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By Thomas Hone
PhysTEC (the Physics Teacher Education Coalition) is pleased to announce awards to four new sites: Appalachian State University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, the University of Kansas, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. These new PhysTEC Supported Sites are well poised to dramatically improve their physics teacher education programs and have impacts beyond their campuses, serving as national models for program improvement.
Central to improving each institution’s physics teacher education program is hiring a Teacher-in-Residence (TIR). The TIR will recruit students to become high school physics teachers, mentor learning assistants, and organize a mentoring program for pre-service teachers. Furthermore, the TIR program will expand and sustain a community of high school physics teachers, both pre-service and in-service.
Building on the rapid growth in the number of physics majors at Texas A&M University-Commerce, project leaders plan to attract many more to physics teaching and implement new support for them on their pathway through the program. The project leaders will develop new recruiting materials and advertise in lower division STEM classes, at university events, at local high schools and community colleges, and through connections with local industry.
Appalachian State will focus on developing an understanding of best practices in collaborating with rural school districts and with first-generation college goers as well look for ways to strengthen retention of physics secondary education students and teachers.
At the University of Kansas, project leaders will integrate PhysTEC with the existing UKanTeach program for preparing STEM teachers. The result will be new pathways for physics majors to become teachers, and opportunities for those majoring in mathematics and other STEM fields to pursue physics minors and to obtain certification to teach physics. In addition, they will impanel an external advisory board, consisting of area high school physics teachers and administrators, to mentor newly graduated teachers and provide an outside assessment of their teacher preparation program.
Similarly, Worcester Polytechnic Institute will not only seek new ways to improve recruitment efforts but also coordinate advising and mentoring among students in the physics teacher education program, faculty, in-service teachers, academic advising, and the STEM Education Center as well as create an assessment model to determine factors that influence the recruitment and retention of students who pursue careers as physics teachers.
These new comprehensive sites are expected to graduate relatively large numbers of teachers, with an aim of becoming thriving programs that graduate five or more physics teachers per year. The project will offer up to $100,000 per year for 3 years for the institution to achieve their project goals. In addition, they will be able to network with the best programs throughout the country.
Each site will also be addressing the six Physics Teacher Education Program Analysis (PTEPA) rubric standards. These standards are: an institutional commitment; leadership and collaboration; recruitment; knowledge and skills for teaching physics; mentoring and professional support; and program assessment.
In the United States, there are over 27,000 teachers of high school physics who serve students in over 20,000 public and private high schools. While many of these physics teachers are excellent educators, fewer than half have a major or minor in physics or physics education. Physics consistently rates as a K-12 education field with a “severe shortage” of teachers, as demand far exceeds supply for open positions. PhysTEC is guided by a vision of educating sufficient numbers of qualified teachers to provide an excellent physics education for all students.
To date, the PhysTEC project has funded over 40 institutions to build model physics teacher education programs. These PhysTEC Supported Sites have demonstrated significant successes in increasing the number of highly qualified physics teachers. Those with comprehensive funding support have collectively tripled the number of PhysTEC graduates.
The PhysTEC project has support from the National Science Foundation and from individual and corporate gifts to the APS Campaign for the 21st Century. The project is led by the APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers. More information about PhysTEC is available at their website.
The author is Senior Coordinator for Education and Diversity programs at APS.
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