Biographies: James Madison University

Joe Mahler

Joe MahlerI grew up in Syracuse, New York, but found my way to North Carolina after being recruited to run cross-country and track at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC). In 2001 I graduated with a B.A. in Physics and state licensure to teach high school physics. Since graduating from UNCC I have taught at a variety of schools (rural, inner city, independent, single gender, and religious) as well as a variety of subjects (11th/12th grade Honors/Regular Physics, IB Physics, AP B Physics, Principals of Technology, 9th grade Honors/Regular Physics, Introduction to Engineering, and Physical Science.)

When I first started teaching I was a very traditional teacher and relied heavily on lectures and notes to help my students learn. I presented complex and abstract concepts before laying a concrete foundation. I became frustrated with my students' inability to understand and apply the ideas we talked about in class, and ultimately decided that I needed to change my approach to teaching. This is when I discovered the Modeling Method of teaching physics and started becoming the teacher I am today.

I have taken three 3-week long Modeling workshops as well as earned my M.Ed. from Walden University. These educational experiences have allowed me to transition my classroom from being teacher-centered to student-centered. I have replaced lectures and notes with student-led presentations, class discussions, and Socratic dialogue. I am rarely in the front of the classroom telling students what to do. Instead I have become a guide for my students.

When I saw great results in my classroom using Modeling, I decided to make this pedagogy available to others. Initially, a colleague and I offered half-day Modeling workshops at annual science teacher meetings. Then in 2008, after proposals and meetings, we instructed a successful three-week summer Modeling course through my alma mater, UNCC.

One year later I moved to Virginia with my wife. In 2010 I began working with the Virginia Instructors of Physics to organize four one-day Modeling workshops over the next two years. In 2012 I co-wrote a grant that funded professional development for 100 science teachers at the 2013 Content Teaching Academy at James Madison University (JMU), which resulted in the Physics Teacher of the Year Award by the Virginia Association of Science Teachers.

When I learned about the Physics Teacher in Residence (TIR) position at JMU, I was immediately interested. Improving physics education has gradually become more than just my side project, but a true aspiration that was often postponed in order to fulfill my obligations in the classroom. The TIR position is the perfect place for me to focus on this work full-time. I plan to use my experiences over the past 12 years of teaching high school physics to help JMU develop their physics education program, mentor future STEM educators, and support physics teachers in Virginia.