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By Bushraa Khatib
The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project has added four newly-funded comprehensive PhysTEC sites and also nine sites that received smaller recruiting grants. Since the project began in 2001, it has funded a total of 46 sites (including the newly-funded sites) to build model physics teacher education programs. Collectively, these institutions have doubled the number of high school physics teachers graduating from their programs.
The four new comprehensive sites selected to develop their physics teacher education programs into national models are Rowan University, Texas State University, West Virginia University, and a joint University of Northern Colorado/Colorado School of Mines project. Funding for the new sites, up to $300,000 per site over three years, will begin in fall 2015.
PhysTEC, the flagship APS education program, aims to improve the education of future physics teachers by creating successful models for physics teacher education programs and disseminating best practices. The PhysTEC program is led by APS, in partnership with the American Association of Physics Teachers, with support from the National Science Foundation and APS donors.
Monica Plisch, director of PhysTEC and APS associate director of Education and Diversity, said, “We were pleased to have received such strong proposals that promise to develop new models for physics teacher education.” The nationwide need for physics teachers is acute; only one third of physics teachers have a degree in the field.
In one of first partnerships of its kind, the University of Northern Colorado (UNC), one of the top producers of science educators in Colorado, has teamed up with the Colorado School of Mines (CSM), one of the largest physics undergraduate programs in the country.
Wendy Adams, director of Science Education Programs at UNC, said the PhysTEC grant has already helped leverage institutional support, including a six-year commitment for a full-time Teacher-in-Residence (TIR), one of the key components of successful PhysTEC sites.
Vincent Kuo, director of the Center for Engineering Education at CSM, and a champion for PhysTEC, said that as a science and engineering school, CSM has historically not been involved with producing educators. With this collaboration, the school is uniquely positioned to fill the licensure pool with exceptionally qualified undergraduates.
Texas State University is the first PhysTEC site in Texas and an institution serving Hispanic students. The program aims to produce five physics teachers per year by the end of the funding period, and plans to engage a TIR to focus on course improvement and community-building activities. The physics department at Texas State University has committed to physics education as a core activity, and recently hired two faculty members who specialize in this area.
John and Gay Stewart, who developed an exemplary PhysTEC site at the University of Arkansas, plan to use the lessons they have learned there to remove institutional barriers to teaching at West Virginia University (WVU). “Our model at the University of Arkansas was always departmental transformation leading to the growth of the undergraduate major, with increased graduation of well-qualified teachers a natural outcome of that growth,” said John Stewart, site leader of the WVU PhysTEC project. The project will partner with WVUteach, a brand new UTeach replication effort that has already shortened the licensure path of physics students from six years to four.
Rowan University in New Jersey has a thriving undergraduate physics program with over 150 majors, many of whom are interested in becoming high school teachers, but find it difficult to complete both physics and education majors in four years. Karen Magee-Sauer, PhysTEC site leader at Rowan, said, “Becoming a PhysTEC comprehensive site will help us push for institutional change to eliminate obstacles to certification.” Magee-Sauer is also excited that students will have plenty of opportunities to teach throughout their years at Rowan as learning assistants and tutors at both the university and high school level. The program aims to make the Rowan physics department a “teacher-rich” environment, with strong mentors available to help students develop their passion for teaching.
PhysTEC also selected nine sites to receive recruiting grants (up to $30,000 over three years) in order to explore new approaches for increasing the number of new high school physics teachers and engage bachelor’s-granting physics departments, which collectively educate over half of all physics teachers in the U.S. While comprehensive sites deal with all aspects of physics teacher preparation, these smaller sites focus on recruiting more future high school physics teachers.
The sites selected for funding beginning in September 2014 include Boise State University; Bowdoin College; East Tennessee State University; Indiana University South Bend; Northwestern Oklahoma State University (a multi-institution site involving four universities in Oklahoma); Salisbury University; Sonoma State University; University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; and University of Wyoming.
These sites will use PhysTEC grants to boost marketing efforts, improve advising, create streamlined pathways to the physics degree/certification, provide financial support, develop early teaching experiences, and fund a part-time TIR.
The author was formerly APS Bridge Program Coordinator. She is now at the Drexel University Autism Institute.
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