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By Leah Poffenberger
Each year, the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) recognizes outstanding physics educators with the PhysTEC Teacher of the Year award. The winner of the 2021 PhysTEC Teacher of the Year award is David Wirth, who teaches at Millennium High School in Goodyear, AZ.
PhysTEC is a joint initiative between APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) to address a critical shortage of qualified physics teachers in the United States through improved teacher education programs. Alumni of PhysTEC member institutions are selected for the Teacher of the Year award to highlight exemplary educators who demonstrate the value of teacher preparedness. Each year, PhysTEC names one national Teacher of the Tear as well as local Teachers of the Year—this year, ten local winners were selected.
Wirth, an alumnus of PhysTEC member institution Arizona State University, has spent a 29-year teaching career bringing students unique opportunities to take their enthusiasm for physics beyond the classroom. Through co-founding an annual math and science expo called STEMCon, which drew in nearly 1000 students in its 10th year, and participation in the “I am a Scientist” campaign, Wirth has inspired students to pursue careers in science.
In the classroom, Wirth uses the Modeling Instruction method, as well as the latest pedagogical best practices, to create an exceptional learning environment for his students. He has also raised over $50,000 in grants to purchase equipment to give students opportunities to explore physics in hands-on ways and build confidence in their physics skills. Wirth also mentors fellow teachers, sharing techniques he has tested in his own classroom.
Beyond the classroom, Wirth continues to provide students with opportunities to learn and grow their enthusiasm for science. He started a Science Olympiad club on campus and encourages students to compete at the state level. He also supports student participation in AAPT contests such as Physics Bowl and the High School Physics Photo Contest.
In addition to his work at Millennium High School, Wirth also teaches physics courses at Estrella Mountain Community College. He has also been developing a middle school STEM program with Jeff Andretti (son of racing legend Marco Andretti) to inspire learning about physics through the medium of racing.
The PhysTEC Teacher of the Year National winner receives special recognition at the PhysTEC conference, funding to attend two professional physics conferences focused on education and teacher preparedness, and a grant for classroom materials of $1,000.
Local PhysTEC Teachers of the Year will receive a certificate of recognition as well as a spotlight on the PhysTEC website and in local press. These winners are:
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine