Recruitment, Retention and Preparation of Secondary Physics and Chemistry Teachers

Donna Stokes, University of Houston; Paige Evans, University of Houston; Cheryl Craig, Texas A&M University; Simon Bott, Swansea University

The National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program provides scholarships for the recruitment and preparation of STEM majors and professionals for teaching careers at elementary and secondary schools across the country. Currently, 67% and 61% of teachers teaching physics and chemistry, respectively, in grades 8 - 12 nationwide, do not hold a degree or a minor in that subject.1 The University of Houston (UH) Robert Noyce Scholarship Program: Recruitment, Preparation and Retention of Teachers for Secondary Physics and Chemistry Education provides highly qualified physics and chemistry teachers to 24 school districts in the Houston Metropolitan area. UH, a minority-serving institution located in the fourth largest city on the nation, is the second most diverse institution in the nation as rated by US News and World Report.2 This makes it an ideal location for preparing a diverse pool of STEM teachers for educating future physicists, engineers, computer scientists, chemists, and medical doctors who can contribute to scientific advances and discoveries.

The UH Noyce program is a collaborative effort of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM); the teachHOUSTON (tH) program, a teacher certification program for NSM majors; the College of Education; and local school districts. Junior and senior level physics/chemistry majors/minors and post-baccalaureate students can apply for the $12,000/year Noyce scholarship. Following graduation, students who accept the scholarship are required to complete two years of service in a high-need school district for each year of scholarship support they received. In addition, the program supports lower division undergraduate paid summer internships for a 6-week experience: two weeks in an Internship Professional Development Training Institute and 4 weeks working as counselors/teaching assistance to science master teachers for two summer camps: the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp (EMBHSSC), an academic, residential camp that provides activities, experiments, projects, and field trips for underserved students entering 6th, 7th, or 8th grade; and the Cougar STEM Camp, for 5th – 7th grade students which features themed weeks exploring STEM topics through hands on activities. The summer internship program serves as a recruiting tool for teachHOUSTON and the UH Noyce scholarship program; it introduces STEM majors to teaching and provides professional development activities early in their careers.

Effective practices of the scholarship and internship program include:

(1) Utilization of specialized degree programs for physics/chemistry majors/minors that incorporate core major and teacher certification courses. In particular, the BS Physics degree with the teachHOUSTON option and the B.S. Math major with the physics minor have increased the number of teachers trained in physics at UH. These programs are designed for degree completion and teaching certification within 4 years, making them attractive to STEM majors interested in teaching.

(2) Built in professional development activities. The Internship Professional Development Training Institute, for example, is conducted for Noyce interns two weeks prior to the start of the camp and includes training in classroom management, working with middle school students, college career readiness, and the use of technology.

(3) Cohort building through teachHOUSTON and a “Science By Inquiry”3 course that focuses on increasing the pedagogical content knowledge of our preservice teachers through instructional strategies grounded in best practices and inquiry-based teaching pedagogies — a key for retention. This course is required in the degree plan of all Noyce scholars and can be used as a teacher certification course for all other teachHOUSTON students, resulting in a larger number of teachers trained to effectively teach physics.

(4) Intense mentoring both during and after program completion, which is essential for retention in the teachHOUSTON program and to the STEM teaching profession. Research has shown that 55% of math/science teachers in Texas leave the teaching profession within their first two years of service with over 50% of all teachers leaving the profession by their fifth year.4

The program has awarded 29 scholarships to physics/chemistry majors/minors and 37 internships to freshman/sophomore NSM majors. To date, seventeen Noyce Scholars have graduated and are teaching or have received teaching positions in high need school districts; 100% completed their degrees within 6 years with a 4.5- year average. Ten graduates are certified to teach physics — as compared with the previous decade where UH had not graduated any students certified to teach physics. Twelve Noyce Scholars are still in the teachHOUSTON program, and thirty-seven interns served as camp counselors in the EMBHSSC. All but three interns are still enrolled in the teachHOUSTON program, and five interns have received Noyce scholarships. Overall, the combined retention rate to the teachHOUSTON program of the Noyce Scholars and interns is 94% (62/66). Incorporation of the Science By Inquiry course has led to 12 students pursuing the Science Composite Certificate, strengthened the physics content knowledge for students not majoring/minoring in physics, and built a learning community. Due to the course’s success, a similar course was created for pre-service middle school teachers and has been offered for the past two years. Additionally, a Biochemistry By Inquiry course is being developed for better preparation of teachHOUSTON students’ pedagogical content knowledge in biology and chemistry.

The scholarship and internship support are used to attract, train, and retain STEM majors in preservice teacher preparation programs; however, the program’s collaborative efforts, built-in support mechanisms, and mentoring are necessary components for program sustainability. For example, the specialized degree programs must be approved and promoted by both entities, making the collaboration between STEM Departments and the teachHOUSTON program a necessity. The content specific “Science By Inquiry” course has been incorporated into the BS physics degree program with the teachHOUSTON option and is approved as a qualifying teacher certification course by the teachHOUSTON program. Curricular and professional development activities and mentoring have become integral parts of the teacher certification and major programs, making them sustainable even if the scholarship/internship support is not available.

The UH Noyce program has provided opportunities for researchers to develop, implement, and evaluate instructional strategies and inquiry models of teaching for the training of qualified physics and chemistry teachers. Resources developed through this program, i.e., degree plans and professional development tools such as the Internship Institute Training Guidelines, are available on the program’s website. Key outcomes and highlights of the program have been shared through presentations at local, national and international conferences, a research handbook chapter, an international book chapter on teacher education, and two digital stories highlighting best teaching practices.

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation DUE Award - 1240083.

Donna Stokes is an associate professor and undergraduate academic advisor for the Department of Physics. She serves as the principal investigator for the University of Houston Robert Noyce Scholarship Program: Recruitment, Preparation and Retention of Teachers for Secondary Physics and Chemistry Education program.


1 National Academy of Sciences: Rising above the gathering storm: Energizing and employing America for a brighter economic future, National Academy Press, Washington DC, (2007).

2 US News and World Report Higher Education: Campus Ethnic Diversity - (2016).

3 Materials taught in the spirit of L.C. McDermott and the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington, Physics by Inquiry (John Wiley & Sons, NY1996).

4 Fuller, E., "Mathematics and Science Teachers in Texas: Supply, Demand, and Quality," Texas Instruments & TBEC (2009).

ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Campers and Noyce Interns

ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Campers and Noyce Interns

First Cohort of Noyce Scholars

First Cohort of Noyce Scholars-Awarded in Fall 2012

Cohort Building through the Science By Inquiry Course

Cohort Building through the Science By Inquiry Course

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.