Contributing to Teacher Preparation through "Broader Impacts" Activities

Monica Plisch

The national shortage of highly qualified math and science teachers points to a need to focus more attention and resources on teacher preparation. However, physics faculty often have little time to spare for activities outside of traditional research and teaching. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has strongly supported teacher preparation efforts, primarily through the Directorate of Education and Human Resources. What may be lesser known is that the NSF "broader impacts" criterion opens the door for more conventional research proposals to include teacher preparation activities as well.

Proposals submitted to the NSF are evaluated based on two criteria, intellectual merit and broader impacts. The broader impacts criterion is intended to promote education, outreach and benefits to society. According to an NSF memo, one way to satisfy this criterion is to "participate in the recruitment, training and/or professional development of K-12 math and science teachers" [1]. While most proposals that mention teachers in broader impacts focus on in-service teachers, a review of abstracts turned up a number of current awards that include pre-service teachers.

At Louisiana State University, physicist Mette Gaarde has an NSF CAREER award to support theoretical work on attosecond pulse generation. For the education component, Gaarde is developing "a concept and inquiry based course on atomic and optical physics specifically directed toward physics majors with a secondary education concentration, which will meet objectives correlated with the National Science Education Standards" [2]. The course addresses a need at LSU for more content-based courses that help prepare and certify physics teachers, and satisfies the NSF broader impacts criterion.

The University of Texas at Austin is a research-intensive institution and home of UTEACH, a nationally recognized math and science teacher preparation program. Physicist Michael Marder, co-Director of UTEACH, has developed a course on research methods for UTEACH students. Marder has an NSF award that supports research on nonlinear dynamics, and to meet the broader impacts criterion "material encountered in this research is employed in creating materials for teacher preparation" [3]. A Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) award to another group at UT Austin also includes a collaboration with UTEACH [4].

"Teacher preparation is a very viable broader impact," according to Kathy McCloud, Program Director for Education and Interdisciplinary Research in Physics at the NSF. The broader impacts component can vary depending on what an individual investigator is willing, interested and has an opportunity to do, according to McCloud. She emphasized that it is important to develop a plan with specifics. Evidence of contacts, for example with existing programs, school districts, and experts in teacher preparation, is viewed positively.

In general, broader impacts activities "should be based on good scholarship, and be designed to achieve clearly stated goals and metrics, while possessing the appropriate expertise and resources available for implementation" [5]. Building partnerships with established teacher preparation programs can be a good way to address these requirements, as long as the role of the investigator is specified. McCloud was supportive of the overall idea and said, "if we could get more people involved in this, it would definitely be a good thing."


[1] "Merit Review Broader Impacts Criterion: Representative Activities," July 2007.

[2] "CAREER: Theory of attosecond pulse generation," Award Abstract #044923.

[3] "Nonlinear Dynamics of Solids and Networks," Award Abstract #0701373.

[4] "NIRT: Functionalization of alloy metal nanoparticles for enhanced transport and catalysis in membranes," Award Abstract #0708779.

[5] "Dear Colleague Letter on Broader Impacts Proposal Requirements," April 7, 2008.


Monica Plisch ( is the Assistant Director of Education at the American Physical Society (APS). She manages several initiatives within the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project including PTEC, a coalition of more than 100 institutions committed to improving the education of future physics and physics science teachers.