FEd August 1998 Newsletter - Building Undergraduate Physics Programs for the 21st Century

August 1998



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Building Undergraduate Physics Programs for the 21st Century

(The following is only a part of the material that can be found on the aapt website (http://www.aapt.org/ ).,Ed.)

Physics Departments are invited to send a team of two or three physics faculty members to participate in the conference "Building Undergraduate Physics Programs for the 21st Century," to be held October 2-4, 1998 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Arlington, VA. The conference is being organized by the American Association of Physics Teachers with co-sponsorship from the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, and Project Kaleidoscope. Building on the successful (and oversubscribed) May, 1997, Physics Department Chairs Conference, which focused on undergraduate physics, the October conference will bring together teams from physics departments across the country to

  • learn about physics departments that have successfully revitalized their undergraduate physics programs with innovative introductory physics courses and multi-track majors programs,
  • discuss directly with engineers (for example, from ABET) and life scientists how physics programs can better serve their students,
  • hear from leaders in business and industry how departments can help prepare their majors for the diverse careers pursued by physics majors,
  • learn about ways that physics departments can fulfill their responsibilities in training pre-service K-12 teachers,
  • work with the other conference participants
    • to articulate the goals of a revitalized undergraduate physics program,
    • to identify resources needed for revitalizing a department's program,
    • to develop guidelines and recommendations for a major funding program for collaborative efforts among physics departments in carrying out enhancements of their undergraduate programs,
    • to develop a set of revitalization efforts that can be carried out without substantial external funding.
  • develop plans for your department to begin an undergraduate physics revitalization program.

The conference registration fee will be $195 per person (covering all conference meals, breaks, and materials) for teams registering before 1 September 1998. After that date, the fee will be $300 per person. A registration form is enclosed. You can find further information about the conference, along with an on-line registration form and background documents at the AAPT web site http://www.aapt.org/programs/rupc.html.

The impetus behind the movement is expressed by a vision of the future of physics education, entitled, "A Vision for Undergraduate Education in Physics Circa 2005 "

A Vision for Undergraduate Education in Physics Circa 2005

(The following is only a part of this document which can be found on the aapt website (http://www.aapt.org). Ed.)

As outlined in Physics at the Crossroads, the physics community now faces several challenges in undergraduate education.

  • The number of physics bachelors' degrees awarded each year is at a 37-year low with the decline expected to continue for at least several years.3
  • Many students in introductory physics courses find physics irrelevant to their careers and their lives. More than 97% of them never take another physics course and they are often not satisfied with the courses they do take.
  • Physics departments have come to realize that their undergraduate programs are not well designed to serve the majority of their majors, those who do not go on to graduate school in physics.

Although these are serious and difficult problems, we believe that solutions to these problems exist. With a broad-based effort in the physics community we believe that we can substantially improve undergraduate physics for all students. With such an effort, our goal is to characterize undergraduate physics by the year 2005 as follows:

  • Physics departments offer flexible majors' (and minors') programs that prepare students for

    1. a wide variety of entry-level positions in business, industry, and public service.

    2. further study in professional schools.

    3. graduate study in physics, other sciences, engineering and in cross-disciplinary fields such as materials physics, geophysics, and biophysics.

  • Physics majors graduate with a solid preparation in solving experimental, computational and theoretical problems.
  • Businesses, the public sector, industries, and professional schools actively recruit physics majors recognizing the flexible skills they possess.
  • All physics courses are based solidly on the results of physics education research. Students completing those courses can demonstrate conceptual understanding, problem solving skills, and flexibility and experience in applying their knowledge and skills to new areas.
  • Introductory physics courses are perceived by students from all majors as challenging, but exciting experiences with relevance to their lives and future careers.
  • The courses for future K-12 teachers provide a solid core of physics content and the techniques and attitudes necessary to present physics comfortably and enthusiastically to their students.
  • Faculty involved in research take an active interest in the undergraduate curriculum, helping to ensure that materials presented are current and that the program provides appropriate opportunities for student involvement in research.
  • They take the lead in integrating research and teaching. Excellent departments have strong commitments to both activities and have a reward structure that recognizes both.
  • Physics education researchers comprise an active and respected segment of the physics community.
  • An easily-accessible communications infrastructure keeps all faculty members informed of the latest results in curriculum development, physics education research and the latest examples of best practice in undergraduate physics teaching. The system provides multiple mechanisms for faculty members to share their experiences and curricular materials.
  • Summaries of the results of physics education research are available in a form readily accessible and immediately useful to all those who teach physics.
  • The physics community recognizes the value of contributions by physicists in a wide range of industrial, government, and academic positions. The curriculum provides the training needed for students to follow a wide range of career paths. All physicists applaud the interesting and diverse careers pursued by physics students and design programs to provide the breadth of training valued by their future employers.

Much more detail of plans to achieve this vision in local physics departments is contained on the website and will be covered at the conference.