Letter to the Editor: Physics Student Recruitment

Stewart E. Brekke, Chicago Public Schools

Recently, the APS News reported that another physics major program was being eliminated by a university due to repeated lack of enrollment. While I am not a university teacher, I wish to offer some suggestions on how this situation may be avoided possibly. While substitute teaching in the Chicago Public Schools I found various situations regarding enrollment in different physics programs. In one school with enrollment of about 4,000 students one teacher told me that he was lucky to have one physics course. However, in another school with an enrollment of about 1,000 the high school physics teacher had a full physics program of 4 different courses. The difference in the programs was recruitment. The teacher with a full program with about 1/3 of the students actively recruited the students. He went every year to all the biology and chemistry classes with an interesting experiment and a recruitment talk. He taught regular physics, advanced physics and AP physics every year for years in the smaller high school. Further, when he had the students in regular physics he recruited them for advanced and APS physics. The teacher in the larger high school told me why he only had a partial physics program. He stated that the “students could not hack the math.” I worked in inner city schools teaching physics — required in one school for all students. Many of these students had math problems, but I helped them with the math repeatedly. I purchased about 10-15 basic calculators with my own funds and let the students use them. The students in my classes always had a primarily problem-solving course and to my surprise most of the students did well with the calculators and repeated help with the algebra until they became proficient with the algebra.

What is the lesson to be learned from the above story? The moral is “recruitment, recruitment, recruitment.” The college and university faculty in physics must reach out to the high schools. They must go to the high school physics and chemistry courses and college physics chemistry classes and recruit students for college physics. To keep the students taking physics they must make the physics courses “user friendly,” making problem solving help always available. Physics programs in universities do not have be lost if proper recruiting is done by the physics faculty.

Stewart Brekke is a retired high school physics teacher with the Chicago Public Schools.

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