Forum on Education of The American Physical Society
Fall 2005 Newsletter



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Secondary Science Teacher Preparation at the University of Arizona

Ingrid Novodvorsky

Undergraduate students at the University of Arizona who wish to become middle or high school science teachers have a unique opportunity to pursue their goal in the company of other science majors under the guidance of science educators and experienced mentor teachers. In this article, I present some of the central ideas that guide this teacher preparation program, and how those ideas are implemented. I conclude with information about program enrollment and teacher retention.

As described in an article in the Spring 2005 issue of this newsletter, the Teacher Preparation Program (TPP) was established at the University of Arizona in 1999 to provide preparation for prospective middle and high-school science teachers within the College of Science. Faculty members in the program are affiliated with various content departments, including physics, chemistry, molecular and cellular biology, astronomy, and biochemistry, and function as members of an interdisciplinary program in managing the program, teaching its courses, and advising students.               

Early in the program, we developed a set of Core Understandings, which form the underpinnings of all of our science education courses and guide assessment of both students and the program. (See Appendix for a list of these Core Understandings.) The science-education courses in the program are all linked to one or more of these Core Understandings, and they form the basis of our regular internal program reviews. We have found that these Core Understandings enable us to talk about our courses and student performance in ways that faculty members in content departments often do not. We all know the content of each other's courses very well, we collaborate in planning and teaching the courses, and we regularly discuss our students' progress toward attaining the Core Understandings.

Another central idea that guides our program is the key role of middle and high school science teachers. In the Spring 2005 issue of this newsletter, I described the work of our Teacher Advisory Group in shaping the direction of the program and in hosting preservice teachers in their classrooms. We collaborate closely with science teachers in two other ways. First of all, we have hired two retired high-school science teachers who work with our program on a continuing basis. These two adjunct instructor positions are funded through a University Workforce Development Initiative, which resulted from a voter-approved state sales tax increase; this funding is secure through 2010. Secondly, we have secured grant funding to support two Teachers in Residence each year. These teachers work with us on campus for a year as adjunct instructors, while we pay their districts the cost of replacement teachers. Currently, one Teacher in Residence is funded by the PhysTEC project, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute funds the other. As both of these grants are ending soon, we are working with the Dean of the College of Science to secure other funding, possibly by asking the departments that participate in the TPP to share the cost of these two Teachers in Residence.

These four adjunct instructors co-teach science pedagogy and subject methods courses with TPP faculty members, arrange for and supervise the field placements of our students in area schools, mentor the preservice teachers in our program, and participate fully in all program activities. In addition to their work with the program, they are especially valuable due to their recent experience in secondary schools. While most of the TPP faculty members also have secondary school teaching experience, the Teachers in Residence have much more current experience and our students find this particularly valuable.

A third central idea that guides our program is closely related to our partnership with area science teachers. When our students are placed in these teachers' classrooms they have clearly defined tasks to accomplish, instead of being sent to passively observe. The field experiences in our program are divided into three general categories, guided observation, internship, and student teaching. In all three of these categories, our partner teachers have played a critical role in shaping the field experiences. At the guided observation level, partner teachers wrote most of the tasks that preservice teachers are asked to complete, and we consult with them regarding major modifications to these tasks. At the internship level, which is an 8-week experience working with one class, partner teachers have provided input on both structure and expectations. And for the student-teaching experience, which encompasses an entire secondary-school semester, partner teachers work closely with our adjunct instructors in supervising the student teachers.

The table below indicates enrollments over the lifetime of the program. We anticipate a steady state of about 20 program completers each year.







2005-06 (proj.)

CoS TPP Course Enrollment







CoS TPP Completers







Physics teachers prepared#







#Prior to TPP, ~ 6 science teachers graduated each year from College of Education; 2 physics teachers graduated in 4 years

*2 of these 3 are women

It is also important to note that of the 33 program completers by the spring of 2005, every completer who sought a teaching position secured one, and is still teaching. This is in contrast to national statistics which indicate that only about 2/3 of new science teachers stay in teaching past their third year, and only about half remain past their fifth year. (Five of our completers have chosen to pursue other avenues, including medical school, nursing school, research, and at-home parenting.)

