PhysTEC addressing national physics teacher shortage

Nationwide teacher preparation program increases by up to 1000% the numbers of graduating physics teachers at participating institutions

Otero

Valerie Otero, University of Colorado education professor and PhysTEC site co-leader, discusses teaching methods with Anil Damle and Anna Lieb, undergraduate peer instructors and potential future teachers. Photo by Ted Hodapp, APS.

The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) is breaking ground in an effort to increase the number of highly qualified physics teachers in U.S. schools. PhysTEC funds the recruitment and education of physics teachers at participating college and universities. The program is an important step toward filling a critical need for physics teachers; only about a third of the nation's 23,000 physics teachers have a degree in physics.

As states increase their high school science requirements and colleges and universities demand that incoming freshmen have more science courses listed in their high school transcripts, the fraction of students taking high school physics has increased by about 1% a year. PhysTEC aims to help U.S. students remain competitive in an ever more technologically complex workplace and world.

Eight years ago, the American Physical Society (APS), the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and the American Institute of Physics (AIP), with NSF support, jointly launched PhysTEC to help U.S. universities alleviate the nation's critical physics teacher shortages. PhysTEC institutions have achieved a number of successes, including

  • Greatly increasing the number of high school physics teachers graduating from their programs, as much as tenfold in some cases (see graph, opposite side of page);
  • Providing early teaching experiences for prospective teachers that develop their pedagogical abilities and encourage them to consider a teaching career (see picture above);
  • Using master teachers to provide critical mentoring support to new graduates and develop bridges between physics departments, education schools, and local K-12 school districts.
  • Transforming science and teaching methods courses for future physics and physical science teachers to help them learn and teach in an interactive and engaging way;
  • Securing allocation of substantial departmental and institutional resources for sustaining teacher preparation programs;
  • Measuring project outcomes and disseminating results through publications, presentations, conferences, and workshops.

PhysTEC began with six universities and has expanded to a total of 14 sites, which are chosen through a peer-reviewed solicitation that considers the applicant's potential to increase the number of teachers who graduate and develop programs that will serve as national models. Evidence of collaboration between physics and education faculty is another important criterion.

Increase

In response to a recent request for proposals, the project received 45 proposals for four available slots. "The physics community is clearly showing broad interest in teacher preparation," said Ted Hodapp, director of education and diversity for APS. "If there were funding for 10 times as many institutions to replicate PhysTEC's efforts, major progress could be made toward putting highly qualified teachers in every one of our country's physics classroom. With today's highly competitive technical workplace, the need for physics teachers has never been greater."

In 2003, the three physics societies launched a parallel effort, also called the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, but known as PTEC. Membership in PTEC is free and open to any institution that prepares physics teachers and that endorses a statement supporting the education of teachers in physics departments. As of April 2009, over 130 institutions have joined PTEC, and faculty from many of these institutions attend an annual conference designed to promote and disseminate best practices in physics teacher education.

PhysTEC is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and APS.