A New Model Alternative Certification Program For HS
Dan MacIsaac, Department of Physics, The
State University of New York (SUNY)-Buffalo State College,
222 Science Bldg, 1300 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo NY 14222. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Zawicki, Department of Earth Science and Science Education, SUNY-Buffalo State
Kathleen Falconer, Department
of Elementary Education and Reading, SUNY-Buffalo
David Henry, Department
of Elementary Education and Reading, SUNY-Buffalo State College
Beery, Department of Physics, SUNY-Buffalo State College.
Please direct correspondence regarding this manuscript to the first
author. Portions of this manuscript were published as MacIsaac, Zawicki,
Henry, Beery &
Falconer (2004). J. Phys Tchr Ed Online, 2(2), Nov2004, 10-16, <http://www.phy.ilstu.edu/jpteo/>.
We describe the development and deployment of a
model graduate level alternative certification program for physics teachers
at SUNY- Buffalo State College. The Masters of Science Education (Physics
with NYSED Transitional B Certification) program accommodates science
and engineering professionals with appropriate bachelors degrees who wish
to change career paths into physics teaching. The alternative certification
program is distinctive in that candidates minimize their income disruption
and bypass student teaching through an intensive full time Spring-Summer
introductory component leading to NYSED Transitional B Certification, followed
by paid, mentored teaching employment and evening coursework for two calendar
years. This alternative certification program is made possible through intensive
physics teachers' summer academy courses, supplemented by regular semester
evening course and online offerings. Courses are shared with a second new
program - the Masters of Science Education (Physics), which serves
already certified science teachers (usually in subjects other than physics)
who wish to obtain a master's degree for permanent teacher certification
and usually teacher certification in a second discipline -- physics.
Alternative Teacher Certification
Alternative certification refers to a teacher certification
program that differs from standard college programs of teacher preparation,
usually by avoiding the extended guided field experience of student teaching. Alternative
certification is frequently insufficiently discriminated with emergency certification,
which usually refers to a complete waiver of any teacher preparation to obtain
a teacher who is otherwise unavailable. Other certification routes intermediate
to these exist, particularly individual (transcript) evaluation in NY.
problematic, alternative certification programs can be done well, and can
provide a viable pathway to physics teacher preparation. Alternative certification
program candidates bring uniquely attractive backgrounds and interests
to address needs for under-represented teachers sought by schools. Alternative
certification programs can address needs not adequately met by traditional
Overview of the Two Buffalo State College M.S.Ed.
(Physics) programs are summarized in Figure 2. Admissions require
either current NYSED secondary science certification (the right hand side
of Figure 2), or for alternative certification (the left hand side of Figure
2), a bachelor's degree meeting NYSED language and content requirements
for physics certification, and successful completion of the NYSED state
teacher competency examinations (LAST and the Physics Content Subject Test)
required for physics teacher certification. Certified participants do
not have to take any additional education courses or workshops, unlike
alternative certification candidates who must take an early field experience
and some education courses before they can be awarded the Transitional
B certification and can accept classroom employment.
Alternative certification candidates typically
complete their initial employment requirements through full-time enrollment
in the spring semester, followed by an intensive summer academy, then teach
the following school year under Transitional B certification under both SUNY-
Buffalo State College Physics mentorship and an intense LEA induction program.
Alternative certification candidates can be in the classroom employed as
full-time transitionally licensed teachers after as little as two semesters
of full time student study (one spring and one summer semester), and we have
had several candidates succeed with this arrangement.
During the regular academic year, M.S.Ed. (Physics) candidates
also take some combination of evening and distance education courses. Although
coursework for the alternative certification program can be completed in
the following summer academy, the NYSED Transitional B certification agreement
requires a minimum of one full year of intensively mentored teaching experience
for regular teacher licensure.
M.S.Ed. (Physics) program
candidates who are already NYSED certified in another subject can add physics
certification and complete their program in about four semesters if they
enroll in two successive summer academies together with the regular fall
and spring semester evening and web courses. Each summer, 18 credits of
summer academy courses are offered for teachers (including six credits for
K-8 teachers), with a minimum of 6 credits of evening classes (9 cr. this
academic year) between regular Fall and Spring semesters. We
have also placed some few of these offerings online as appropriate (E.g.
PHY500 and PHY690) and we are creating online support materials (and local
tutorials) for NYSED Physics CST exam preparation. This greatly extends
statewide reach for our coalition and meets teacher demands. We accept transfer
credit and some of our downstate candidates have taken some of the online
course offerings for graduate credit in physics from the NTEN/NSTA and University
of Virginia programs in particular (NTEN, 2004; University of Virginia, 2004).
