Project Status: March 2006

Here is a brief synopsis of the actions and efforts of the PhysTEC project since 21 November 2005. If you have questions please contact the Project Manager, Victoria Kwasiborski or the Principal Investigator, Ted Hodapp (

PTEC 2006 National Conference
Building Innovative Programs: Preparing Highly Qualified Physics and Physical Science K-12 Teachers

This year's conference will be held on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus on March 24 and 25. The goal of PTEC conferences is to bring together individuals and organizations concerned about the critical need to increase the number and quality of physics and physical science k-12 teachers in this country. This conference will explore, via workshops, plenary and poster sessions, the components of highly successful science teacher preparation programs. An overarching goal is educating teachers in the style they will eventually use in the classroom, so a number of sessions of the conference focus on university-level curriculum and pedagogy appropriate for high school physics and K-12 physical science teachers. As the curriculum is strongly influenced by Physics Education Research (PER), the conference will also feature results of contemporary work being done in the field, with PER-based applications and insights reported.

Project Activities.

PhysTEC Project Successes. Response by the PPIs to the numerous data requests, clarifications, and new questions that arose as we began analyzing the reported data contributed to PhysTEC reporting "firsts" over the previous quarter, including the most accurate representation to date of the number of Secondary Physics Teachers who have completed the PhysTEC program of study. Other notable project success includes the following.

  • As of December, 2005, the PhysTEC program has graduated 51 Secondary Physics Teachers with an estimated 26 additional Secondary Physics Teachers across all project sites expected to graduate in 2006. This is about 10% of the total production of the US from only 5 institutions.
  • The average production rate of Secondary Physics Teachers is 3.3 per PPI, per year for institutions working to increase the number of high school physics teachers. This represents a 3-fold increase over teacher production prior to the start of the project (1.1 per PPI, per year).
  • The production of Elementary Teachers across sites emphasizing elementary teacher production is ~390 per year. (Cal Poly, Towson and Ball State). Project total is approximately 1000.
  • PhysTEC courses in Algebra and Calculus-based Physics have reached over 13,000 students; and nearly 4,000 students have been influenced by PhysTEC courses in pedagogical methods.

Evidence of PhysTEC TIRs emerging as a group of teacher leaders. The 2005-2006 TIRs took the lead for organizing sessions at both the AAPT 2005 summer meeting and the 2005 PTEC conference. Three TIRs presented talks related to their work related to Induction and Mentoring in an invited/contributed session at the recent 2006 AAPT winter meeting in Anchorage and later met for an informal lunch. Several of the TIRs from Western Michigan submitted and will present a session at the 2006 NSTA National Conference in Anaheim, CA.

Site Visits. In early October project management visited The University of Colorado at Boulder, and visited Towson University and The University of Arkansas in early November.

The hallmark and recruiting effort of the University of Colorado program is their Learning Assistant (LA) program. This program allows students to experience all the positive aspects of teaching without any of the more onerous duties such as grading and planning, and receive a stipend for their participation. In addition to being Learning Assistants in the Calculus Physics "Labs" (which are tutorials developed by Lillian McDermott and the Washington PER group) they are also required to enroll in a special 2 credit course in the education department on teaching, attend a weekly seminar where they behave as students learning the material, and some also attend lecture. The program offers a well-structured, positive, supportive early teaching experience; one indication of this can be seen by the fact that the LAs spontaneously formed a group which meets monthly to discuss teaching issues. Institutionalizing these programs and finding a way to internalize support for the LA stipends might aid other schools in similar endeavors.

The PhysTEC program at Towson is unusual in that it only supports elementary science education. Towson graduates about 200 elementary education majors a year (more than any other school in MD); all these students take a content course in physical science and in earth-space science and a methodology course in teaching science. Especially powerful is their integration of methodology and content courses for preservice elementary teachers. This parallels what we have observed in the successful high school science teacher preparation programs at UT Austin and UC Boulder; where they have the students learning the pedagogy (and content) while teaching. Their work, if nationally applied, could change in a very important way the education of pre-service teachers. This change could both increase the amount of science being taught to elementary school students and also make what is taught truly representative of actual science.

In mid-October a site team composed of Victoria Kwasiborski, Ted Hodapp, and Mary Fehrs visited the University of Arkansas for a day and a half. Because of Ted's visit the previous year this fall there was time for the site team to look at and discuss possible sites for this spring PTEC 2006 conference and talk to faculty and students involved in the elementary education physics course based on the PET curriculum. Discussions with the Deans of the College of Education and Liberal Arts and Sciences were held to reinforce the importance of the PhysTEC program. The program at Arkansas is very comprehensive: it is developing student interest in physics with inquiry based introductory courses; encourages an interest in teaching physics; leads them through the licensure process; and mentors them in the early years of their profession. Finally, there is a matching program to the Learning Assistants program at the University of Colorado that has played a significant role in the recruitment and retention of new teachers. Faculty at Arkansas and Colorado are currently collaborating on efforts to jointly publish the experience and impact of these programs with faculty from Seattle Pacific University.

Site visits were conducted in February at Ball State University and Western Michigan University, and are planned for the University of Arizona and Cal Poly in March and April, respectively.

PhysTEC Activities

Project Website Updating. To best disseminate project results, the PPI's (Primary Program Institution) annual reports will be put up on the web, beginning with the 2004-2005 report. These reports will reside both on the PhysTEC website and also on the new Physics and Physical Science Teacher Education digital library ( The project has created a template to bring each PPI's report into a standard form that will facilitate comparison of approaches and outcomes across the PPIs. Project staff helped initiate this process by adapting the existing 2004-2005 narrative reports into the template format for the PPI leaders to review.

Coalition Activities

New Members. Over the past six months the Coalition has seen dramatic growth in membership. As of the publication of this report, Coalition membership totals 35. In this quarterly report PhysTEC welcomes:

  • Bemidji State University Kansas State University
  • Brigham Young University-Idaho Pacific University
  • Cornell University Tennessee Technological University
  • Fort Hays State University University of Nevada, Reno
  • Hiram College Wright State University
  • James Madison University

Bemidji State University began an ambitious program funded in 2003 by the Department of Education to license 30 science teachers in Physics. Through online physics courses for science teachers and summer laboratories, the program to date has licensed more physics teachers than had graduated in the previous 15 years in the traditional undergraduate teaching program, with 16 teachers participating in the 2005 summer workshop alone. Department faculty are also involved in numerous state-wide organizations and task forces to address the physics education of students and teachers.

At Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYUI), all Physics Education students experience a Lab Assistantship. One innovation of the Department has been to have a single faculty member teach two lab sections simultaneously with the help of Lab Assistants. The faculty member trains the Lab Assistants and closely monitors their work in the lab. The Lab Assistants teach the introductory material at least once per week, help students perform the lab, grade the labs, and assist the faculty member in setting up and putting away equipment. These Assistants get the experience of being responsible for a classroom of students under the close tutelage of the faculty. Additionally, BYUI has an established Science Education Research Group. This group, consisting mostly of Physics Education majors, is carrying out significant research that has been reported at the national AAPT meetings the past two years.

Cornell has a history of innovation and leadership in physics education. Cornell was the first or second institution in the country to employ interactive learning (similar to the more modern "clickers") via a hard-wired system that has been in continuous use in introductory courses since developed in 1972. In the last two years, Cornell's Physics and Education Departments have collaborated in recruiting students into science education, resulting in the largest and strongest cohort in recent memory. The faculty are now working together on a University-wide committee to develop a plan to dramatically increase the number of physics teachers they educate. Specific tasks identified include (1) identifying faculty candidates to lead a program in physics teacher education and education research; (2) developing a course sequence in physics teaching methods and physics education research; (3) developing strategies for recruiting students into the program from our undergraduate and graduate students and from outside Cornell; (4) obtaining financial support for these students; (5) developing career counseling and job placement services; (6) integrating our existing K-12 outreach programs with pre-service teacher training; (7) recruiting and integrating master teachers into our program; and (8) integrating curriculum development activities within the Physics Department with teacher training and education research activities.

