Teacher Recruitment at the University of Arkansas
Gay Stewart , University of Arkansas
At the time of my arrival in Arkansas 12 years ago, there were about 300 school districts in the state and two high school physics teachers holding a degree in physics. The University of Arkansas is the only PhD granting institution in Arkansas . As such, the University of Arkansas physics department should be at the forefront of increasing the number of high school teachers training in physics. Twelve years ago the department was graduating an average of two physics majors each year. Since nationally only a small fraction of physics graduates choose K-12 education as their career, there seemed little hope of the university having much impact on the state's need for physics teachers. To greatly increase the number of physics majors going into K-12 education we faced two problems, first to increase the number of physics majors and second to encourage a higher percentage of majors to choose K-12 education as a career. It is not enough to produce new teachers with a background in physics; the new teachers must also have a strong grounding in pedagogically sound methods based on current education research. The PhysTEC program has been invaluable in accomplishing all these goals.
Growing the Physics Program with Pedagogically Correct Introductory Science Classes
The introductory calculus-based electricity and magnetism course was updated to a more inquiry-driven format through funding under the NSF-CCD program. Funding from the PhysTEC program allowed the reconstruction of the rest of the introductory course sequences and further refinement of the electricity and magnetism course (where most of our new high school teachers have been recruited). The classes taken by scientists and engineers were transformed from a traditional three hours of lecture, one hour of recitation, and two hours of standard laboratory featuring prepackaged cookbook experiments to a much more open and inquiry-driven experience. The class format was changed to two 50-minute lectures and two two-hour labs each week. The additional lab time allowed the addition of a large number of qualitative exploratory activities that allow the students to confront their misconceptions directly. The laboratory experience was greatly improved for both student and instructor. Many of the activities could be performed with very low-cost equipment and have been successfully transported to high school and middle school classrooms. The modified class not only provided students with examples of pedagogically correct instruction, it also provided them with role models, instructors who were actually enjoying teaching. The reconstruction of the other sequences is not yet complete, but the level of inquiry and student engagement has been increased through improved laboratory activities and pedagogical tools such as Just In Time Teaching and Concept quizzes.
The physics department has seen a marked growth in its undergraduate graduation rate since the introduction of the modified introductory physics sequence. The number of physics graduates grew from one in 1994 to 25 in 2005. The increased production of physics graduates was accompanied by an increase in the number of graduates choosing to pursue teaching careers. In 2005 the program produced four physics majors who received teacher certification and are now teaching, generally at the high school level. Also, two science students, who were not physics majors but took the course, entered the teacher preparation program citing university physics as where they started thinking about teaching.
It would be nice to be able to claim that the source of the increase in production of physics majors and teachers was the switch to a pedagogically correct introductory course sequence, and this has certainly helped. However, I feel the most successful innovation of the course is the course structure itself. Both of the large service courses, University Physics I and II, are structured so the lecturer, a faculty member committed to physics education, also teaches the first lab section. Since the lab sections are designed to be active learning experiences, this places the faculty member in an environment where not only can they see exactly "where the students are" with the material, but they can freely interact with students. This serves to break down the wall between lecturer and class that often exists in large service classes, even classes that use interactive techniques. The personal connections formed in this setting and the level of comfort the students feel with the lab instructor is invaluable in recruiting new majors. These connections are not limited to students in the instructor's lab section, since students from that section will bring friends to office hours, who then bring their friends, etc. I believe the class format that places the lead lecturer in a small interactive lab environment has been the key to producing a more personally integrated class and the key to drawing more students to the physics program.
Advertising Education as a Career
The students who leave our program as teachers come to the profession of teaching at different points in their undergraduate careers. Some enter the physics program with education as a career goal, some choose education after their first taste of junior level physics, some choose education as they are making career decisions at the beginning of the senior year, and some choose education at the time of graduation. To keep a career in education as one of the choices a student is considering, information on physics teaching careers is offered through all department-student interactions. The introductory class web sites contain links to information for future teachers. Information for future teachers is an integral part of the beginning of the year presentation given to all undergraduates. Several of the physics advisers are well trained in physics education careers, and any student who demonstrates an interest is routed to them. Outreach opportunities are strongly supported to provide a first teaching experience for undergraduates.
Flexibility in Degree Planning
Since students choose to begin training to be teachers at different points in their academic career flexible degree plans are vital.
Close Ties with the College of Education
Producing a certified teacher through a normal licensing program requires coordination of classes between the physics department and the College of Education . Close ties between these two entities are vital. Course work in the College of Education provides a sound basis in general education and is invaluable in process of obtaining certification. Beyond the course work, the College of Education is well placed to provide early field experiences for the students, mentors with first hand knowledge of the K-12 classroom who can provide advice on teaching methods and teaching as a career, and professional contacts to aid in placement of students after graduation.
For those students who choose education as a profession late in their undergraduate career, the additional classes originally required for the education track could add a semester or a year to their undergraduate career. The College of Education made a change this year so that is no longer the case. The physics teaching internship course can count for up to 40 of the required 60 hours of teaching internship, portfolios can demonstrate proficiency instead of required coursework, and the one required class that cannot be substituted for is available in the summer session immediately before entrance into the College of Education 's Master of Arts in Teaching program.
However, the post baccalaureate requirements for certification may present a financial barrier to becoming a teacher because of the expense of the additional year since most scholarships end in four years. Only our highest honors students may extend their fellowships for the 5 th -year teacher certification program. We work with each student who expresses an interest in teaching to make sure finances do not prevent the student from entering the profession. If possible students are supported by scholarships. We will be applying for the Robert Noyce Scholarship (See the article by Joan Prival in this issue) and continue to seek other funding mechanisms. If the student is sufficiently advanced and TA positions exist in the department, the student may be encouraged to pursue a Masters of Arts in Physics with a focus in education. Once again, flexible degree plans are vital.
Teaching Experience for Undergraduates
The experience of teaching is unique. Some people love it, some do not. A student must try teaching before they can really determine if the career is for them, therefore undergraduates who are already pursuing an education career are encouraged to spend time in a K-12 classroom as early in their career as possible. For students who have not decided on education as a career, two mechanisms to provide teaching experience are provided. The Society of Physics Students holds a number of outreach events each year for K-12 students. These events take physics demonstrations to local schools or invite students to the University for demonstrations and physics related contests. This gives the students some one-on-one instructional experience.
For advanced undergraduates who think they may wish to consider teaching as a career, a more complete teaching experience is provided. Under supervision and with strong training these students are allowed to teach one of the interactive lab sections in the redesigned introductory sequence. The interactive courses are fun to teach and these courses give the students a very positive teaching experience. Since the courses are designed based on current educational research, they also provide the student with a strong model of how physics instruction should be carried out.
Recruiting is Easier with Student Role Models
As more students graduate from the program and pursue teaching careers, it becomes easier to recruit future teachers. When one or two students were graduating each year, a teacher pursing a physics degree was likely to be the only teacher in the program. Now with many teachers graduating each year, a future teacher has peers going through the same experience for support and role models of successful students who have graduated and gone on to teaching careers. As the program has grown, the percentage of students approaching advisers about teaching careers has also grown.
Each physics department must greatly increase its output of teachers to meet a critical national need. This requires a coordinated effort between advisors, the introductory sequence, financing agencies, the College of Education , and even student organizations. Substantial growth is possible if there is sufficient attention to personal detail.
Gay Stewart is Professor of Physics and Director of the PhysTEC site at the University of Arkansas .