Figure 2: The M.S.Ed.--
Physics programs at SUNY- Buffalo State College.
The graduate physics courses for these programs
include a mixture of undergraduate physics content and graduate level physics
pedagogical content knowledge (physics and science education research PER
and SER findings, and science teaching methods), presented at an undergraduate
mathematical level. Physics content is largely shaped by research findings
and state requirements, and frequently departs from traditional physics course
- for instance there is essentially no treatment of thermodynamics, while
there is a significant treatment of modern physics dictated by the state
via PER-informed curricula.
The two 600-level summer academy courses are particularly
intensive fifteen day workshops modeled after the nationally renowned Modeling
Physics workshops held at Arizona State University - in each course approximately
thirty participants work through PER-informed curricular activities in both
student and teacher roles. Besides Hestenes' distinguished and well-researched Modeling Physics curriculum,
activities from the AAPT's Powerful Ideas in
Physical Science (PIPS) and Goldberg's Constructing Physics Understanding
(CPU) curricula also inform these workshops (Wells, Hestenes & Swackhamer, 1995; Hestenes, 1987,
1993; Modeling Physics Group, 2004; AAPT, 2004; Goldberg 2000). PHY510 is
a locally developed workshop course originally intended to support new teachers
who were assigned to teach physics without physics certification, and focuses
on meeting NYSED requirements through activities NY master physics teachers
have selected on an ad-hoc basis, leavened with formal PER and SER
Finally, though not accepted for M.S.Ed. - Physics program core credit, the
summer academy includes at least one offering for K-8 teachers of physics,
usually PHY507, a course dedicated to the appropriate NYSED standards incorporating
the above curricula plus Goldberg's Physics for Elementary Teachers (Goldberg,
2004) curriculum activities, and frequently incorporating a PER or SER component
by blocking it with a second graduate course in science curriculum research
for K-8 teachers, EDU671.
The other two notably unique courses are PHY500
--an online seminar of PER readings and findings, and PHY690 -- a terminal
masters' project producing a manuscript contributing to the physics teaching
community, most of which are web-published, but some 40% of which have been
published in peer reviewed practitioners literature for physics teachers. This
last course is particularly challenging for instructor and candidates, but
very rewarding. These last two, together with several topical courses, are
offered during the Fall and Spring semesters.
There has been considerable demand for our M.S.Ed. (Physics) programs. We have stabilized
our program size at approximately forty candidates by restricting acceptances
to only the best qualified and most likely applicants. Since the programs
were inaugurated in fall and summer 2002, eleven candidates have graduated,
with four more to graduate shortly. About two thirds of our candidates are
certified working teachers who are seeking either certification to physics
and/or a permanent license, with a small few candidates who don't require
physics certification or a masters' degree for permanent certification who
are simply improving their physics teaching skills. The remaining third
of the candidates are alternative certification students. The Physics Teachers'
Summer Academy acts as a recruiter for the M.S.Ed. (Physics) programs, attracting between
ninety and seventy teachers each summer to the SUNY- Buffalo State College campus,
with another twenty-five to fifty teachers attending the monthly Saturday
morning alliance meetings of the Western New York Physics Teachers' Alliance
(WNYPTA, 2003) supplementing the recruiting pool and candidate support network.
The non-certification M.S.Ed. (Physics) candidates
are mostly (65%) HS science and math teachers seeking certification in physics,
with some (30%) already holding initial physics certification and a small
number (5%) of elementary and middle school teachers (usually those with
minors in physics) seeking secondary physics certification. Second subject
certification for science teachers via a discipline-specific masters degree
intended for teachers is growing common and greatly improves employment flexibility
for NY science teachers. A very few certified candidates have no NYSED need
for another masters' degree and simply want to improve their physics teaching;
we tend to attract these candidates to satisfy their NYSED graduate physics
content credit requirements or to attend physics alliance meetings, and they
sometimes stay for the reformed teaching and student-centered pedagogy. Although
we have only two minority candidates to date, we have almost 20% women and
we are trying to recruit both populations. We are particularly pleased to
have candidates who are working teachers in urban, high-needs school settings,
including several building new physics programs at their schools. We hope
to have these candidates support future recruiting of undergraduate student
and graduate student physics and physics education candidates from amongst
their own students and colleagues.
