By Bushraa Khatib
Attendees of the eighth annual Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) conference held February 3-4 in Ontario, California learned that the project’s successes have crossed disciplines and inspired the American Chemical Society to launch a parallel initiative, the Chemistry Teacher Education Coalition (CTEC).
“PhysTEC serves as an impressive model in launching CTEC. Future chemistry and physics teachers will benefit from this collaboration between chemistry and physics,” said Mary Kirchhoff, Director of the ACS Education Division.
Similar to its physics counterpart, CTEC aims to actively engage chemistry departments in the preparation of future chemistry teachers and plans to incorporate features of PhysTEC, including regular conferences and a grant competition to create model teacher preparation programs.
The PhysTEC conference is the nation’s largest event focusing on physics teacher preparation, and is a major component of the PhysTEC project. The PhysTEC project, a partnership between APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), strives to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers. It does so primarily by selecting colleges and universities that can effectively use substantial project support to develop their physics teacher preparation programs into national models and make significant increases in the number of teachers they graduate.
To date, the project has supported 20 such sites, and expects to fund 6 additional sites beginning in the fall of 2012. The number of teachers graduating each year from PhysTEC-funded institutions has greatly increased since the project began in 2001.
This year’s PhysTEC conference was preceded by a day-long regional conference involving 80 representatives of two math and science teacher preparation efforts in California that had not previously met. The Math and Science Teacher Initiative (MSTI) of the California State University system and CalTeach at the University of California came together for the first time to discuss physics and chemistry teacher preparation efforts.
Collaboration between the two distinct groups with similar aims generated healthy discussion as leaders from both programs offered their insights on issues such as student recruitment and retention, course transformation, student-centered teaching, and how to consolidate the degree-granting process. Stephen and Phoebe Roeder from the physics department at San Diego State University found discussions on increasing enrollment and finding new sources for funding highly relevant to their university.
The PhysTEC conference officially started the next day with 120 science and math educators, program leaders, future physics teachers, PhysTEC site leaders and student representatives in attendance. Plenary speakers came from a wide range of disciplines to address the conference theme, New Paradigms for Physics Teacher Education. Philip DiStefano, Chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder, gave the opening plenary on engaging universities and professional societies in education and teacher preparation. Fred Goldberg, physics professor at San Diego State University, spoke on adapting physics and everyday thinking (PET) to large classes.
A panel discussion on cultural perspectives on teacher education moderated by Peter Muhoro, Minority Bridge Program Manager at APS, addressed underrepresentation of minorities in the population of U.S. physics teachers. The session featured faculty from minority-serving institutions and high school physics teachers from schools with significant minority populations. Panelists and participants candidly discussed cultural issues that rarely make it to the forefront of physics education.
Panelist Geraldine Cochran, a doctoral student at Florida International University, expressed her belief that minority students do not necessarily need to have role models that look like themselves in order to be inspired to pursue physics or teaching themselves. “This can be accomplished by good teaching, regardless of the student or teacher’s personal background,” Cochran said.
Vivian Incera, chair of the University of Texas at El Paso physics department, and Victor Gonzalez, AP physics teacher at Pioneer High School in southern California, cited examples of how sharing cultural backgrounds with their students gave them more insight into their students’ experiences. “In the Latino culture, students have a hard time explaining physics as a career choice to their parents. I tell them to tell their parents that they’re going into engineering instead,” Gonzalez said.
A panel moderated by Howard Gobstein, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, discussed how to engage university administrative leaders and education faculty in efforts to enhance the training of future physics teachers. Panel members included Al Bennett (Dean, School of Biological Sciences, University of California-Irvine), Jane Conoley (Dean, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California-Santa Barbara), and Michael Gottfredson (Executive Vice-President and Provost, University of California-Irvine).
This year’s PhysTEC conference was held just prior to the AAPT winter meeting, taking place at the nearby Ontario Convention Center.
James Selway, Teacher-in-Residence at Towson University, very much enjoyed his experience at the conference. “I’ve had some great conversations and picked up a number of good ideas,” he said.
Monica Plisch, Associate Director of Education and Diversity, was pleased with the discussion generated by the series of workshops and panels. “Many participants mentioned that this was their best experience at a PhysTEC conference yet,” she was happy to note.
The 2013 PhysTEC conference will be held March 16-17 in Baltimore, Maryland, prior to the APS March Meeting.