Forum on Education of The American Physical Society
Summer 2007 Newsletter



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Leveraging Corporate Support for Science Education Reform at Seattle Pacific University 

Eleanor Close

•  Introduction

Corporate interest in the improvement of K-20 education is significant. When ExxonMobil recently announced the creation of the National Math and Science Initiative, a $125 million non-profit program, academics devoted to the professional preparation of math and science teachers took careful notice. This initiative did not arise in a vacuum. During the last twenty years, a series of national reports has warned about the precarious state of precollege math and science education in our country. Although every report has been discussed extensively by academics and pundits, few have had a more visible impact on larger policy than the 2005 National Academy of Sciences report "Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." A confluence of factors have contributed to the magnitude of the impact: a changing political climate in Washington, with increasing emphasis on programs to improve student achievement; a growing recognition that the number of graduates with expertise in science, math, engineering, and technology (SMET) produced in the US every year is inadequate to meet the long-term needs of the country; as well as a long list of quantitative measures of scientific productivity that are consistent with a shrinking US footprint. There is an additional reason for the widespread impact of this report. The report was written by a committee that was chaired by a business leader, included several business leaders, and was written for an audience of business leaders. As academics, we can leverage and direct corporate interest in the improvement of science education at all levels to support innovative programs.

In a previous article in the summer 2006 newsletter, my colleagues Lane Seeley and Stamatis Vokos made the case that collaboration among faculty in the discipline departments and the School of Education is necessary for the creation and refinement of exemplary teacher education programs (which include but are not restricted to exemplary courses for teachers). In this article, I will present the case study of Seattle Pacific University 's continuing collaboration with corporate foundations. Our hope is that other Departments of Physics will recognize the benefits that such a close collaboration can afford them, and will also be warned about different expectations shared by academia and federal funding agencies, on one hand, and some corporate foundations, on the other.

•  Partnership Benefits

In September 2004, the Department of Physics and the School of Education at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) were selected by the Boeing Company to develop a collaborative model of teacher preparation. Since that time, Boeing has continued to support the deepening collaboration between the Department of Physics, the School of Education , and local school districts. This support was leveraged by SPU and gave rise to an additional $1.5 million in funding for a major research and development effort, and was ultimately responsible for SPU's selection as a Primary Program Institution for PhysTEC (Physics Teacher Education Coalition).

Beginning in 2004, the Boeing Company has provided a continuing grant to support the project A Collaborative Preparation Model to Increase the Math and Science Competence of K-12 Pre-Service Teachers . Among the long-term objectives of this local initiative are: (1) to increase the number of well-qualified math and science teachers prepared at SPU; (2) to design and implement a coherent, research-driven program for pre-service teachers in math and science that results in deep content knowledge in the technical area, curriculum and pedagogy; and (3) to create a partnership between teacher educators, researchers, school administrators and master teachers in the areas of math and science that improves the education and retention of K-12 teachers.

To this end, the Boeing Company has provided partial support for a Resident Master Teacher, Lezlie Salvatore DeWater, who has become an integral part of the teacher preparation and enhancement program at SPU and a liaison between the teacher education efforts of the Department of Physics, the Science Education program in the School of Education, and the science education reform initiatives in Seattle Public Schools. This funding has enabled the Department of Physics to secure the remainder of the necessary funding for the full-time position in the form of support from the National Science Foundation and the College of Arts and Sciences at SPU.

Collaboration on the Boeing proposal helped develop a strong partnership between the Department of Physics and the School of Education . This partnership has led to the establishment of a joint School of Education/Physics tenure track faculty position in science education, a position currently held by the author. Working as a team, the Resident Master Teacher (Lezlie DeWater) and the author are responsible for the development and implementation of special science content and methods courses for pre-service teachers. Pre-service teachers, therefore, are immersed in the blending of subject matter knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. We have also developed reformed general science courses for non-majors offered through the Department of Physics to incorporate the results of physics education research.

DeWater's connection with Seattle Public Schools has led to professional development opportunities both for pre-service teachers at SPU and for SPU faculty. As part of the elementary science methods course, pre-service teachers are required to attend one of the excellent workshops offered by Seattle Public Schools on Expository Writing and Science Notebooks (see, and to implement strategies from the workshops in their student teaching assignments. They have the additional opportunity to attend Seattle Public School 's Initial Use workshops for the elementary science curriculum kits adopted by Seattle and many of the surrounding school districts. SPU physics faculty regularly attend these and other workshops with the Seattle Public Schools Inquiry Based Science program, allowing us to stay current with the science program in local schools as well as to nurture relationships with science program personnel and local science teachers.

As mentioned above, initial support from the Boeing Company was instrumental in obtaining additional funding from the National Science Foundation. In spring of 2005 the Department of Physics began a five-year, 1.5 million-dollar NSF Teacher Professional Continuum (TPC) program Improving the Effectiveness of Teacher Diagnostic Skills and Tools . The project has two primary goals: (1) to help teachers of physical science in grades 5-10 develop deep subject matter content understanding, extensive pedagogical content knowledge, and flexible curricular content knowledge, and (2) to develop research-based resources that assist teachers and teacher educators in constructing a diagnostic classroom environment to formatively assess the evolving understanding of their students in the topical areas of properties of matter, heat and temperature, and physical and chemical changes.

