Future physics teachers have different needs than the typical physics major. In addition to a solid understanding of physics, teachers need to understand the difficulties students have with physics and they must know how to address these difficulties with effective instructional strategies. At most institutions, these skills are treated separately. The education department teaches about teaching and the physics department teaches physics. In the last issue of this newsletter, McDermott, Heron, and Shaffer made the case that K-12 teachers needed special courses, in addition to their content courses, that address all of these needs. It is not enough to have physics knowledge and a generic teaching course. Teachers need courses geared especially for teaching science.
In this issue we will hear from four institutions that have taken this message to heart and designed programs especially for high school physics teachers. These programs vary in style; there are integrated degrees, fifth year certification, and/or concentrations. But they all have designed programs (courses, teaching experiences, etc) that meet the needs of future physics teachers, explicitly addressing ways to facilitate the teaching and learning of science.
These stories are motivating and encouraging on their own, but I think they can also give ideas for improving the teacher preparation programs at our institutions. It is easy to read these stories and say, "That is a great program, but I could never do that at my institution." And it may be true that you can not make wholesale changes in the way teachers are educated at you institution. But each of these programs has aspects that might just work at your institution and make your program better. For example, last spring I visited the University of Arizona. They have an amazing integrated physics-teaching program. That is not something I can implement at my institution. However, I left marveling at the involvement of their local teachers in the program and wondering how I can do the same thing here.
With that in mind, let's hear about the programs at UTeach (University of Texas-Austin), University of Arizona, Illinois State University, and Rutgers.
Chance Hoellwarth is Associate Professor of Physics at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), SanLuis Obispo.