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December 2003 (Volume 12, Number 11)
By Ernie Tretkoff
The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC), which aims to improve the science preparation of future K-12 teachers, continues to grow. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, recently became the seventh participating university in the project.
The APS, in cooperation with the AAPT and the AIP, established PhysTEC in response to national reports calling for improved science teacher preparation. The program is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Education.
The PhysTEC program encourages collaboration between physics and education departments at participating Primary Program Institutions to create a curriculum that emphasizes student-centered, inquiry-based, hands-on learning. As part of the program, physics departments work to restructure their introductory courses to emphasize active learning. A key component of the PhysTEC program is a full-time Teacher-in-Residence, a local high school physics teacher who aids the departments in course revisions and helps coordinates mentors for novice science teachers.
"What we want to do is produce teachers that are better prepared to teach," said physics professor Chance Hoellwarth, who leads Cal Poly's PhysTEC project.
Hoellwarth also emphasized the importance of the Teacher-in-Residence. "It gives us the other side of the coin. It facilitates building up connections with teachers, and gives us real-world experience." The Teacher-in-Residence will also help develop a mentoring program for student teachers.
Though the university and local K-12 schools are affected by the recent California budget cuts, Hoellwarth said he expects the PhysTEC project will continue as planned.
As a whole the university is not offering as many classes, so students may take longer to graduate. Also, cuts at the elementary and secondary school level may mean fewer master teachers will be available to mentor new student teachers.
"It's not entirely clear what will happen," said Hoellwarth, "There are a lot of factors going on."
Currently eight future science teachers are participating in the physics program at Cal Poly. Hoellwarth points out that the program's small size makes it less vulnerable to cuts. "We don't have a huge number of student teachers, so you can kind of absorb any effect." Cal Poly can design the program it wants now, then expand when it becomes possible, saidHoellwarth.
Cal Poly's participation in PhysTEC is supported by an APS fund-raising campaign. With this campaign PhysTEC plans to continue to expand, adding one or two new institutions a year for several more years. The six other Primary Program Institutions already participating in PhysTEC are the University of Arizona, Ball State University, Oregon State University, University of Arkansas, Western Michigan University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.
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