In this partnership-based project, the SPU Department of Physics and School of Education work together with FACET Innovations, LLC., a Seattle-based educational research and development company dedicated to the improvement of learning and teaching in K-20 science. The partners of this project work with the Seattle , Bellevue , and Spokane school districts (three of the four largest school districts in Washington State ).

The TPC project includes the development and implementation of special courses for in-service teachers, offered both during the academic year and as intensive summer courses. In addition to these courses, SPU physics faculty teach special science content and pedagogy workshops for in-service elementary teachers in Educational Service District 105, headquartered in Yakima , Washington . These workshops are supported through the Washington Leadership and Assistance in Science Education Reform (LASER) program, which is funded in part by the state and the Boeing Company.

In recognition of the previously described Department of Physics work in teacher preparation, SPU was chosen in 2006 as a Primary Program Institution by PhysTEC, a joint program of the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics. As part of this program, we have established a Teachers Advisory Group (TAG) with representatives from the Seattle , Bellevue , Issaquah and North Shore School Districts as well as from the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. The TAG allows us to further our collaborative relationships with local schools and develop a deeper understanding of the needs of teachers in local districts.

The collaboration between the Department of Physics and the School of Education has also led to the establishment of a Science Education Task Force at SPU. Faculty from the Department of Physics and School of Education meet quarterly to coordinate programs and map out future plans to enhance both pre-service and in-service science teacher education at SPU. Current work includes recruitment of exemplary in-service science teachers to serve as mentors for SPU student-teachers; discussion of ways to coordinate course offerings in physics and education that complement and build on one another; and exploration of the possibility of a general science major for pre-service middle school teachers.

In summary, continuing corporate support of the Department of Physics at SPU has allowed us to add faculty to our department; strengthen and extend existing relationships with the School of Education and with local school districts, and create new relationships; improve our course offerings for pre-service teachers and non-science majors; enhance our teacher preparation and professional development programs for both pre-service and in-service teachers; secure NSF support for research and development in the area of K-12 physics education and teacher professional development; and obtain additional support for physics teacher preparation through the PhysTEC program. These developments have had enormous positive impact on our department, and will continue to shape our path into the future.

•  the clash of Expectations

Q. How many physics faculty does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Physics faculty.change?

Any authentic collaboration tends to change all members involved. Collaboration with industry in support of science education reform requires academic faculty to recognize that many corporate foundations expect large-scale impact ( i.e., a large number of participants involved in a program) on short time-scales. Recently, our Department had the benefit of a visit by the Executive Director of the charitable foundation of a major transnational corporation, which extensively funds math and science education projects around the world. We were all impressed very favorably by the broad perspective that the Executive Director brought on issues of common interest in teacher education and enhancement. It was also clear that there were differences in our outlooks, in both grain-size and time-scale requirements. A telling insight of the corporate mentality was the Executive Director's statement that the majority of sales income for this corporation every year comes from products that did not exist twelve months earlier. The whole ethos of the corporation is based on innovation and rapid, widespread implementation of new programs.

Many research-based university programs in science education reform, viewed from the industry point of view, represent the antithesis of such an outlook. University perspectives are often based on time-scales informed by experience in teacher education and professional development. In most, if not all, experience of university faculty (including the author), it has taken a long time (sometimes as long as ten years) to develop teachers' deep subject matter content knowledge, extensive pedagogical content knowledge, and flexible curricular content knowledge. Frequent changes in leadership and subsequent changes in direction of science reform efforts in school systems relax these systems very quickly back into a pre-reform state. As Melba Phillips once quipped, "The problem with the problems in science education is that they don't stay fixed." The practical results of these differing perspectives is that university programs typically affect dozens of teachers, often on five- to ten-year time-scales, while the furthest time-horizon for industry support of a project is typically three years and the support may be contingent on much larger-scale program impact (e.g., hundreds or thousands of teachers). Given these differences, corporate support of a university program may be difficult to secure, however compelling the research case for the effectiveness of the program may be.

There is plenty of room for productive compromise between these two perspectives. Many university programs for teachers will benefit from recognition of the dire, immediate national need for well-prepared teachers (not just in content but also in pedagogical skill). On the other hand, it is only through constructive, ongoing engagement with industry foundations that corporate expectations of immediate large-scale results in science education can be moderated and the recognition may develop that the preparation and development of professional teachers does not lend itself easily to standard business models.


The efforts described in this article are the results of intensive ongoing collaboration among all members of the Department of Physics at SPU, present and past. In addition to the author, Tom Bogue, Lezlie Salvatore DeWater, John Lindberg, Lane Seeley, Stamatis Vokos, Michael Witiw, Hunter Close, and Pamela Kraus have each played major and distinct roles in all aspects of the program. Bill Rowley, Dean of the School of Education and Frank Kline, Associate Dean for Teacher Education, have been invaluable partners in all our efforts. Our own Dean, Bruce Congdon, has been an indispensable supporter of our Department.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation through Grants ESI 0455796 and DUE 0310583, the Boeing Company, the Huston Foundation, and the PhysTEC project of APS, AAPT, and AIP.


Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21 st Century (2007). Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington , D.C. : The National Academies Press.

Eleanor Close is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Science Education at Seattle Pacific University . Seattle Pacific University was recently named as a new PhysTEC site. Ms. Close will be deeply involved in SPU's teacher preparation efforts.



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