Forum on Education of the American Physical Society
From the Chair
There are two items for the Chair to discuss in this issue, both important to the interests of members of the Forum on Education.
The first item is an email titled "On APS' Responsibilities," which APS President Leo Kadanoff sent to the APS general membership in August. Because this email addressed the role of the APS in education, the FEd Executive Committee collectively crafted a response. Both the Kadanoff email and FEd response are copied below. Please do read both and send any comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second item is the recent survey about the FEd newsletter. I thank Ernie Malamud, Karen Cummings, David Meltzer and Larry Woolf for creating and analyzing the survey, which drew 504 respondents from our 4,600 members: a good response rate.
The responses show that our members have a wide range of interests in physics education – from the undergraduate classroom, to education research, to K-12 education and teacher training, to standards, policy and outreach. The highest interest topics were introductory and advanced undergraduate physics. Members are satisfied with three issues per year and the lengths of the articles. There are hints that we should pay attention to making the articles easily accessible in html and pdf formats. We should also seek more ways to make the content accessible, for instance, through introductory e-newsletters that link to the on-line articles. The FEd Newsletter is valued as a source of current information as well as an archived journal of record.
Our response to the survey results is that we will continue to produce the FEd Newletter on a regular schedule, and with new help from APS, publish it in pdf and html formats. New issues will be advertised through email to the membership. Recently Larry Woolf and David Meltzer have completed a keyword index of archived issues, which will be posted on the FEd website. We will continue to accept suggestions for improvement and articles.
Specifically, we wish to increase our pool of Newsletter Editors and Co-Editors. If you have interest in supporting and enhancing the Newsletter please contact me.
I am pleased that the Newsletter is valued by the membership. I am equally impressed by the dedication of the newsletter editors and the authors that make the Newsletter a reality. We owe them many thanks for their accomplishments.
2 Aug 2007
On APS' Responsibilities
As a tax exempt organization, APS has a legal responsibility to serve the public welfare. We fulfill this obligation in five main ways: journals, meetings, informing the government, informing the public, and in helping education. The senior leadership of APS is in reasonable agreement on the first four; we have some disagreement about the last. I go in the order named.
APS has long contributed to improving education. We have outreach activities aimed at schoolchildren, including successful web sites and contests. Our meetings include workshops for teachers. Together with the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), we oversee and aid two programs, PhysTEC and P-TEC, aimed at improving and promoting the education of future teachers of physics and physical science. APS' flagship program, PhysTEC, is supported by the National Science Foundation, private donors, and ourselves. We oversee teacher-training at ten universities and colleges, each based upon a cooperation between its physics department and its school of education. In each case, an experienced teacher helps bring in the real world.
We have reached a crossroad in planning future educational programs for APS' PhysTEC, our flagship program, is set to diminish by 60% as NSF support runs out next year. On the plus side, we have hired a new full-time person to work on education. Working jointly with AAPT, we have in planning an important new program aimed at doubling the number of physics majors, while guiding these new majors toward teaching and a wide variety of other occupational goals. However, for the next year, only 5% of the present education spending has been allocated for new education programs.
There is considerable discussion within APS leadership about whether education should be a core APS activity. One side of the discussion points out that APS has traditionally focused upon research while AAPT has teaching as its central concern. Further, U.S. education is a huge problem and APS can hardly make a dent in any part of it.
On the other side, some of us argue that this is the time to make use of promised increased governmental investment in both science and education. In this view, it is APS' responsibility to respond by bringing into being new and expanded programs aimed at improving science education. This ongoing discussion is likely to focus upon the practical question of whether we shall support educational programs with our own resources or rely upon (and wait for) funding from government and private donors.
In parallel, physics departments all across the U.S. are likely to have discussions about their own educational missions. These discussions might focus upon increased numbers of physics majors, new teaching goals, new teaching methods, as well as broader and more flexible curricula. They may also be aimed at reaching out to students interested in teaching careers and perhaps students whose main aims are knowledge and good citizenship.
If you have comments about these issues please write to me at LeoP@aps.org
Reply from the Forum on Education, August 21, 2007
Dear Dr. Kadanoff:
This letter, approved by the Executive Committee of the APS Forum on Education, is written in response to your recent August 1, 2007, email "On APS' Responsibilities." The Forum on Education represents over 4,600 members who have interests in supporting physics education. They are not only teachers, but they participate in informal education, education research, and education policy making at all levels. Members of the Forum on Education represent a cross section of all the APS divisions and topical groups.
We strongly support the APS' responsibility and obligation to education. The Education responsibility is expressed directly in the APS Mission:
"In the firm belief that an understanding of the nature of the physical universe will be of benefit to all humanity, the Society shall have as its objective the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics"
The diffusion of knowledge contains an imperative of education. Not only is knowledge acquired diffused to other researchers to build upon, but is disseminated to a large general audience both formally (in class rooms) and informally, through media, science on the road, science centers and museums, open houses at University Physics Departments and National and Industrial Research labs, hands-on science demonstrations in shopping malls and in many other ways.
As part of the APS mission we believe that APS resources (member dues, income from journals and investments) should be used to further science education in the United States. Besides fulfilling our mission, there are many practical reasons for doing this. Outreach to the public to increase science literacy is essential to have a citizenry that is able to think logically on the compelling issues facing our society. Increasing awareness and appreciation of science will surely increase support for science through elected officials. On a more local level, people through school boards can influence school curricula, course content and requirements for teacher certification.
Through meetings, journals, public education and governmental advisory activities, the American Physical Society supports the health of the US physics research enterprise. This enterprise will founder if the US does not produce its share of educated scientists and an educated citizenry that supports science activity and funding. Our universities, the source of most American physics research, depend on students prepared and motivated to learn. As other parts of the world improve their education and research systems, the US will no longer be able to depend on attracting foreign-born undergraduates and graduate students to bolster our physics research.
It may seem that the APS can make only a dent in improving education. Nevertheless, education is everyone's business, every dent counts. The APS, however, holds a special place in the education, research and political environment. Our members bring to the education process not only a deep and abiding knowledge of the science, but also an equally deep appreciation of the scientific process. It is true that major paradigm shifts are required to make physical science systemic in our schools, but APS is in a position to use its own resources to create pilot programs and provide leadership in physics education. The success of programs such as PhysTEC should be built upon, not laid to rest. PhysTEC and the comPADRE digital library are but two examples of how APS has built close, synergistic relationships with the AAPT, the AIP, and the SPS.
We urge that the APS embrace education in the sciences as a primary responsibility, and in doing so, convince other scientists and scientific societies of the importance of science education to the health of our field.
Please do not hesitate to call upon me or the rest of the Forum on Education leadership for information or advice as you and the APS Board discuss this fundamental issue.
David G. Haase