These data and our own experiences lead us to believe that over the past five years we have built a vibrant science teacher preparation program, grounded in Core Understandings, closely connected with the local science-teaching community, and visible within the College of Science.


CoS TPP Core Understandings

Prospective teachers will:

1.      Demonstrate understanding of their science disciplines and the nature of science. They understand science deeply enough to build alternative representations of the scientific knowledge that are pedagogically sound and meaningful for diverse learners.

a)      Articulate and connect the central ideas in their scientific discipline.

b)      Demonstrate solid and coherent conceptual understanding of the central ideas and tools of inquiry of school-based scientific disciplines, particularly in their area of expertise.

c)      Critically reflect on the philosophical and social facets of the scientific work.

d)      Build multiple meaningful and appropriate pedagogical representations of the science content to be taught.

2.      Demonstrate understanding of how adolescents learn and develop. They display a philosophy of teaching that focuses on students' understanding.

a)      Analyze and evaluate the central tenets of relevant theories of learning and adolescent development.

b)      Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of students' common alternative conceptual frameworks in science and the role that they play in learning.

c)      Use their scientific and pedagogical knowledge to conceive meaningful learning opportunities that recognize learners' diversity and focus on students' understanding.

3.        Make coherent curriculum decisions that promote students' engagement in learning and understanding of science; plan, implement, and assess lessons with the learning goals guiding their choices and actions.

a)      Identify and describe the curriculum/teaching decisions that influence learning outcomes.

b)      Identify and select coherent sets of long-term and short-term learning goals.

c)      Select and create meaningful activities that build upon students' interests and prior knowledge and promote understanding.

d)      Implement and evaluate diverse teaching strategies and materials to achieve instructional goals and meet student needs.

e)      Select and implement assessment strategies that support understanding.

f)       Analyze assessment data to guide teaching.

g)      Assess the coherence of curriculum/teaching decisions that influence learning outcomes.

4.       Create and manage a productive learning environment that fosters the development of student understanding.

a)      Demonstrate and use knowledge about human development, motivation and behavior to create an engaging, safe and supportive learning environment.

b)      Recognize, describe, and implement effective classroom management practices that are fair to students and support individual and group work.

c)      Recognize, describe and analyze the connection between effective classroom management and opportunities for student learning.

5.      Establish clear communications and positive interactions with learners, colleagues, administrators, and parents. They are comfortable interacting with members of these groups and actively work to become a part of the school culture.

a)      Present ideas and information, outline expectations and desired behaviors, ask questions and facilitate discussions in clear and unambiguous ways.

b)      Interact with individual learners and groups of learners in ways that develop a climate of respect and rapport in the classroom.

c)      Collaborate with colleagues, administrators, parents and other members of the community to support student learning.

6.      Acknowledge the complex and often unpredictable contexts in which teachers work. They manage the complexity in ways that support and sustain student learning.

a)      Identify the professional demands that compete for a teacher's attention.

b)      Identify and evaluate teaching and curriculum dilemmas and suggest possible actions.

c)      Assess teaching decisions in light of the competing demands and dilemmas that teachers face.

7.      Reflect on classroom teaching to identify evidence of student understanding; thoughtful consideration of this evidence results in well-grounded decisions to improve practice. They are comfortable in continually questioning their own practice and beliefs, are open to constructive criticism, and actively seek out opportunities to grow professionally.

a)      Pose reflective questions about the teaching/learning process related to their own teaching and the teaching of others.

b)      Gather evidence to answer their own questions about the teaching/learning process.

c)      Use their knowledge of practical evidence to plan and implement changes in the classroom.

d)      Evaluate the learning outcomes of their actions and be open to the constructive criticism and suggestions of supervisors and colleagues.

e)      Reflect critically on their personal beliefs about science, and science teaching and learning.

f)       Self-assess their weaknesses and strengths and utilize human and institutional resources to develop professionally.


Ingrid Novodvorsky is Senior Scientist in the Department of Physics and Director of the College of Science Teacher Preparation Program at the University of Arizona.



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