From the Chair

Paul Cottle

Dear Forum on Education Colleagues,

The next few years will be pivotal for physics education in the United States.

At the K-12 level, the pressure on school districts to focus resources even more on raising student achievement on math and English — while laudable in itself — will tend to steer resources away from other subjects like science and, in particular, physics and the physical sciences. Meanwhile, the Next Generation Science Standards provide us with a vehicle for trying to keep physics (and science in general) on the instructional agenda.

At colleges and universities around the nation, undergraduate programs in physics are under increasing pressure to raise enrollments and degree production, and some have been terminated. Nevertheless, there are physics departments that are showing spectacular improvement and success in recruiting and educating bachelor’s-level physicists.  The 2013 winners of the Committee on Education’s Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education (Colorado School of Mines, Kettering University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse) provide a spectacularly diverse range of examples of how success can be found in different institutions. The latest winners of the Excellence in Physics Education award, the smartPhysics group at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, provided an extraordinary demonstration not only of how to use technology to improve teaching, but also how to get widespread buy-in from faculty in a department at a leading research university.

At the graduate level, the sequester has further eroded our ability to recruit and train Ph.D.-level physicists and increased the pressure on departments to prepare their students for careers outside of academic research. Fortunately, the physics community has been proactive about broadening participation by underrepresented groups and getting its graduate students ready for non-academic careers. The latest APS effort in this regard, the 2013 Graduate Education Conference held January 31 – February 2 and the American Center for Physics, was a rousing success.

What can the Forum on Education and its members do? Plenty. First of all, the forum membership should not underestimate the importance of the unit’s primary activities — organizing programming at national meetings and making awards. Our sessions of invited and contributed talks give us the opportunity to muster our efforts for positive change. I have been a witness to the impact our awards have had on the communities in which our winners work and live and on our winners’ abilities to expand their efforts.

Quality nominees are critical to maintaining the impact of the Forum’s Excellence in Physics Education Award. If you know a group that has shown a sustained commitment to excellence in physics education, make your own commitment to submit an inspired nomination on their behalf. You can find nomination information at the Excellence in Physics Education Award web page. The nomination deadline for the 2014 award is August 1.

Come up with an idea for a session of invited talks for the March or April Meetings. And think big — how should the physics community address the major challenges it is facing in the education arena? Let this year’s Program Chair (and Forum Chair-Elect), Michael Fauerbach, know about your ideas. He’s at

Help us identify great candidates for the Forum’s Executive Committee. Send your ideas to Randy Knight, who as Vice Chair is responsible for running our nomination and election process. You can reach Randy at

We’ll also be trying to identify other opportunities for you to positively affect physics education nationally, at all three levels (K-12, undergrad, grad), and we’ll be sharing these with you.

If you have ever thought about getting involved, now is the time to do it.

Paul Cottle
Chair, APS Forum on Education

Paul Cottle is the Steve Edwards Professor of Physics at Florida State University and the current chair of the Forum on Education. He also serves as the chair of the APS Committee on Education (COE). He was recently elected a Fellow of the APS. Paul conducts research in experimental nuclear physics, and is active in precollege science teacher preparation. He is an advocate for effective standards for STEM education in his home state of Florida and nationally.

Disclaimer–The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.