PhysTEC, the APS-led program to improve teacher education, has announced the addition of four new sites.
PhysTEC (Physics Teacher Education Coalition) institutions work to demonstrate and provide models for increasing the number of highly qualified high school physics teachers and improving the quality of K-8 physical science teacher education. PhysTEC also aims to spread best practice ideas throughout the community and work toward transforming physics departments to re-engage in the preparation of physics teachers.
The PhysTEC project is led by the APS, in partnership with the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics.
Interest in the PhysTEC program has been extremely high. When PhysTEC sent out an initial request for proposals for expansion sites in October 2006, it received 45 applications, many more than expected.
“Project management was quite delighted and a bit overwhelmed by the interest in this program–clearly physics and physical science teacher education is gaining momentum among institutions around the country,” said Ted Hodapp, APS Director of Education.
Hodapp attributes this interest in teacher preparation in part to recent publicity about science education in America, which has shown that American students perform poorly in science compared to students in many other countries. Several reports in the past few years, including the National Academy of Sciences report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, have emphasized the need for improved science education and recruitment of more K-12 science teachers in order to retain our global competitiveness. Physics departments are starting to wake up to the need to produce more, better-trained science teachers, said Hodapp.
The 45 applications to PhysTEC were narrowed to 12 institutions, and 11 of these submitted a 10-page proposal. Four of these were selected to be funded. The new PhysTEC sites are: Cornell University; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Florida International University; and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. In addition to the four schools just selected to join PhysTEC, another new school, Seattle Pacific University, joined PhysTEC last fall.
PhysTEC institutions implement several elements that the project has come to recognize as critical to the success of thriving programs. PhysTEC sites engage in active recruiting that gives students–especially those not typically considering teaching as a vocation–an authentic teaching experience, preferably early in their academic career. These schools also offer physics content courses that model instructional methods that a prospective teacher could use in their classroom. Mentoring prospective and new teachers throughout their undergraduate experience and into their first years in the classroom is also an important element of the PhysTEC program.
The PhysTEC schools use master teachers (called Teachers-in-Residence) to assist in many of the programmatic elements. These individuals make and maintain connections between physics departments, schools of education and the local school districts. They provide a “peer” contact for prospective teachers and a personal touch that is essential to completing the program and establishing good teaching practice.
Another program that has been used successfully in many PhysTEC institutions is Learning Assistants. Learning Assistant programs serve as a combination of recruiting tool and early teaching experience where undergraduate students who have done well in an introductory physics course are brought back in subsequent terms to help facilitate learning. These individuals also typically simultaneously take a 1-credit course or seminar on instruction and how people learn. “Since everyone teaches someone something in their lives, this can be a significant experience for anyone,” said Hodapp.
Many PhysTEC schools also have Teacher Advisory Groups, which typically meet once a semester, to help departments in recruiting the next generation of physics majors as well as future teachers, and provide a peer-mentoring network among the teachers and faculty.
The PhysTEC project has worked with a number of institutions over the past six years, including Ball State University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Oregon State University, Seattle Pacific University, Towson University, University of Arizona, University of Arkansas, University of Colorado at Boulder, Western Michigan University, and Xavier University of New Orleans. Project sites have seen an average of a twofold increase in physics and physical science teachers graduated, with many programs having even more significant gains. Teachers have been evaluated with standardized measures and have scores consistent with those in best-practice interactive learning environments.
In addition to the limited number of funded PhysTEC schools, 70 universities have joined PTEC. PTEC, which grew out of the PhysTEC program, is a larger association of physics departments dedicated to the improvement of K-12 physics and physical science teacher preparation.