Project Status: June 2005

Here is a brief synopsis of the actions and efforts of the PhysTEC project since 1 March 2005. If you have questions please contact Project Manager, Victoria Kwasiborski or the project's Principal Investigator, Ted Hodapp (

Overall Project Activities

Updated Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan developed in Fall 2004 reflects accomplishments across the project and incorporates new actions undertaken in the project. Chief among the activities has been the working to engage project consultants to assist management in better documentation and reporting of project efforts, and the drafting of our contracts template to better reflect these goals. Additionally, plans continue to develop for the published book on the project as a major effort to disseminate the results and findings of PhysTEC. Chapter topics for the book have been identified, and tentative authors for the chapters are being considered.

New Project Manager. Victoria Kwasiborski joined PhysTEC as Project Manager in March. She is responsible for day-to-day operations and communications with the PPIs and management team, coordinating various aspects of the project, and drafting major project documents. Victoria comes to the project most recently from the National Science Foundation, where she served as an education analyst in the Division of Undergraduate Education. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Policy Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Consultants. We are establishing consulting arrangements with individuals with diverse backgrounds and skills to assist in assessment of course reform, the TIR program, mentoring and induction efforts, and dissemination through the ComPADRE digital library ( Many of these roles were suggested in on-going discussions within the project and reinforced by the NSF panel report.

PhysTEC Advisory Committee. The project is pleased to announce that Jill Marshall, from the University of Texas at Austin has agreed to join the PhysTEC Advisory Committee. Jill is involved with the UTeach program at the University of Texas and does PER in the Education Department there. Jill replaces Paul Hickman who has joined the project in a consulting role, working on documentation of the TIR and Mentoring aspects of the project (among other things). We are excited about the perspective that Jill brings to the project, especially her knowledge of exciting projects like UTeach.

Preparation of the NSF Annual Report. In June the PhysTEC Annual Report will be submitted to the NSF. This year's report highlights a number of the accomplishments achieved throughout the project including a large set of examples where PhysTEC has had a profound influence on the education of future teachers at both the local and national level. These success stories of the project will be available on the PhysTEC website later this summer.

External Funding. In November of 2004 we submitted a proposal to the Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of PostSecondary Education (FIPSE) program. Our proposal advanced to the second round, but the entire competition was shut down late last year because most of its funding was earmarked by Congress in the omnibus spending bill passed in November. Further discussions with our Program Officer have encouraged us to apply again in the coming year, and we expect to submit a proposal to help fund a number of projects and efforts that compliment the project's ongoing activities.

NSF Review. On January 28 P th P the PhysTEC project spent a day in a panel review at the NSF. The panel completed its report on 28 March and after a number of consultations with project personnel and advisory committee members, the project formulated a response to the panel. The report recognized the importance and difficulty of the task the project had set for itself, and suggested a number of ways in which it could enhance the effectiveness of its programs. Among these were suggestions that the project improve "synergy" so the project as a whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. The new Memorandum of Understanding process for contracts with each of the Primary Program Institutions has been written with this thought in mind, and as we implement this strategy we hope to see demonstrably improved communication within and outside of the project. The report also mentioned a need to document the efforts of the project thoroughly. We are in the middle of planning a publication, slated for 2007, that will address these concerns. This endorsement of current efforts within the project reinforces the directions we are taking. A subsequent meeting with NSF program officers has helped us sharpen some of the short-term goals (e.g., producing documented evidence of the TIR program more quickly), and we anticipate bringing some of these results out in the coming year. The review process took a considerable effort from project staff, but has helped us see the issues facing the project in a clear way. We look forward to reporting results of efforts aligned with the panel's recommendations in the near future.

PhysTEC Activities

June Project Meeting. On June 5-7, the Leadership Council (institutional project leaders in the funded physics departments, a representative of the Teachers In Residence, and a representative of the PhysTEC education faculty) met with the Management Team and key project consultants at the American Center for Physics. The purpose of this meeting was to review the year's work in the project and to discuss some of the changes proposed in assessment and other reporting requirements, as well as in the upcoming new contract process. Many of the proposed changes have been motivated by PhysTEC sites, by the NSF panel review, and by conversations in the management team meetings. This meeting generated feedback on the proposed changes and is helping the management team modify or rework them to best meet the needs of each of the funded departments and the needs of the project as a whole.

Updates to PhysTEC Website. The PhysTEC website has been updated to be current in Project news and developments. A section on the teacher preparation program at each Coalition institution will be added shortly. Ed Lee of the APS has been spearheading this effort.

Selected New Publications. Some of the new presentations and publications by PhysTEC project members for the current quarter include the following:

Primary Author



Finkelstein, N.D.

CU Physics Education, Recruiting and Preparing Future Physics Teachers and the Teacher Advisory Group

APS FEd Newsletter (Spring 2005)

Finkelstein, N.D.

