Of course, at University of Arkansas, we started with a class for majors when we began trying to improve our program. We had so few majors that it was the class for engineers as well. With "Implementing Interactive Laboratory-Based Learning Techniques in Second-Semester Introductory Physics" (NSF DUE-9455732), we wanted to improve the level of student learning, confidence, and enjoyment of science, while maintaining the resource level common to large institutions (teaching assistants in labs, large lectures, etc.)
The program has been very successful, based on all available indicators. Student confidence is up and women in particular are as confident as men at the end of the course. The confidence is well placed, with a strong correlation between confidence and performance. Our graduation rates went from less than four in the years before the students taking this new course University Physics II (UPII) were ready to graduate, to ³10 concurrent with our first UPII students graduating (http://educationalengineering.uark.edu/). Since then, the department made more changes, and we had 16 graduates last year, and 24 this year. Most of what we do is similar to what you would read about in the SPIN-UP report. For information on successful programs across the country, see this report, one of the outcomes of the APS/AAPT/AIP National Task Force on Undergraduate Education: http://www.aapt.org/Projects/ntfup.cfm
The State Department of Education liked what we were doing in our classes, so they gave us a little money to work on a joint venture with our College of Education. We used these resources to work some UPII material into a methods course, and build a middle level science teaching degree around some proposed physics course revisions.
When we first implemented the new UPII, it became clear that the first and greatest need for educational reform to be embraced and sustained was for our future faculty to be prepared to be as professional about their roles as educators as their roles as researchers. "Shaping the Preparation of Future Science and Mathematics Faculty" (DUE-9813876) was the next NSF project in which we got involved (http://www.aapt.org/Projects/pfpf.cfm). New college faculty members may find themselves preparing to teach a class for the first time, with little or no guidance. The biggest complaints employers have about those hired for "pure" research positions involve interpersonal skills. Also, more researchers are being called upon to do outreach. Teaching and participating in outreach activities develop these skills, so everyone benefits, not just the students in the introductory course. Our focus was to add these kinds of activities to the graduate program, with the same sort of mentoring that accompanies the development of research skills, without extending the time needed to complete a degree. Also, a new masters degree was developed for those that find themselves insufficiently motivated to do research, but still loving physics, providing a route straight into teaching for these students at very low resource cost.
Of course, once you start wanting to get more, better-prepared teachers out there, you need to have the materials and the infrastructure to make it work. So, the University of Arkansas became a Primary Program Institution of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC, NSF PHY-0108787), http://www.phystec.org), an APS/AAPT/AIP program. PhysTEC provides dramatic improvement of science preparation of physics, physical science, and elementary teachers, developing programs to work at a wide range of institutions. Results of the previous support benefit all students, including future teachers, and this grant allowed us to expand these efforts to almost every class, as well as, to provide significant mentoring for our majors considering a career in teaching. Our students have a higher retention to degree than the rest of the university. The increased number of majors has impacted almost every aspect of the department. The students that want to go on to graduate school are going on to excellent programs where they do well, some go right into industry, and some go to medical school or law school; however, now about 10% of our graduates go on to a career in K-12 teaching!
Gay B. Stewart, FEd Chair, is Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She is Site Director of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC), Director of the University's Physics Department Preparing Future Faculty Program and Co-director of the Arkansas Precision Education Group. She can be reached at email@example.com, phone (479) 575-2408.