red Supported Site Towson University (Secondary): Early Teaching Experience

Successes

  • In total, 87 students enrolled in the STEP 1 and 2 courses, with 11 being physics majors, over the time period from August 2010 to June 2013.
  • Towson extended the STEP sequence by creating a new STEP 3 course for future physics teachers (only). This course, taught by a TIR, places secondary majors into high school classrooms as participant observers to give them additional pre-student teaching experience.
  • The Step 1-3 courses were well-received by their intended audiences, and were exciting experiences for the undergraduate participants. These experiences generally increased and/or confirmed the students' desire to become secondary teachers.
  • PhysTEC and UTeach personnel have established a line of communication that keeps the PhysTEC directors informed about the number and identity of the future physics teachers in UTeach.
  • STEP 1 helped dispel the commonly held misconception that elementary and middle school students aren't capable of learning physics.
  • With the help of PhysTEC funding, the number of STEM-Teaching Community physics learning assistant positions increased from eight in 2009-2010 (before PhysTEC) to as many as seventeen in 2011-2012.

Challenges

  • Now that the STEP courses are no longer run by PhysTEC personnel, recruitment of physics majors into STEP 1 and STEP 2 is now largely dependent upon UTeach staff making the effort to target these majors.
  • There were instances where UTeach STEP courses were offered at times that conflicted with required courses taken by first-year physics majors.
  • The current STEP 1 and STEP 2 courses are taught by a Master Teacher with a biology background and a mathematics faculty member. Both acknowledge the need for physics specific personnel to help with the course and welcome this help.
  • Other PhysTEC sites use learning assistant programs and early teaching coursework to recruit students into the secondary education major, but this approach has not been successful at TU. While we have found LA and early teaching programs to be extremely beneficial, these activities have not motivated undecided physics majors to switch into the secondary teaching concentration.
  • Increasing the number of future high school teachers in the university pipeline should not come at the expense of teacher quality, and we are struggling with how to implement evaluation and feedback mechanisms so that only those students who should become high school teachers (in terms of interpersonal and instructional skill, etc.) actually do so.
  • The future teachers' time constraints unfortunately limit their potential school involvement.
  • Travel to outreach sites can be difficult to coordinate, and weekend outreach sessions aren't necessarily attractive to undergraduate students.
  • Some outreach activities might be too time- or equipment-intensive to be replicated every semester.

Sustainability

  • Both the Dean of the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics and the chair of the Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences department continue to provide funding for the learning assistant program. Next year, the learning assistant program may be folded into UTeach or the Center for STEM Education.
  • The STEP 1 and 2 courses are now administered by the UTeach program and PhysTEC faculty will continue to offer the physics specific STEP 3 course as needed.

Lessons Learned

  • In the PhysTEC versions of the STEP 1 and STEP 2 courses, having the TU interns work with small groups of elementary and middle school students (rather than teach the entire class) successfully allowed the interns to focus on teaching rather than classroom management.
  • Logistical support and planning are time consuming necessities for a successful early teaching program.
  • The STEP 1 and STEP 2 host teachers were critical to the success of the course. Care needs to be taken to recruit host teachers for early teaching experiences that have teaching philosophies that align with the program goals (e.g., a focus on inquiry).
  • Providing transportation promotes intern attendance at off-site placements.
  • Local high school teachers should be encouraged to structure early teaching experiences for their physics students so that a possible career in teaching is encouraged even before the students enter college.
  • To broaden the impact on recruitment, undergraduates should communicate their positive early teaching experiences (via seminars or SPS meetings, e.g.) to other physics majors.
  • The learning assistants received the greatest benefit from the program when they worked directly with TIRs to create and refine activities (e.g., interactive lecture demonstrations), improve their pedagogical skills, and have informal discussions about physics teaching.
  • Even after years of participation in the program, learning assistants and their supervising faculty find it difficult to change their traditional views of physics instruction. We have not been as successful as we had hoped in introducing research-based active learning teaching methods into lower-level physics courses in the department.
  • While the majority of STEP students feel comfortable working with elementary students, middle school students, and families, some undergraduates respond better to working directly with high school students.

Activities

  • Towson offered early teaching STEP 1 and STEP 2 courses all three years of the project. In the first two years, STEP 1 courses focused on informal outreach and STEP 2 focused on formal outreach in elementary and middle school classrooms. Starting in year 3, the STEP courses followed the more traditional UTeach model.
  • In the learning assistant program, physics LAs met with their supervising physics faculty, participated in teaching and learning seminars, helped implement "active learning" lecture and lab activities in physics courses, presented brief physics lectures, and held tutoring sessions outside of class. The LA teaching activities primarily focused on interactive lecture demonstrations.
  • Two future teachers arranged their own informal early teaching experiences, in which they planned and taught lessons in their former high schools with their former high school physics teachers.