Replicating and Understanding Successful Innovations: Implementing Tutorials in Introductory Physics

PhysRev Special Topics: PER (in review)

Finkelstein, N.D.

When learning about the real world is better done virtually: A study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment

PhysRev Special Topics: PER (in review)

Henderson, C

Encouraging students to read the text before coming to class

Journal of College Science Teaching (submitted)

Hoellwarth, C.

A direct comparison of conceptual learning and problem-solving ability in traditional and studio style classrooms

American Journal of Physics , May 2005, 73 (5), 459-463

Lising, L.

The impact of epistemology on learning: A case study from introductory physics

American Journal of Physics 73 4 (April 2005) pp. 293-384

Novodvorsky, I.

Arizona Publication Partners in the Preparation of Secondary Science Teachers

APS FEd Newsletter (Spring 2005)

Robertson, T.H.

Personalized, Web-Based Instructional Materials with LON-CAPA

Indiana Section, American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) Meeting, Indianapolis IN (April 2005)

Rosenthal, A.

Teaching about Circuits at the Introductory Level: An Emphasis on Potential Difference.

American Journal of Physics (in preparation)

Sayers, J.

High School Physics and Seismic Research

Indiana Section, AAPT Meeting, Indianapolis IN (April 2005)

Sayers, J.

The PhysTEC National Conference at Ball State

Indiana Section, AAPT Meeting, Indianapolis IN (April 2005)

Smith, W.

Look for the Moon, Reach for the Stars!

Science and Children (in press)

Tretkoff, E.

Featured PhysTEC School:

University of Arizona

APS News , May 2005

Wolter, M.

Personalized, Web-Based Instructional Materials with LON-CAPA

Indiana Section, AAPT Meeting, Indianapolis IN (April 2005)

Wolter, M.

A Camera in Every Physics Classroom

Indiana Section, AAPT Meeting, Indianapolis IN (April 2005)

Presence at APS March and April Meetings . PhysTEC/PTEC presence at the 2005 APS meetings and the Winter 2005 AAPT Meeting was limited owing to the change in project management. Efforts are underway now to plan for a more substantial involvement at the APS meetings in 2006. The project already has commitments from three or four groups within the PhysTEC PPIs for sessions at the March, 2006 APS meeting. The APS Forum on Education will be sponsoring sessions at this meeting and we hope to reach audiences not traditionally met in AAPT and other meetings (e.g., research physicists and physics department chairs). For additional contributions, we will also do a call for papers through the Forum on Education and through the PTEC listserv. The presence at the April 2006 APS Meeting will be planned in September, 2006. Planning is now beginning for the Winter 2006 AAPT Meeting.

Site Visits. In the past the project has conducted annual site visits to each of the Primary Program Institutions. Both the project and management team has indicated that these visits need to be leveraged more broadly to help disseminate local practices and innovative ideas to a larger audience. We are currently planning a new site visit protocol that will more strongly engage the Coalition members as well as cross-site visiting. We did conduct a site visit this spring to Xavier University of New Orleans and were able to get an in-depth view of their project and reach a consensus of how best to make use of the extraordinary potential at Xavier for preparing African-American students to become science teachers. The cross-site nature of this visit will hopefully provide a model of how we will conduct other site visits in the future.

Coalition Activities

2005 Conference on the Preparation of Physics and Physical Science Teachers. The 2005 Conference of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition provided a much broader array of presenters than ever before and a wider range of participants as well. Held in Muncie, IN at Ball State University on March 11-12, 2005, the Conference offered three concurrent sessions of workshops on each day. Beyond the scheduled sessions, many participants, especially the education and physics faculty members at PhysTEC institutions, found time to meet informally to share what they had learned in the year since the last Conference. The design of the Conference-combining the annual coming together of the PhysTEC community with an infusion of national experts and interested participants-will be a model for future Conferences. For more information, please see the PTEC Conference page.

PTEC 2006 Working Group. The PTEC 2006 Working Group, comprised of members of the Leadership Council, Management Team, and others from the community, held a teleconference in late May to plan for the 2006 Conference on the Preparation of Physics and Physical Science Teachers, to be held in Fayetteville, Arkansas (24-25 March 2006). The group identified the conference theme and established a comprehensive list of potential workshop topics including innovative instruction methods and alternative certification; additionally, consideration was given to a facilitated panel discussion on changing the culture in physics departments to make teacher preparation an important part of their mission. Carl Weiman, a Nobel laureate from the University of Colorado, Boulder will be the keynote speaker at this event.

Summer, 2005 FEd Newsletter, Teacher Preparation Section. The Teacher Preparation section of the upcoming Summer FEd Newsletter will feature an article about three exemplary programs for the preparation of elementary teachers:

  • Physics By Inquiry (University of Washington Physics Education Research Group)
  • Physics for Elementary Teachers (Fred Goldberg, San Diego State Unviversity)
  • Powerful Ideas in Physical Science (American Association of Physics Teachers).

