Project Status: September 2006

Here is a brief synopsis of the actions and efforts of the PhysTEC project and PTEC since May 2006. If you have questions please contact the Project Manager, Victoria Kwasiborski or the Principal Investigator, Ted Hodapp (

RTOP Workshop

PTEC is offering an RTOP (Reform Teaching Observation Protocol) workshop October 13, 14, and 15 at the American Center for Physics in College Park FREE to PTEC members on a first come, first served basis. Members need to provide transportation to College Park; PTEC will provide accommodations, meals, and the cost of the workshop. This workshop will be a much more extensive version of the workshop offered by MacIsaac and Falconer at AAPT; and will provide enough experience to become an accurate RTOPer.

RTOP was developed as an observation instrument to provide a standardized means for detecting the degree to which K-20 classroom instruction in mathematics or science is reformed. The Arizona Collaborative for the Excellence in the Preparation of Teachers (ACEPT) developed RTOP from two instruments: the Horizon Research Inc. instrument and a classroom observation instrument developed locally by ACEPT co-PI Dr. Anton Lawson (1995) of the ASU Biology Department. Dan MacIsaac and Kathleen Falconer were both part of the original group at ACEPT. They will be giving the workshop with help from Paul Hickman. You can read more about RTOP at

If you decide to take this workshop we recommend that you have two people come from your institution so teaching evaluations can be of research quality. You will need to bring a laptop computer which can play DVDs. To sign up for the workshop contact Mary Fehrs at There is still time to become a member of PTEC and be eligible to take this workshop.

Overall Project Activities

Advisory Committee Meeting. On June 15 and 16, the PhysTEC Advisory Committee met in College Park to review project accomplishments and offer guidance as PhysTEC enters its last year of funded activity. Also attending the meeting were project members from Cal Poly (Chance Hoellwarth), University of Arkansas (Gay Stewart) and Western Michigan University (Marcia Fetters and Drew Isola). The committee reported impressive progress in the PhysTEC/PTEC program, including remarkable forward movement in building up the PTEC and developing its goals, the increasingly effective use of TIRs, and an improved throughput of high school physics teachers by a factor of about three relative to pre-PhysTEC performance for the PPI institutions. The committee recommended continued collaboration with the AAPT and AIP and an increased quantitative assessment of the program.

TIR Professional Development Workshop. Over 30 people attended the PhysTEC professional development program that preceded the AAPT Summer Meeting in Syracuse, New York on July 20 & 21. Overall, the program format (length) was rated "About Right." Additional noteworthy findings:

  • All session lengths were rated, on average, as "About Right;" Inquiry-Based Science Teacher rated closest to "Too Short."
  • Three sessions were attended by everyone: Empowering All Learners, Inquiry-Based Science Teacher, and Inquiry Activity.

Generally, respondents felt that the quality and value of the sessions was high. Mentees valued the Sharing and Crosstalk, Working Groups and PTRA sessions more so than did TIRs; new TIRs valued Learning about TIRs and Learning about Mentors more so than did Mentees.

Seattle Pacific University. PhysTEC welcomes Seattle Pacific University (SPU) as its newest PPI. Drs. Stamatis Vokos and Lane Seeley are the Co-PIs, and Lezlie DeWater is the TIR.

The physics department at SPU is beginning a five year NSF TPC program Improving the Effectiveness of Teacher Diagnostic Skills and Tools. The project's title underscores its two primary goals: (1) to help teachers of physical science in grades 5-10 develop deep subject matter content understanding, rich pedagogical content knowledge, and flexible curricular content knowledge, and (2) to develop research-based resources that assist teachers and teacher educators in constructing a diagnostic classroom environment to assess formatively the evolving understanding of their students in the areas of properties of matter, heat and temperature, and physical and chemical changes. Support of these goals through PhysTEC funding will help to:

  • Establish a TAG which has a real voice and influence on the programmatic decisions which are made as SPU.
  • Expand the LA training course to incorporate early field experience in the form of classroom visits to observe local physics teachers. Broaden the focus of the LA course include a wider array of issues related to physics teaching.
  • Incorporate TAGs in the LA course so that LA's have the opportunity to discuss pre-college physics teaching with classroom teachers. This will also provide the LA's an opportunity to meet with teachers as a precursor to scheduling site visits to local classrooms.
  • Articulate and implement specific programs for mentoring local teachers in the classroom. Establish a protocol for assessing the effectiveness of these mentoring activities.
  • Establish a website for the dissemination of PhysTEC related activities at SPU.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The MOU for the 2006-2007 funding year identifies across the project 38 categories of activities planned for the 2006-2007 year. Modifications to the MOU structure this year are aimed at increased reporting across the project of activities and outcomes.

PhysTEC Activities

FIPSE Proposal. A proposal for continued funding of certain aspects of the PhysTEC project was submitted to the Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) program in July. The American Physical Society (APS) together with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) will continue to build support for an annual national conference on physics and physical science teacher preparation; develop a visiting scholar program to motivate reform and share tested ideas; and contribute to the body of knowledge informing teacher education by assembling, publishing, and distributing a peer-reviewed best-practices document that brings together the most innovative programs and ideas in physics and physical science teacher preparation today.

PhysTEC at AAPT Summer Meeting. The PhysTEC project was well-represented at the AAPT Summer Meeting in Syracuse, New York in July. PhysTEC presenters included:

  • Neil Anthony, Ball State University
  • Michael Dubson, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Mary Fehrs, PhysTEC
  • Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Dale Freeland, Western Michigan University
  • Charles Henderson, Western Michigan University
  • Erik Herman, PhysTEC Teacher (University of Arizona)
  • Ted Hodapp, PhysTEC
  • Drew Isola, Western Michigan University
  • Christopher Keller, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Ingrid Novodvorsky, University of Arizona
  • Julia Olsen, University of Arizona
  • Valerie Otero, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Bob Poel, Western Michigan University
  • Steve Pollock, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Al Rosenthal, Western Michigan University
  • Bill Semrau, Western Michigan University
  • Nancy Stauch, California Polytechnic State University
  • Chandra Turpen, University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Stamatis Vokos, Seattle Pacific University
  • Michael Wolter, Ball State University

PhysTEC Teacher Database. To assist in PhysTEC assessment efforts, the project has invited all PhysTEC teachers, and soon-to-be teachers who were influenced by the PhysTEC project to respond to a brief survey regarding teaching choices and teacher retention. All those who participate receive their choice of teaching resource materials, a one year membership to AAPT (including The Physics Teacher) or a one-year junior membership to APS. To date, approximately 55% of the 66 PhysTEC secondary physics teachers have responded, along with a large number of pre-service, elementary, and PhysTEC non-physics teachers.

Project Website Updates.

  • PTEC-DL: PTEC-DL, the teacher preparation digital library that is part of the ComPADRE collection, will go live in late summer 2006. Approximately 100 resources have been catalogued and are ready to be entered into the collection. Each PTEC member will have a page with links to other pages and PDFs. These pages have two general goals.
    • One, to provide a clearinghouse for physics and physical science teacher preparation programs where prospective undergraduates can find information that will help them choose a program. A map tool will help users identify PTEC member sites on a US map and then quickly obtain more information.
    • Two, to present the initiatives that the member institutions are taking or planning to take to improve their teacher preparation programs.

    Also, the library will enable users to access a database of Research Experience for Teachers (RETs). Once PTEC-DL goes live, the URL for the existing PTEC site will point to PTEC-DL.

  • PhysTEC: The PhysTEC site now hosts electronic versions of the PPIs' 2004-2005 annual reports, written to a template that will facilitate comparison of results among PPIs. Updates to the reports to reflect activities of the 2005-2006 project year will be available in the fall.

PTEC Activities

New Coalition Members. The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PTEC) welcomes East Central University, Emporia State University, Florida International University, Slippery Rock University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Maine. Current PTEC membership is 47; the complete list of members can be viewed at

East Central University is a premier comprehensive student-centered regional university in Ada, Oklahoma. The ECU physics teacher education program is based on the ECU Education Dept.'s Prime Model that idealizes the prescriptiveness with regard as to what should be taught, reflectiveness regarding what was taught, and integrativeness regarding the curriculum. ECU Physics Education Majors are ready to become certified as 'highly qualified' in that they have the rigorous physics and science coursework backed by the Prime Model educational philosophy. ECU has one of the most active Student Chapters of the National Science Teacher's Association. Our students made outstanding presentations during ITV national meetings of NSTA. Student NSTA members include both elementary and secondary teacher prospects which is an excellent opportunity for our physics secondary students to teach physics to hesitant elementary teachers. We also have an 8 time nationally recognized Society of Physics Students chapter that does outreach in the public schools and for the community.

Emporia State University possesses a rich heritage with physics education. In the post-Sputnik era, the institution then known as Kansas State Teachers College (KSTC) was a regular recipient of National Science Foundation funding for academic-year institutes (AYI) and sequential-summer institutes (SSI) for inservice teachers. Several cohorts of AYI and SSI graduates departed with MS degrees to return to the teaching ranks as "master teachers."