At Fort Hays State University, a common set of goals for methods courses across all secondary science areas has been established and is coordinated through a university-level committee. Likewise, all science departments collaborate with respect to preservice secondary science education majors (creation of a common science teaching methods course and creation of a common recruitment brochure - both under way). New activities underway include the development of a Science and Math center to provide development opportunities for both - preservice and in-service science teachers.

Hiram College is at the beginning of a collaboration to coordinate its physical science and "Understanding Science" courses to clearly cover the science curriculum for early childhood licensure, toward becoming a requirement for that license. The college is committed to active learning with an emphasis on inquiry-based learning, wanting to set an example the pre-service teachers can build on. Hiram is also considering collaborations to study negative attitudes toward science that many pre-service teachers have, as well as professional development opportunities for practicing teachers.

A primary endeavor at James Madison University has been involvement as a rural regional center in the Physics Teaching Resource Agents program. The contributions of veteran high school instructors have assisted in the professional development of nearly 2 dozen teachers from the states of Virginia and West Virginia. In addition, members of the physics department have an active role in the instruction of the University's Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies majors, the curriculum at the University designed for students planning to teach grades P and K-8 as well as special education.

The Physics department at Kansas State University (KSU) has a long history of interactions with the College of Education. The courses designed to meet the needs of elementary education majors and secondary physics teachers reflects research-based curriculum developed through the

KSU Physics Education Research Group. The physics education research group at KSU investigates thinking patterns and conducts research on how students learn topics in physics, with an emphasis on how students use information gained from everyday life experiences as they learn the laws of physics and how they make sense of abstract concepts.

The CASTLE Curriculum (Capacitor-Aided System for Teacher and Learning Electricity) at Pacific University was developed for teachers who want to engage students' interest through hands-on investigation, overcome misconceptions that inhibit learning and reasoning, and foster development of effective explanatory models. It provides a complete laboratory-based teaching module that can replace the sections of electricity in all introductory physics courses -- undergraduate college level as well as high school. Several years of research have shown CASTLE to be significantly effective in both achievement gains and confidence gains (particularly among females).

Tennessee Technological University (TTU) is home to one of the dissemination team leaders for the original Constructing Physics Understanding project developed at San Diego State University and co-PI on the NSF-funded project that developed the Physics for Elementary Teachers (PET) curriculum that was recently published by It's About Time. The PET curriculum is used in all sections of the pre-service elementary teachers' course at TTU and plans are underway to implement PET at 2-year colleges that feed into the TTU teacher preparation program.

TTU also has a newly established Center for Teaching and Learning of Science, technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM Center) at TTU. The Center will allow TTU faculty from a variety of fields to collaborate and conduct research in the teaching and learning of STEM subjects. The results from that research can be shared, transferred and applied with teachers and students from pre-school through college, including effective professional development for both pre-service and in-service teachers.

At the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), the "Science Partners" program pairs upper division science students with elementary teachers for one term. The students present all of the science content to the class, fostering an interest in teaching (in the science students) and assisting the teachers as well. Physics faculty have also worked with the school district and state education department on science education standards and teacher certification.

Wright State University currently offers over 100 sections specialized science and mathematics courses for teachers each year and the physics department offers about 30 sections of these courses each year. These programs are now supported by 10 science and mathematics educators, eight with joint appointments in both College of Science and Mathematics (COSM) and College of Education and Human Services (CEHS) and two with appointments in COSM. This includes two physics, two biology, one chemistry, one geology, and four math educators. Each faculty with a joint appointment has a home department in which their majority appointment resides and from which tenure and promotion are earned.