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By Leah Poffenberger
The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) links more than 300 institutions across the United States with the purpose of improving and promoting physics teacher education. To develop strong communities within PhysTEC, the first regional network in California was launched as a pilot program two years ago. Now, as a result of the success of that pilot network, two new PhysTEC regional networks are launching in Texas and New York.
As the United States faces a shortage of qualified physics teachers, PhysTEC, a partnership between APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers, is helping to transform physics teacher education programs. PhysTEC also facilitates ways for institutions to share effective practices. However, since the coalition is so large, and teacher requirements and policy issues vary by region, the regional networks were created to help small groups of institutions create strong avenues of communication and resource sharing.
“After many years of PhysTEC, we realized that while we have a strong community, we can’t directly support every site,” says David May, Education and Diversity Programs Manager for PhysTEC. “We came up with the idea of regional networks to help programs share information and support other nearby institutions.”
Regional networks are formed by first identifying a PhysTEC institution to take the lead and then assume responsibility for creating and strengthening the network. Members of the networks include both member institutions of PhysTEC and unaffiliated universities with teacher training programs.
“The importance of having networks in specific regions is that the institutions exist in the same policy environment or system,” says May. “Since things like teacher credential requirements can change based on the state, having a network in the same region can help institutions address common issues.”
The two new regional networks will be led by Texas A&M-Commerce and SUNY-Stony Brook. Texas A&M-Commerce is already set to be joined by three other institutions—Texas State, the University of Houston, and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley—and they already have around 25 potential network members. Many of these potential members aren’t existing PhysTEC sites but are still welcome in the network.
Stony Brook will head up a network serving southeast New York, including New York City and Long Island. While other institutions have not yet committed to joining the network, Stony Brook is seeking partners from other universities in the SUNY system, professional teacher societies, and alternative teacher certification programs.
The initial network in California was formed thanks in part to a donation from Google. Led by Laura Henriques, a professor of science education, and Chuhee Kwon, a professor of physics, both at California State University Long Beach, the network has been a success for connecting physics teacher education programs in Southern California. The network has hosted in-person meetings, with plans for more virtual meetings to talk about issues in physics teacher education, share strategies, and take advantage of expertise at partner institutions.
The next step for the new regional networks is forming their own conferences, partially with the help of Henriques, who will join PhysTEC as an advisor.
“We’ve brought Henriques on board to help the leadership of these new networks think about their plans for the future,” says May. “The leader institutions have to consider how to reach their target institutions, what to offer to their members, and how to best share all the expertise PhysTEC has to offer.”
The regional networks will have a unique opportunity to reach like-minded physics teacher education programs that might not have yet joined PhysTEC.
“We think these regional networks are an important way to reach more institutions to improve their teaching programs,” says May. “This is critical in producing more and better physics teachers.”
PhysTEC is a joint project of APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the APS Campaign for the 21st Century. To learn more about PhysTEC and its member institutions, visit phystec.org.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik