red Supported Site Cornell University: Teacher-In-Residence

PhysTEC has advertised the Teacher in Residence (TIR) as a key component of their program. Our initial experience has made us believers: a good high school physics teacher can be a tremendous asset not only to the PhysTEC project, but also to many other aspects of undergraduate physics and education programs. Cornell's TIRs Marty Alderman and Jim Overhiser have engaged in an extremely broad range of activities.


  • The TIR brings a perspective, energy and approach that are very different from those of our lecturers and professorial faculty, and th are very beneficial to the teaching and the mentoring in our undergraduate physics program.
  • The TIR has been instrumental in making all physics faculty, lecturers and graduate students aware of the need for more high school physics teachers, and for faculty and grad student assistance in recruiting them.
  • The TIR is absolutely critical in providing a "safe place" for students interested in teaching careers, in an institution that places so much of its visible focus on research.
  • TIR Alderman was a consistent and strong voice for course reform focusing on student-centered instruction, and introduced several useful methods to our instructional staff. 
  • TIR Overhiser has been a strong advocate for improved TA training and continuing education in pedagogy, to improve both the experience of their partner UTAs and the quality of Physics Department instruction.  
  • TIRs Jim Overhiser and Marty Alderman presented a well-received Saturday TA workshop, Zen and the Art of Teaching Physics. 
  • TIRs Jim Overhiser and Marty Alderman have been colleagues and partners in 8 years of CIPT lab development and in the presentation of numerous CIPT and STANYS professional development programs. This well developed teamwork has been a boon to this year's success as they have split the part-time hours available under our reduced funding and kept the program functioning effectively.  


  • Cornell has been slow to commit sustaining funds to our program, and efforts to obtain external funding have yet to bear fruit. As a result, in 2010-2011 our two part-time TIRs worked a total of 23 hours/week for 14 weeks in the Fall and Spring terms only. While they have been able to sustain our core program, it has been extremely difficult, especially given time spent on activities mandated by PhysTEC beyond the core activities of recruiting, mentoring and teaching.
  • In a research university where faculty are engaged in a full range of research, teaching and administrative activities, the TIR may end up engaging in too many activities and diluting his or her impact.
  • Research universities are very different from high schools. Adapting to this environment and understanding its diverse objectives and priorities can limit the TIR's effectiveness in his or her first year, especially if there is limited infrastructure for TIR training. We recommend at least a 1+1 year TIR term, where renewal for a second year (and subsequent years) is based upon TIR performance and mutual agreement.
  • The inverse of the previous statement is also true: The faculty and staff of a research university do not generally know or respect the professional understandings and offerings available from a TIR. It takes time for the university faculty to discover the special skill set and range of abilities that a TIR can bring in to their benefit.


  • We have been exploring a variety of possibilities for sustaining a TIR or TIR-like component to our program following the end of PhysTEC funding. In the short term, we have had current TIR Overhiser teach our evening seminar on teaching and learning physics, and past TIR Alderman work part time to do UTA recruiting, interviewing and classroom observation. This has worked well to sustain our program on a limited budget during the 2010-11 academic year, and will be continued into Fall 2011.
  • Now that we have developed protocols and infrastructure, in steady state we estimate that sustaining the undergraduate aspects of the program and mentoring physics MAT students requires ~25-30 hours/week of effort by a TIR or equivalent. We have explored a variety of private foundations, but so far have not identified one with a focus compatible with our objectives. The TIRs have been actively exploring part-time positions with one of the many current and planned STEM outreach programs at Cornell, and Jim was also involved with Cornell Institute for Physics Teachers director Julie Nucci in discussions with the NYS Education Department and Cornell lobbyists. Another approach would be to replace the TIR with a Physics Education Ph.D., who could be appointed as a lecturer in the Physics Department and so could teach undergraduate courses in addition to his or her PhysTEC duties. Identifying and hiring a suitable candidate would be challenging, and obtaining authorization for the position in the current severely constrained financial environment will be difficult.
  • Given the high value to cost ratio of the TIR, our preferred option would be long-term funding of a part-time TIR within the Physics Department.

Lessons Learned

  • PhysTEC senior faculty should carefully plan and coordinate activities with the TIR and with other support staff to maximize overall impact of the TIR's activities. 
  • The TIR's agenda and efforts may sometimes be at odds with specific goals of PhysTEC and with the exigencies of running a PhysTEC program. While the TIR may be most passionate about teaching, as the only staff member funded by PhysTEC the TIR must expect to engage in a broad range of other activities in support of the PhysTEC rubric and must plan to allocate their time accordingly. Unless the program has a large number of students requiring field supervision and RTOP evaluation, the TIR's teaching and mentoring activities should require less than 20 hours per week.


  • Managed and implemented most aspects of Cornell's Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Program, including UTA recruiting, interviewing and scheduling, and teaching the associated weekly seminar course "Teaching and Learning Physics".
  • TIR Alderman wrote a proposal to Cornell's Big Red Incubator program, and worked with two Cornell MBA students in developing a physics marketing campaign directed at teenagers.
  • Provided suggestions and a professional educator's perspective at the 2-day Physics Graduate TA training sessions, and at instructional team meetings in introductory physics courses throughout the year.
  • Provided 'Teacher Tricks' emails to TAs, UTAs, and PhysTEC course faculty, as well as new physics concept demonstrations with recommendations on their learner-centered use.
  • Presented several student and physics teacher workshops during the year. They assisted with Cornell's TA Training Program and Physics Teacher training activities, and distributed numerous flyers to students.
  • Advertised high school teaching careers at the student facilitator training sessions for the Cornell Engineering School's Academic Excellence Workshops
  • Helped to resurrect our Society of Physics Students, which after a several year hiatus is now quite active. Participated in Cornell Teacher Education (CTE) planning meetings.
  • Assisted the instructors and was an additional resource to students in Learning and Teaching I & II (EDUC 4040 & 4050)
  • Reviewed lesson plans of CTE students, and participated in all of the pre- student teaching meetings and the student teaching seminar. Served as Cornell University supervisor of one physics/math student teacher.
  • Assisted 5 Masters of Arts in Teaching candidates with projects in Physics / Physical Science.
  • Advertised the Cornell Teacher Education (CTE) information / recruiting sessions in most physics courses, through in-lecture announcements and pre-lecture PowerPoint presentations. Nearly all students enrolled in undergraduate physics courses and all physics graduate students received emails advertising the sessions. This is now a regular feature of the TIR position.
  • TIRs Overhiser and Alderman presented workshops for Physics TAs entitled "Zen and the Art of Physics Teaching". This all-day workshop presented pedagogical skills appropriate to teaching recitations in introductory courses. Jim Overhiser also presented a half-day workshop for Engineering TAs and instructors entitled, "Impedance matching between how students learn and how faculty teach". The workshop was organized by the Engineering College's Institute for Excellence in Teaching.
  • Discussed a possible role for the TIR in the training and evaluation of graduate student TAs which, because of funding constraints, will likely be limited to occasional workshops. Suggested incorporating the RTOP protocol into current video assessments.
  • Discussed possible use of the Physics Teaching Method Inventory (Eison, Sjajaksana and Salazar-Davis (2009)) by Physics Department teaching faculty, to help increase awareness of PER-motivated instructional tools and strategies. A method for doing so that addresses faculty sensitivities about being evaluated must be developed.
  • Participated in NanoDays at the Ithaca Science Center for three consecutive years. Master UTA Ben Nachman and other UTAs helped out with the hands-on activity.


  • Multiple presentations to Cornell undergraduate and graduate students and also to Physics Department Faculty on the PhysTEC program and careers in physics teaching.
  • Annual presentation on teaching careers at the junior/senior meeting "Physics Degree … What Next?", which had previously focused on graduate study, research careers and seeking employment.
  • At the instructional team meetings (attended by faculty, graduate student TAs, and undergraduate UTAs) for the introductory physics courses, the PI and/or TIR discussed
    • Marketing the "Teaching and Learning Physics" seminar.
    • Marketing the physics major and the physics major with outside concentration.
    • Student-centered instructional techniques for use in recitation sections.
    • The critical need for high school physics teachers.
    • Ways instructional team members can help recruit and retain a broad and diverse group of students in physics (those destined to go to physics graduate school, as well as the much broader group who enjoy physics and could wonderfully apply a physics major's skill set to the many other fields where it is so highly valued.)
    • Specific classroom and course administration strategies to improve student perceptions of physics.
    • Presenting CIPT labs at the annual STANYS conferences and elsewhere. (Both)
    • Serving as co-instructors for the CIPT 2-week and 1-week graduate courses for physics teachers during the summers from 2002 to the present. (Both)
    • Presenting CIPT professional development workshops to teachers in Singapore (Overhiser), Doha, Qatar (Both), Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico (Both), Jackson State University, MS (MAST program) (Overhiser), University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras (Alderman).
    • Serving as President Elect for STANYS (2009-2010) and President (2010-2011) (Overhiser).
    • Attending the New York State Council of Educational Association (NYCEA) meeting in October 2009 and June 2010 (Overhiser)
    • Attending the STEM initiative meeting in Corning, NY in November 2009. Asked to serve on the sub-committee for the Southern Tier STEM Initiative. (Overhiser)
    • Presenting student workshops at Stuyvesant High School in New York City (Overhiser).
    • Presenting science teacher workshops on staff development day for Bronx, New York City Schools (Alderman).
    • Presenting a CIPT Saturday workshops at Cornell's Weill Medical School in New York City (Both).
    • Participating in local school outreach programs organized by Cornell's Laboratory for Elementary Particle Physics and by our Astronomy and Space Sciences Department. (Both)
    • Presenting physics outreach at the Arecibo Observatory Learning Center (Alderman)
  • Both of our TIRs have been actively involved with the Cornell Institute for Physics Teachers (CIPT), the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS), the Central NY Physics Alliance, and the New York State Education Department STEM initiative. Activities in these roles have included: