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The Conflict Between Recommendations and Reality: A Short History of U.S. Physics Teacher Education from 1880-2014
written by David E. Meltzer
Physics education in the U.S. has always been sharply conflicted, in that clear and consistent recommendations by physics education experts have been--for more than a century--effectively ignored and rejected in practice. Since the 1880s, U.S. physicists and physics educators have set out specific expectations and recommendations for the education of physics teachers, with many reports, programs, and surveys over the years repeatedly revisiting various common themes. The recommendations have always included a strong emphasis on deep knowledge of physics content, along with special courses that specifically address physics pedagogy and which help to guide prospective teachers to teach physics as a process of investigation and inquiry. However, practical and logistical challenges have prevented the creation of any coordinated and effective nationwide system of physics teacher education in the U.S. The education system has also created obstacles that constrain the effectiveness even of experienced and well-prepared teachers. Consequently, innumerable ad hoc regional and local arrangements have evolved to address perceived teaching needs, and few of these arrangements are consistent with the recommendations of physics educators. State certification requirements, which themselves rarely reflected the full depth of educators' recommendations, have themselves been widely ignored when assigning teachers to actual physics classes. Thus, there have always been enormous gaps between recommendations, "requirements," and reality in terms of preparing those who teach U.S. physics students. I will explore the historical evolution of physics teacher education in the U.S. and try to elucidate the dynamics and conflicting forces that have obstructed desired progress in U.S. physics education.
2014 PhysTEC Conference
Austin, TX: May 19-20, 2014
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Last Modified: June 10, 2014
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