Spring 2002



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A Coalition to Improve Teaching

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John Layman and Warren Hein, American Association of Physics Teachers

The Fall 2001 edition of the Forum on Education Newsletter included an article by Fredrick Stein, APS Director of Education and Outreach, announcing a major NSF award to APS for the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, PhysTEC.   The American Institute of Physics (AIP) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) are partners in the project.  AAPT is pleased to be a participant with APS and AIP in PhysTEC because of the close connection between teacher preparation and the association’s mission of “Enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching.”


Two AAPT programs have addressed improvements in teaching.  AAPT’s major impact on the teaching of pre-college science has been its very successful Physics Teaching Resource Agents (PTRA) program.  The PTRA are more than 400 high school teachers trained to present in-service professional development workshops to teachers across the United States.  A second program is the Powerful Ideas in Physical Science curriculum materials that have been developed as models for introductory physics courses for pre-service elementary teachers.  Both programs were supported by NSF grants.


Through participation in PhysTEC, AAPT will be able to have greater impact on the preparation of pre-service science teachers and the mentoring of new teachers. The PhysTEC program is dedicated to improving the science preparation of K-12 teachers and should become a long-term activity within the professional associations.  In the case of the coalition, its natural home would be within AAPT.


The initial members of the coalition are six Primary Program Institutions: University of Arizona, University of Arkansas, Ball State University, Oregon State University, Western Michigan University, and Xavier University of New Orleans. The PhysTEC Primary Program Institution Components accepted by the six members are:


         A long-term, active collaboration among the physics department, the department of education, and the local school community.

         A Teacher-in-Residence (TIR) program that provides for a local K-12 master teacher to become a full-time participant in assisting faculty in course revisions and team-teaching, and to act as a “reality check” for both pre-service teachers and university faculty.

         The redesign of content and pedagogy for targeted physics courses based on results from physics education research and utilizing appropriate interactive technologies.

         The redesign of content and pedagogy for elementary and secondary science methods courses with an emphasis on inquiry-based, hands-on approaches to teaching and learning.

         The participation of physics faculty in the improvement and expansion of school experiences for their students.

         The establishment of a mentoring program conducted by TIRs and other master teachers to provide a valuable induction experience for novice science teachers.


It is clear that it will take many more than six institutions to improve the way K-12 science teachers are prepared and mentored.  Additional coalition members are sought from college or university departments of physics that are also committed to improving the science preparation of future teachers and can provide programmatic resources in support of a smaller set of Coalition Teacher Preparation Principles. These teacher preparation principles include:


         Commit to become actively involved with teacher preparation reform, particularly in the science preparation of future teachers.

         Demonstrate a readiness to work in collaboration with faculty from the School of Education

         Exhibit a degree of enthusiasm to model good teaching practices, particularly instruction based on guided inquiry, student-centered, and in which students are actively engaged.

         Have the capacity to document the department’s work and serve as a model for others within the higher education community

         Exhibit a willingness to shift some of the departments resources toward a PhysTEC program and

         Have the capability for program institutionalization over time.


Those physics departments wishing to become members of the Coalition should prepare a request for membership that includes evidence of a commitment to the Coalition Teacher Preparation Principles listed above, a listing of the faculty members that will be active in the department’s program, and evidence that the program is approved by the faculty of the department and the department chair.


Membership in the Coalition has the following advantages:


         Have access to PhysTEC information, programs, and workshops

         Receive national recognition for participation in the Coalition

         Enhance the institutional eligibility for external funding for teacher preparation

         Enhance the departmental eligibility for internal resources

         Have access to resource persons to help build programs


For more information on the Coalition, contact Fredrick Stein at or visit the Coalition website


John Layman is Professor Emeritus from the University of Maryland and is a former AAPT President.  He is a co-principal investigator for the PhysTEC project.  Warren Hein is the AAPT Associate Executive Officer and is the AAPT staff liaison for PhysTEC.