The remaining third of our M.S.Ed. (Physics) candidates and graduates (sixteen)
are career-switching technical professionals;
of these all save three (77%) hold bachelors' degrees in various fields
of engineering. Most are young men who have practiced engineering for
several years and are seeking more rewarding careers with greater employment
stability. The other three include two alternative certification (AC)
candidates with a B.S. in physics and a Ph.D. physicist switching careers
to teaching. Our
AC candidates are usually altruistic and reflective about their reasons
for career change (we are not admitting simple economic refugees), and
some have worked as substitute teachers, which is something we strongly
encourage. Our AC candidates are almost universally looking to move directly
into the classroom as quickly as possible, want to minimize their time
in university classrooms and want to minimize the financial disruptions
due to full time student enrollment. One exception to this is still working
as an engineer and taking one program course per semester. They are frequently
particularly hostile to education coursework, which can be problematic.
Like many traditionally prepared teacher candidates, they also resent the
unpaid-while-paying-tuition nature of traditional student teaching.
Alternative certification programs incorporating physics content
for these individuals are quite rare, though these candidates could readily
locate other certification programs without physics content such as an M.Ed. or M.S.Ed.
(Science) or a post-baccalaureate non-degree program in general science
teaching, and we don't believe we are cannibalizing such programs. Only
one AC candidate holds a Buffalo State Physics department undergraduate
degree. We have seen that our alternative certification candidates
present unique issues in physics teacher education; our candidates sometimes
hold inappropriately optimistic estimations of their subject expertise
and strong, under-informed and inappropriate preconceptions of good teaching
practices. A reflective exposure to SER and PER instruments and literature,
and explicit instruction via student-centered constructivist reformed teaching
methods helps most of them address these issues, though three have simply
left our program, partially due to a lack of interest and willingness to
change these views, which has been noted in the AC literature (Koballa,
Glynn, Upson & Coleman, 2005) . Abd-El-Khalick (2003) has referred this as the expert-novice-expert
problem; AC candidates need to recognize that their expertise in one area
doesn't map onto a new subject area before they can progress in their development
as teachers. Traditional undergraduate teachers in preparation move through
a novice-expert development cycle (often holding naive images of good teaching),
and experienced teachers from other science disciplines may need to move
through a different kind of expert-novice-expert developmental sequence
with regard to acquiring new pedagogical skills in inquiry-based, student-centered,
constructivist (reformed) teaching (MacIsaac,
& Falconer, 2001; MacIsaac & Falconer,
Because the AC candidates require monthly observation visits
from a faculty member for a year and incumbent travel time, the program
is currently limited to a small number of AC candidates (we are hiring
local master physics teachers to help supervise), and we no longer advertise
the AC program except by word of mouth and posters at state science conferences. We
do advertise the non-certification program in yearly mailings to physics
departments and high schools statewide. We currently have three out-of-state
candidates, and a few (less than 5%) out-of-state Summer Academy registrants
These forty-odd candidates represent maximum capacity
for a program dedicating approximately 1.0-1.5 FTE year round faculty without
research release (three graduate courses each semester year round). To staff
these programs at SUNY-BSC, one new full-time faculty member was hired and
is supported by another from physics, and faculty from two other departments
to teach these course offerings. In particular, the summer academy courses
require additional instructional personnel, both BSC faculty and master physics
teachers, making the programs extremely faculty time intensive. Despite
receiving NSF supplementary funding (for candidate scholarships and support),
the M.S.Ed. (Physics) program
courses alone are run on a cost-recovery basis; BSC makes money on the summer
academy courses in particular (six graduate credits of in-state tuition cost
approximately $1800). Summer academy courses routinely fill to capacity
and students are turned away. SUNY- Buffalo State College is historically
a teacher preparation institution, famed for preparing high-quality teachers,
and successfully competes with over a dozen regional teacher preparation
institutions. BSC has no other graduate programs in physics, due to the close
proximity of SUNY University at Buffalo which has a complete offering of
physics graduate programs and is the Western New York regional flagship institute
for physics research. As a result of the success in these
endeavors, the M.S.Ed. (Physics) programs
and associated activity (the Summer Physics Teachers' Academy and
the Western New York Physics Teachers' Alliance) are viewed with considerable
institutional pride, and we consider these as institutionalized.
The preparation of this manuscript was supported
by the National Science Foundation (DUE 0302097), Buffalo State College and
the Center for Excellence in Urban and Rural Education (CEURE). Dr. Tom
O'Brien and the M.S.Ed. (Physics) program candidates contributed
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