New Members. PhysTEC welcomes Oklahoma State University (OSU) and Seattle Pacific University (SPU) to the Coalition. The Oklahoma State physics department is developing a greater connection between "Inquiry Physics," a popular course for OSU's pre-service elementary teachers, and elementary science methods; increasing the number of "Inquiry Physics" sections, due to its popularity; and collaborating with the College of Education to design a physics education course for secondary science instructors.

Seattle Pacific University, in addition to broad efforts to improve physics education for all SPU students, is offering courses specifically targeted to improve physics education for pre-service and in-service teachers. The Boeing Company has awarded the SPU Physics Department a grant to expand these critical opportunities for local educators. Further, a partnership with the SPU School of Education has resulted in the establishment of a joint physics/education faculty position in the Physics Department.

PTEC and ComPADRE. ComPADRE is a digital library project that provides tools and resources to help support communities involved in physics and astronomy education. PTEC and ComPADRE are working to establish the PTEC-Digital Library (PTEC-DL), which will be a collection of resources on teacher preparation. Dan MacIsaac (SUNY-Buffalo) has agreed to be the editor of this collection.

Building Databases of Resources for Teacher Preparation. We are working with two graduate students of Eugenia Etkina at Rutgers University to build databases of both Resource Individuals (which we will feature on our website and in publications), and programs designed to bring research experiences to middle- and high-school teachers. We anticipate offering assistance to any PhysTEC graduate (probably the 2-3 year post-graduation phase), and all of our TIR corps, to attend one of these research opportunities. Among the programs we will most likely feature are ones like QuarkNET, various NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET), and programs of study sponsored by the Department of Energy at its national labs. At this point we have established preliminary rubrics and are refining these definitions to move forward with the identification process.

The following are a few examples of project activities

State-Funded Workshop for Teachers at Ball State University
Ball State University has been awarded a two-year Indiana Commission Higher Education Grant entitled "Partnering to Support Engaged Science Learning to Meet Indiana's Academic Standards," with PhysTEC Faculty member Walter Smith as a Co-PI. Senior Collaborators and PhysTEC Faculty James and Nancy Watson will be leading a one-week session in July. A one-week Biology session will also be conducted during the summer.

Course Reform at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Cal Poly uses a small team, comprised of the Teacher in Residence and 3-4 physics and education faculty, to redesign the physical sciences courses offered to future teachers. Through weekly meetings, the teams focus initially on identifying essential and desirable science skills for their students. Faculty members bring their own personal understanding of what it means to be a scientist; together they work toward a common understanding about the course content, assessments, and daily activities. Once a redesigned course is up and running, the weekly meetings become a forum for evaluating the success of the course, for resolving issues in its daily operation, and for bringing new team-members on board. This team approach facilitates sustainability of courses even when participating faculty changes.

Increase in Elementary Students' Engagement Observed by Towson TIR
Although a primary goal of the Teacher in Residence (TIR) program is to help interns develop an understanding of inquiry methodology, there are also benefits for elementary school children involved in the program. For example, in Towson's PhysTEC pedagogy and practice course, interns taught students, many of whom previously had been under-confident and disengaged, and rarely finished classwork or shared ideas with the class. In observing these students work with interns during inquiry-based lessons, the TIR could see a change in their attitudes toward learning. Many of these normally quiet students began to share ideas with their classmates. Also, they felt confident in the fact that their classmates would value their ideas.

Arizona PhysTEC Student Changes Attitude of Classroom Teacher
For the University of Arizona, one teacher in the local schools required years of persuasion to finally accept a PhysTEC student for a field experience. Subsequently, the teacher reported that the preparation and performance of the student teacher had so impressed him that he will consider accepting additional students from the program. This experience highlights the necessity of building strong bridges between university faculty and teachers in the field. Often faculty can become a great ally in helping to educate students, but without the connection this is difficult.

Attitudes and Beliefs Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder
A graduate student reviewed data collected by the physics education research group at Colorado and analyzed it in novel ways. This graduate student (in Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics) noted splits between students' own beliefs about learning physics and these same students' conceptions of what experts (instructors) believe about learning physics. She found that most often students know what the expert views are about learning but do not believe in them themselves. This line of research has direct implication for how faculty teach and attend to the 'hidden curriculum' (what does it mean to learn physics) in the classroom. This preliminary research has now been handed to another fulltime graduate researcher in the Physics Education Research group at Colorado.

PhysTEC Approach Leads to NSF-Funded Project at Western Michigan University
At Western Michigan University, key parts of the PhysTEC program-course reform of entry level science courses, the use of a TIR, and mentoring activities for pre- and in-service teachers-inspired a successful proposal to the NSF to investigate the particular content and pedagogical needs of middle-school science teachers who usually must teach a science curriculum across the traditional science disciplines. This project, called "E3", focuses on recruitment (Enlist), a broad-based preparation program (Equip), and continued education (Empower) to produce the best teacher possible.