, also noted that the new sites include several types of institutions that are underrepresented within the project. "SUNY Geneseo is a bachelor's degree-granting physics department, of which we have very few, despite the fact that they educate over 40% of physics majors in the country. And Cal State San Marcos is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which is important as we work to increase the diversity of the physics teacher corps."

In addition to funding new sites, the project has made a one-time award to a team proposing a video project illustrating interactions between undergraduate peer instructors, called Learning Assistants, and students whom they work with. This project will be led jointly by researchers and faculty members from Seattle Pacific University and Florida International University, both universities that have received PhysTEC funding in the past. "This video project is a new concept for PhysTEC, and we feel it has potential to improve courses for future teachers around the country," said Plisch.

PhysTEC is funded by a five-year, $6.5-million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation in Fall 2009, as well as APS 21st Century Campaign.

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Editor: Alan Chodos