Stephen J. Robinson,
Fred Goldberg, and
Valerie K. Otero
In accordance with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act of 2002, it will soon be required that all elementary students are assessed in science content by the end of their fifth grade year. It is recognized that few elementary teachers are prepared for this, especially in the physical sciences. Realizing this, many teacher preparation programs are replacing traditional science requirements for pre-service elementary teachers (usually a two semester sequence in any single lab science) with a cluster of one-semester content courses, including one in physics or physical science. Thus university physics departments are increasingly being called upon to implement a course exclusively for this audience. This can be quite a challenge since this is not the audience to which physics courses are traditionally targeted and it is desirable that such a course model the inquiry-based pedagogy that elementary teachers are expected to use in their own classrooms. Further, physics faculty may be unfamiliar with these inquiry-based methods of teaching. The Physics for Elementary Teachers (PET) curriculum has been designed to address this challenge.
Lillian C. McDermott,
Paula R. L. Heron, and
Peter S. Shaffer
The Physics Education Group at the University of Washington (UW) has been conducting special courses for K-12 teachers for more than 30 years. They have developed a sequence of academic-year courses for prospective elementary and middle school teachers and another sequence for prospective high school teachers. They also conduct an intensive NSF-funded six-week Summer Institute for Inservice Teachers that has similar goals. The materials used in both the preservice and inservice courses are drawn from Physics by Inquiry, a self-contained, laboratory-based curriculum that has been developed for use in university courses to prepare K-12 teachers to teach physics and physical science. The emphasis in this paper is on elementary and middle school. However, most of the discussion is applicable to the preparation of high school teachers.
American students studying science are expected not only to master the fundamental concepts of the discipline but more importantly to understand the methods of inquiry in science. The workplace now expects graduates to be able to use scientific knowledge to design experimental investigations, devise and test models of natural phenomena, work collaboratively, and communicate effectively. Research in education demonstrates that the success of the current reform goals in K-12 science education depends on the preparation of teachers. In addition to knowing the content and the methods of scientific inquiry teachers should be able to create learning environments in which students can master the concepts and processes of science while working with their peers. Students will not learn if content knowledge is simply transmitted to them.
Undergraduate students at the University of Arizona who wish to become middle or high school science teachers have a unique opportunity to pursue their goal in the company of other science majors under the guidance of science educators and experienced mentor teachers. In this article, I present some of the central ideas that guide this teacher preparation program, and how those ideas are implemented. I conclude with information about program enrollment and teacher retention.
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