The American Association of Physics Teachers Support for K-12 Teachers

Beth A. Cunningham, Executive Officer, AAPT
Robert Hilborn, Associate Executive Officer, AAPT

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) provides a number of programs and activities that support pre-service teacher preparation efforts, early career induction and mentoring of teachers of physics, and in-service professional development for teachers of physics. Much has already been written about PhysTEC and AAPT’s partnership with the American Physical Society on supporting pre-service physics teacher preparation; therefore, this article will focus on the AAPT programs that support teachers of physics once they are in the classroom.

High School Teacher Professional Development and Physics Teaching Resource Agents

AAPT initiated the Physics Teaching Resource Agents (PTRA) Program in 1985 — with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) — with the mission of improving the teaching and learning of physics and physical science for all teachers and students in the United States. AAPT/PTRA is the leading in-service physics professional development program for middle school and high school teachers. It provides professional development on physics content, teaching techniques based on research in physics education, and integration of technology into the curriculum. The program maintains a nationwide cadre of accomplished high school teacher-leaders who are trained and continually involved in professional development. These teacher-leaders are certified as PTRAs by AAPT to lead workshops throughout the country.

Since 1985, over 150 experienced PTRAs have participated in national leadership institutes in which they have developed their skills on a wide range of topics in order to assist their fellow physics teachers. The program has involved more than 30 university and college physics departments partnering with PTRA’s to provide the summer institutes and follow-up sessions. This partnership is an important feature that ensures a high quality and sustainable environment for the PTRA workshops. Physics departments provide the infrastructure and faculty support for workshops and the PTRAs provide peer mentoring and leadership in conducting the workshops.

The American Physical Society recognized the achievements of the AAPT/PTRA program with its Excellence in Physics Education Award in 2011.

In 2012, AAPT announced a new Physics Teaching Resource Agents (PTRA) initiative in response to the proposed Next Generation Science Standards. The AAPT Executive Board has constituted a new committee, the AAPT/PTRA Oversight Committee, to provide advice and guidance to the Executive Board in the planning and use of AAPT funding to support this new initiative as well as continuation of projects associated with the AAPT/PTRA program. The AAPT/PTRA Oversight Committee will work with the Program Director and Executive Officer to develop plans for the use of AAPT funding and recommendations for the long-term governance and plans for the AAPT/PTRA program.

The first set of members of the AAPT/PTRA Oversight Committee are recognized leaders in K-12 physics education.  Many have served as PTRAs in the past and others have extensive experience in providing professional development to teachers of physics. Karen Jo Matsler has agreed to serve as Director of AAPT/PTRA for three years of the program.  She has taught for over 30 years, served as a K-12 science coordinator, and currently is a Master Teacher in the UTeach program at University of Texas – Arlington. As Co-Principal investigator for the AAPT/PTRA project, Karen Jo was responsible for gathering data to document the impact of PTRA on over 1,000 teachers and 500,000 students. Members of the Oversight Committee include the following individuals:
  • Pat Callahan, Delaware Valley Regional High School (PTRA) - 2-year term, Chair of the Committee
  • John Roeder, Calhoun School (PTRA) - 1-year term
  • Deb Roudebush, Oakton HS, (PTRA) - 1-year term
  • Elaine Gwinn, Shenandoah High School (PTRA) - 3-year term
  • Lillian McDermott, University of Washington - 3-year term
  • Keith Clay, Green River Community College - 2-year term
  • Steve Shropshire, Idaho State University (former Advisory Committee Member) - 3-year term

AAPT celebrates the long and proud heritage of AAPT/PTRA and the roles that all current and past PTRAs have played in its success. We plan to continue and extend this work for the next generation of teachers of physics. We also are continuing to serve the needs of the current cadre of AAPT/PTRA’s to ensure that those teacher leaders are prepared to lead workshops as new standards are adopted and technology changes.  We anticipate exciting developments as the program grows into new areas and state-level PTRA activities continue to receive funding. The following list highlights recent developments in the PTRA program.

PTRA Summer Leadership Institute – Just before the 2013 AAPT Summer Meeting, 30 high school physics teachers and other physics educators will meet for three days in Portland, OR to be trained or update their training as PTRAs. Three topics will be addressed in this training: engineering design and applications, integration of information technology and engineering (iOS devices, etc) to the current PTRA content workshops, and integration of literacy and math with a focus on the upper-elementary and middle-school physical science curriculum. This Institute resumes our training of physics teacher leaders after a one-year hiatus.  We anticipate further growth of the Summer Leadership Institute in future years.

PTRA State-Level Summer Programs – We also have a number of state-level PTRA programs that will occur during summer 2013 and beyond.  These programs are located in Oklahoma, Alabama as a part of the APEX program (see funded by the NSF Math and Science Partnerships program, Idaho, Maryland, and Georgia.

Expansion of the AAPT/PTRA Effort – The STEM education consortium has granted AAPT funding for a meeting of representatives of the AAPT, the American Chemical Society, and the American Modeling Teachers Association to develop plans for professional development activities for physics and chemistry teachers. We will hold this planning meeting in late summer 2013. We hope to initiate joint professional development programs starting in 2014, depending on the availability of funding.

AAPT e-Mentoring Program for First-Time Teachers of Physics

The 2012-13 academic year marks the third year of the e-Mentoring program, a program for mentoring teachers in the US who are teaching high school physics for the first time. The AAPT eMentoring program is designed to connect high school physics educators who desire additional guidance with experienced high school physics educators. Based on the mentees’ profiles, the program will connect each of them with a qualified mentor who fits the needs of that mentee. The mentee and mentor can then begin communicating through email, voice chat, telephone, or in some cases face-to-face meetings. All participants will have an opportunity to grow professionally and connect with colleagues at a regional and national level. Mentors have extensive experience teaching high school physics and are often current or past PTRAs.

AAPT continually monitors the eMentoring program to assess its effectiveness. An end-of-year survey was distributed to both mentors and mentees in 2011 and 2012. Overall, the program has been fairly successful as reflected in the result that mentors have increased the likelihood that mentees will remain in teaching (92.9% responding yes or maybe). Many mentees would like to continue to have a mentor (78.6%) and most mentors would like to remain as mentors (96.4%).  In response to a question about potential new features, mentees want more resources as do mentors. There is a sense that mentors and mentees would like to interact among their peers and also that an “instant mentor” module should be implemented to respond to short, time sensitive questions from new high school physics teachers not necessarily seeking a long term mentoring relationship. The AAPT e-Mentoring staff team and the e-Mentoring Advisory Committee are reviewing the survey results to improve the program in order to enhance the success of this program and potentially expand it. For more information about the AAPT eMentoring program, see

ComPADRE Digital Library

The ComPADRE digital library is a network of free online resource collections supporting faculty, students, and teachers in Physics and Astronomy Education. Each of the collections in ComPADRE contains materials designed for a specific community. A number of collections have been designed to support teachers of physics and physical sciences.

Physics Front – includes teaching resources for K-12 physics and physical science classes seeking to integrate high-quality materials into their lessons. This library contains lesson plans, technology tools, teaching modules, and a featured resource. Teachers can look for materials related to a specific level (Physics First, conceptual physics, algebra-based or calculus-based physics, and K-8 physical sciences). A special section for first-time physics teachers is highlighted in this collection.

Physics To Go – is an online monthly mini-magazine and collection of more than 1,000 websites with physics images, activities, and information. Teachers can learn physics on their own, through games, webcasts, and online exhibits and activities. Also included are physics-on-the-road outreach programs, which bring demonstration shows, and in some cases hands-on activities, to teachers and their students. Teachers can browse the collection and search the database by content topic, resource type, and grade level. Past issues include topics such as “Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming” (May 1, 2013), “Waves and Music” (November 16, 2009), “Resonance” (May 16, 2007), and “Life and Death of Stars” (June 1, 2010). Many of these resources can be used to supplement classroom materials.

Physical Sciences Resources Center (PSRC) – a web-based database that provides K-20 teachers links to a wide range of teaching and learning resources in the physical sciences. All materials are classified by their grade level, topic, and activity type, and have descriptions outlining their content. Information about authors, publishers, costs, and copyright is also provided. Educators can use the PSRC to find curriculum materials for all grade levels, classroom demonstrations, labs, online learning material, evaluation instruments, and articles about approaches to science education. The collection can be searched by keyword and author's name and organization, or browsed by topic, type of resource, or grade level. Users of the PSRC are encouraged to participate actively in the PSRC. They may suggest materials for the editors to include in the collection, share comments, and build personal collections of materials.

Statement on “Critical Need for Support of Professional Development for the Teaching of Physics in K-12 Schools”

A group of AAPT members and teacher professional development experts have prepared a statement on the need for support of professional development for the teaching of physics in K-12 schools. This statement was prepared to describe the professional development needs for beginning and experienced teachers in anticipation of the release of the Next Generation Science Standards as well as to emphasize the need for on-going support for the professional development of all in-service teachers of physics. View a copy of the final pdf version of the statement. The AAPT Executive Board endorsed this statement in April 2013. We anticipate that AAPT members as well as others will use this statement in visits to members of Congress or state legislators, federal funding agencies, and with local school districts.

National and Section Meetings

Several hundred K-12 physics teachers attend AAPT’s two national meetings and many regional section meetings each year. These meetings provide a mix of workshops and talk sessions where teachers can share their experiences, learn more physics content and pedagogy, and network with their colleagues. In addition, AAPT and its local sections organize Physics Days at each of the National Science Teachers Association regional meetings.

Beth A. Cunningham, currently Executive Officer of the American Association of Physics Teachers, received her bachelors, masters, and doctorate from Kent State University, taught physics for 17 years at Bucknell University where she also served as the Associate Dean of Faculty, and held the position of Provost, Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of Physics at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Robert Hilborn, currently Associate Executive Officer of the American Association of Physics Teachers, earned his bachelor’s in physics from Lehigh University and his master's degree and Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University. He brings to this position extensive experience as a physics faculty member and college administrator at Oberlin College, Amherst College, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Texas at Dallas.

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.