Supported Site West Virginia University
West Virginia University
Dr. Paul M. Miller
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The West Virginia University (WVU) Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) site will combine the expertise of the University of Arkansas’ successful PhysTEC leadership team with WVU faculty with extensive high school physics teaching experience and be formed in an environment with substantial institutional support for the improvement and understanding of STEM teaching and STEM teacher preparation. This combination will foster an environment where, conservatively, 6-8 highly qualified high school physics teachers graduate each year after five years; this level of teacher preparation should be sustained indefinitely based on the track record of the Arkansas program for success post-funding and because of the substantial institutional investment in STEM education already in place at WVU.
With a current student population of 30,000 and an enthusiastic youthful physics faculty, the WVU physics department currently graduates only 11-12 physics students each year, and about one physics teacher every half decade. Aggressive reform of the physics introductory course sequence, reformed pedagogy in advanced physics classes, a reformed learning assistants class, improved adviser training, inventive recruiting strategies, and forensic identification and removal of matriculation barriers should substantially increase the number of physics majors graduated. Updating the university course requirements for licensure, identified as a primary barrier to teacher graduation, and construction of four-year degree plans for the physics-chemistry and physics-mathematics certifications will greatly increase the number of physics majors going into teaching. Support by a teacher in residence and the project team will ensure these new teachers are successful in the classroom and are retained to the teaching profession.
The key components of the modified program will be a greatly improved introductory calculus-based course sequence, a teacher in residence to provide high school teaching expertise and mentoring of pre-service and in-service teachers, greatly improved and teacher-aware in-departmental advising, a detailed, innovative, and aggressive recruiting plan both for majors and teachers implemented by a project team with proven expertise in recruiting, and a sustainable learning assistants (LA) program build around the reformed laboratory sequence.
The LA program will be patterned off the sustainable Arkansas model where students in the program elect the LA course for physics elective credit. The LAs will present parts of the Tutorials in Introductory Physics after instruction about both general pedagogical issues and issues specific to the material being presented in the next laboratory session, allowing for immediate feedback about pedagogical issues just covered, thus developing an appreciation that a detailed understanding of the teaching of specific content topics, pedagogical content knowledge, is vitally important. Graduate students will also be required to take the LA course the first time they teach the introductory calculus-based classes, further improving instruction.
This program will thrive in an environment of impressive departmental and institutional support. The university has identified STEM education as one of its five “Mountains of Excellence” in its newest strategic plan. This goal has generated investment in discipline-based education hires across the STEM disciplines and the recruitment of Gay Stewart, Arkansas PhysTEC director and former president of the American Association of Physics Teachers to lead the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in STEM Education with the expectation of fostering trans-disciplinary education research across the STEM disciplines. The physics department has made recent physics education research and teaching faculty hires, assembling an unprecedented team of teacher educators.