Supported SiteSupported Site Cornell University: Goals & Outcomes


The goal of the PhysTEC program at Cornell University is to increase the number and improve the quality of the physics and physical science teachers that we prepare. Cornell has very large programs and outstanding undergraduate students in the physical sciences and engineering, but on average only one student every two years has gone on to earn physics teaching certification at Cornell. To capitalize on the potential of our undergraduate and graduate student populations, we need to raise the awareness and change the attitudes of our students and faculty regarding careers in high school science teaching, provide opportunities for our students to experience firsthand the challenges and rewards of classroom teaching, and provide mentoring and support as they work through our education program and on into their first years as teachers.

Selected Outcomes

  • Partnership between Physics and Education, with generous support from Cornell's Provost, has produced a significant increase in visibility for Cornell's Teacher Education Program among undergraduates enrolled in physics courses.
  • Efforts in Physics are producing a culture change in which more and more of our faculty, graduate students and undergraduates view training and careers in high school physics teaching as important and worthy options for our students. We are spreading the word that "Teaching is worthy of your intellect."
  • Our Undergraduate Teaching Assistant Program has received roughly 300 UTA applications in seven semesters, or roughly 3 applications for every position. Approximately 1/4 of UTAs continue on to enroll in Education Department classes and become "Master UTAs".
  • Surveys show that our UTAs are enthusiastic about the program, and that students in the courses served are very happy with the support the UTAs give them.
  • The benefits of the UTA program to the perceptions of physics within the broader student body, to our Physics Major program, and in developing spirit and identity among both physics majors and those with teaching interests are clear.
  • Extensive use of surveys and pre-post testing continues to provide insight into the relative preparation of students in our four introductory course sequences, and into student attitudes towards science and to high school science teaching careers.
  • Our PhysTEC program website focuses on recruiting students into physics and physics teaching. Ongoing development has turned the site into a valuable resource for students and faculty seeking information about teaching careers. The site now includes a complete archive of all of our activities and materials, providing a resource for other PhysTEC institutions. Implemented in Drupal, it also allows wiki-like editing of pages by all users who have permission, which will allow feedback and input from other PhysTEC institutions. The site is currently undergoing another round of upgrades.
  • The Teacher in Residence (TIR) has been critical to all of our efforts. The TIR brings a perspective, energy and approach that are very different from those of our lecturers and professorial faculty, and that are very beneficial to teaching and mentoring in our undergraduate physics program.
  • The TIR creates a "safe place" for both undergraduate and graduate students to explore their teaching interests, in an environment that otherwise places its most visible emphasis on research.
  • The TIRs are an important resource to graduate TAs seeking to maximize their effectiveness in facilitating student learning.
  • On campus career fairs provide an excellent opportunity to recruit future teachers.
  • Strong support from the Physics Chair and the Director of Undergraduate Studies is critical to sustainability efforts. We have worked to engage STEM disciplines within the College of Arts and Sciences in an expanded program to recruit and train future STEM teachers, although progress toward achieving that goal has been hampered by financial and other institutional issues.