With the advent of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) program  at Ball State University in 2001, a Teacher Advisory Group (TAG) was formed to provide ideas and guidance to the members of the PhysTEC team in the training of pre-service science teachers. In addition to university faculty, individuals were selected to be members of the TAG because they were external to the university, yet at the same time knowledgeable about the science teacher preparation curriculum and program at Ball State. The TAG has provided assistance in a variety of aspects related to the implementation of the PhysTEC goals, such as course revision, assessment techniques, and the induction and mentoring of new teachers.
A major problem that faces the science-education community is that a large fraction of science teachers leave the profession. Data show that as many as 40% of these teachers leave within the first 5 years . The PhysTEC program was initiated in part to address this problem. The goal is to increase the number of well prepared pre-service teachers and to actively follow their progress in their first few years of teaching. Since it is a common belief that teachers “teach the way they were taught,” a revision of the science content courses, as well as the science education courses, toward more active, student-centered learning methods was implemented.
One of the goals of the PhysTEC program is to bring together university faculty in the schools of education with those in the content courses (specifically in physics departments). All too often there is a lack of communication between the schools. This can hinder progress toward better educating prospective science teachers. Through discussion in the TAG, each group has an opportunity to view how the other operates and to make suggestions regarding the goal of improving science education.
Our TAG was originally formed in the spring of 2002 with the goal of planning implementation of the major components of the PhysTEC program, but its role has since evolved to addressing broader issues. It is modeled on the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s Industrial Advisory Committee, a group that offers insight into local and state industrial concerns and gives advice on how the university’s program might better prepare students for those markets. It is further based on the model of advisory groups that exist in large particle-physics experiments, where regular technical reviews are common for overseeing the feasibility and readiness of complex detector components.
Another essential aspect of the PhysTEC program, which has greatly enhanced the TAG, is to bring a high-school or middle-school master science teacher into the university environment for one year as a Teacher-in-Residence (TIR). The tasks of the TIRs are many and diverse, but they include: identify and mentor the pre-service and recently-graduated science teachers; assist in the college classroom and in the course revision process; serve as a resource for classroom demonstrations; and together with students to provide outreach to the science teaching profession.
At Ball State University, each TIR has had his own emphasis and imprint on the PhysTEC program. Initially, the TIRs were active in course reform, designing more inquiry-based laboratory activities. A later TIR was actively engaged in the induction and mentoring of pre-service and new teachers (mostly at the high-school level). During his time as TIR, he rode a circuit throughout the state in support of this activity. This has fit in especially well with the new state program in mentoring new teachers. Another TIR at Ball State was interested in initiating research programs at the high-school level, such as analyzing seismic data, and involving high-school students in research at an early stage.
The TIRs have been an integral part of the TAG. Since they are a liaison between the university and high schools or middle schools, have extensive experience in the classroom, and have the necessary background in both education and science content courses, they serve as leaders of the TAG and often guide the discussion. They have set the programs for the TAG meetings, often linking these programs to their own interests and specialties. The TAG has also served as an opportunity for prospective TIRs to become familiar with the PhysTEC program and to meet current and past TIRs.
Members of the TAG have been selected from diverse backgrounds in order to provide a variety of opinions and advice. At the university level, members are selected from the physics department, science-education faculty, and Teachers College (the latter is where the education faculty and students reside, while the science-education faculty are part of the Department of Biology). Current and past TIRs are also members of the TAG, as are some of their in-service teacher mentees. Other important members are in-service teachers from the area who have extensive knowledge of the teacher education program. Some have been graduates of Ball State University’s science-education program. Members of the Department of Education in the state of Indiana have also served on the TAG, including a member of the state Professional Standards Board and the state science consultant. Several guests have joined the TAG meetings from time to time. These have included the PhysTEC leadership team, the state consultant on induction and mentoring, and several of the pre-service teachers who were students in the PhysTEC-influenced classes. One of the most recent TAG members, now a high-school science teacher, served as the Teaching Assistant for the very first introductory physics class under the PhysTEC program. The number of members on the TAG is normally between twelve and fifteen.
The TAG meetings have consisted of discussions covering a wide range of topics. In the beginning, brainstorming sessions were held on how to implement the PhysTEC program and meet its goals. Plans were made not only for the university, but for a possible outreach to former students, who are now teaching in schools throughout the state. Questions such as developing an introductory physics course solely for pre-service teachers were debated, along with issues related to course reform. Another TAG meeting included several of the pre-service teachers in order to solicit their opinions and suggestions about the science content courses and the science education program in general. At yet another TAG session, the TIR, along with a guest consultant, presented information on the induction and mentoring of in-service teachers, the new state program in that area, and methods used to improve retention.
We have discussed ways to assess progress in the different areas of the PhysTEC program. An assessment template was developed and passed along to the national PhysTEC program. The most recent meeting featured presentations of possible research projects in which high schools may become involved with universities or national laboratories. Typically, the TAG meets once during the semester.
The Teacher Advisory Group has been a valuable resource for the science-teacher education program. Suggestions, opinions, and insights from this diverse group have greatly enhanced the quality of science teacher education at Ball State University.
 Richard M. Ingersoll, “Turnover Among Mathematics and Science Teachers in the U.S.,” Report to the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, Chaired by John Glenn, (February, 2000). (http://www.ed.gov/inits/Math/glenn/compapers.html)
David Grosnick is Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Ball State University.