The CSULB PhysTEC Project

Chuhee Kwon

California State University Long Beach

California State University Long Beach (CSULB) was one of the five universities selected as new Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) sites to begin in Fall 2010. The primary goal of the CSULB PhysTEC project shared with the national PhysTEC project is to increase the number of highly-qualified students earning secondary school teaching credentials in physics.

PhysTEC is a joint project between the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Association of Physics Teachers, and is now funded by a five-year, $6.5-million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation in Fall 2009, as well as APS’s 21st Century Campaign.


CSULB is a large comprehensive university located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area serving a diverse student population. The total enrollment in Spring 2010 was 31,586 students with 10,577 identifying themselves as Latino/Latina, African American, or Native American. The Hispanic Association of Colleges of Universities formally recognizes CSULB as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

CSULB prepares 6% of California’s secondary science teachers and a large number of pre-secondary teachers. The teacher preparation credential program in California is a 5th year, or post-baccalaureate, program. To earn a teaching credential in California candidates need to take basic pedagogy courses and demonstrate subject matter competence via coursework (a major or a minor in the subject matter) or via examination (California Subject Examination for Teachers in their subject matter).

During the last three years, the average number of credentialed physics teachers graduating from CSULB is 3.5 teachers per year. Most of these candidates are not from our own undergraduate program, and we believe that is because of the lack of targeted effort to recruit the CSULB physics majors/minors/graduate students to the secondary teaching credential program.

The CSULB PhysTEC project is the collaboration between the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Department of Science Education bringing the strength of two departments together with the common goal. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has revised introductory physics laboratories and curricula during the last five years with close attention to physics education research. The department has enlarged its efforts toward recruitment and retention via paid research experiences aimed at students early in their studies.

The Science Education Department is situated with the Physics Department in the College of Natural Science and Mathematics allowing close cooperation. The Science Education Department oversees the science credential program at CSULB, placing student in many area partner school districts. Also the Science Education Department has hosted several funded projects to support future science teachers including the NSF-Noyce Program. PhysTEC teachers will thus be able to take advantage of an already established support structure.

We believe building a physics teaching community that partners CSULB physics and science education faculties, high school teachers, physics students (in undergraduate, graduate, and credential programs) is important to the success of the project as well as for long-term sustainability.

Project Description

The CSULB PhysTEC project combines several components shown to be successful in the national PhysTEC project: a Teacher-in-Resident (TIR) and Learning Assistants (LA). The TIR is a local high school teacher recruited to be a partner in the project activities, as well as a mentor, a recruiter, and a co-instructor for new courses. The project plans to have a part-time TIR and to select a different teacher each year. Rod Ziolkowski from Whitney High School will be the TIR in the first year.

The Learning Assistant program involves undergraduate students in the introductory-level physics laboratory as junior teaching associates working with small groups. We will have a two-tier system for the LA program; the first experience as a LA is a required part of PHYS 390 coursework and senior LAs, selected after taking PHYS 390, will be paid from the grant.

Increasing the number of physics teaching credentials awarded is directly related to increasing the number of physics majors/minors and informing the students about high school teaching as a career option. Hence, a continuous recruiting effort will be an important part of the CSULB PhysTEC project. We plan to launch an aggressive advertising campaign to recruit students to physics majors/minors and to encourage them to consider physics teaching. Various events are formulated for different target groups: high school students via Physics Teacher Open House, freshmen in orientation events, transfer students from recruiting events in community colleges, students taking physics courses via classroom visitation by the TIR and advertising materials, and physics undergraduate/graduate students via advising. Participating students will be recognized as PhysTEC Scholars.

In addition to the recruiting effort, an early teaching experience course has been developed and approved. PHYS 390 Exploring Teaching Physics allows students to explore physics teaching in a supportive environment through tutoring, working in grades 9-12 classrooms, and assisting in the introductory level physics courses. PHYS 390 is already accepted as a part of the physics degree coursework, and we are pursuing the general education designation. Students from PHYS 390 who are interested in teaching or have potential will be recruited to the paid Senior LA positions. The Senior LAs will act as junior teaching associates in the introductory labs, work in the Physics Issue Room, and help in maintaining and in setting up physics lecture demonstrations.

We will also offer a physics-specific teaching methodology section in PHYS 490 Special Topics. Students will collaboratively develop lesson plans, labs, demonstrations, and assessments related to a single topic that will be taught at the high school level. Each semester the course will delve into different topics. Students will be introduced to common student misconceptions in physics and research-based interactive pedagogical approaches to teaching. Another component of the course will have students access physics teaching resources from the National Science Digital Library and as a group develop an electronic portfolio of teaching resources. The students will leave the course with an electronic portfolio of physics teaching resources associated with a given topic. The TIR will be a co-instructor for the course. We anticipate that physics students (graduate and undergraduate) will likely find the course interesting and useful, and students in the credential program or high school teachers will find the course of interest and value. We are excited about PHYS 490 not only as a new course but also as another place to build and strengthen the physics teaching community in the Long Beach area.

The bi-annual open house led by the Department of Physics and Astronomy is another key component of the CSULB PhysTEC project. We plan to invite high school teachers with their students, to have a short seminar session with physics faculty, to tour the department research labs and facilities, and to do a simple hands-on activity for future classroom use. The first Physics Teacher Open House is planned to be on Oct. 16, 2010.

kwon ziolkowski

(Left) Chuhee Kwon, (Right) Teacher-in-Residence Rod Ziolkowski.

PhysTEC Scholars will receive continuing support including the paid Senior LA, the information about scholarships and funding opportunities for future teachers existing at CSULB (including Noyce Scholarship and paid summer internships at national labs and NASA), the opportunity to teach in the summer science camp organized by the Science Education Department, the opportunity to attend the professional meetings (AAPT and California Science Teachers Association), and monthly PhysTEC Scholars meetings.

The leadership team (three PIs, the TIR, and the coordinator) will work together to advise, mentor, and track the PhysTEC Scholars as they explore physics teaching and move into a teaching career. By building the physics teaching community that partners CSULB physics and science education faculties, high school teachers, physics students (in undergraduate, graduate, and credential programs), we expect that the PhysTEC Scholars will have a strong support group as new teachers, and they will become mentors to the next generation of physics teachers.

Our progress will be updated in the CSULB PhysTEC project website

Chuhee Kwon is Professor of Physics at California State University Long Beach and co-directs the CSULB PhysTEC project with Profs. Galen Pickett (Physics) and Laura Henriques (Science Education).

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.