The preparation of middle- and secondary-level preservice teachers at ESU is a shared responsibility of the college of education (Teachers College) and the academic disciplines in the arts and sciences. Appropriate faculty appointees in the discipline with content background and science education credentials and/or experience(s) serve as advisors for the preservice teaching aspirants, teach the pedagogy course(s), and otherwise are respected as valuable, contributing colleagues to the collective goals of the academic departments of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ESU. Although this seems to be somewhat of a recent trend at other institutions, this was at one time a rather unique attribute.

Emporia State has undertaken several Initiatives to improve preservice teacher education, including:

  • A NASA-funded ESU Project NOVA enabled relevant faculty to reform the course material from the physical sciences (much of which is grounded in physics), mathematics, and teacher education so that it is more integrated, aligned with national standards, utilizes appropriate and available technology, and which is derived as possible and practical from hands-on, inquiry-based activities.
  • A rather aggressive program assessment plan (Outcomes Assessment) has provided continuous feedback to either reinforce what we are doing, or to target course and program changes.

The Department of Physics and College of Education have been working to reform both the physics and physics education programs at Florida International University over the past five years. Reform efforts include curricular changes to programs and selected courses, extensive pre- and inservice teacher programs, and the establishment of a vibrant teacher / student learning community. This multidisciplinary foundation forms the basis of efforts to revamp both the undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs, creating a sustained, supportive environment for future physics teachers. Much of FIU's reform efforts originated from within the CHEPREO project. CHEPREO, the Center for High Energy Physics Research and Education Outreach (, is a multidisciplinary, multi-institution NSF-funded project that combines high energy physics research with ultra-fast networking and grid computing to perform fundamental physics research at CERN, the European particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland. CHEPREO also has a vibrant Education and Outreach component that uses the cutting edge science to excite, entice, and retain students into the sciences. In its three-year existence, CHEPREO has created a thriving community of learners consisting of over 75 high school teachers and their students, dozens of FIU undergraduate and graduate physics and science education students, and many faculty.

The Physics Department at Slippery Rock University has a proud history of training K-12 teachers. The Department offers courses taken by both pre-service Elementary Teachers and high school Physics Teachers. Future high school Physics Teachers are enrolled in a program that runs in parallel with that of the Physics and Pre-Engineering majors. In 2001 the Department received a $300,000 grant from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to adapt inquiry-based pedagogy in the Conceptual Physics course taken by pre-service Elementary Teachers. The Department adapted the Constructing Physics Understanding (CPU) curriculum developed by Fred Goldberg at San Diego State University and Patricia Heller at the University of Minnesota for use at Slippery Rock. This course was integrated into the regular course offerings and since 2001 has been taken by over 3000 students and taught by over 7 different faculty members. In Spring 2006 the Department's efforts were rewarded by the Elementary Education Department decision to require the inquiry-based Conceptual Physics course for all majors.

Over the last decade, physicists at the University of Kentucky have been developing courses for both preservice and inservice teachers that promote the inquiry approach to learning and teaching science. The topics and the style of learning are those recommended in national and state standards.

For preservice teachers we offer PHY 160, a three-credit course required by our College of Education of all preservice elementary and soon to be required of all middle-school teachers who seek certification in science. Nearly 200 future teachers enroll in this course each year. Four faculty members are involved in the teaching of this course. With support from NSF through the Appalachian Mathematics-Science Partnership, similar courses are being developed at other Kentucky universities and colleges. Much of the leadership for this project comes from University of Kentucky science and mathematics departments including the Department of Physics & Astronomy. Better ways to help preservice teachers are tied to better ways to help inservice teachers, and this aspect of the NSF project involves summer institutes and follow-up mentoring.

For inservice teachers, we also offer four one-credit-hour physics courses, delivered in a distance learning format, which may be taken for professional development or graduate credit. These courses emphasize content understanding of physics topics important for teachers, and promote learning through inquiry activities. Each is based on a kit of equipment, a CD to provide instruction, and the use of email to communicate with the instructors. Hands-on activities and learning through concrete experiences play a central role in these courses. The courses are asynchronous, so that practicing teachers can work at their own site, on their own schedule. For previews of the courses and more description of how they work, visit These courses were developed and written at the University of Kentucky with support from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, U. S. Department of Education. In the last year, almost 30 inservice teachers from 7 states took one or more of these courses.

The kits and activities are now being rewritten at the University of Kentucky for national distribution by Lab-Aids, Inc. For more about these modules, see Students who have been taught by the teachers we have trained either as students in PHY 160 or as practicing teachers in the Science Works program are already beginning to arrive at the university, and we are beginning to reap the benefits of our efforts to improve teacher preparation.

The University of Maine has two initiatives in place that are raising interest in secondary education in physics: a peer facilitator system in undergraduate courses and a Master of Science in Teaching program. The Peer Facilitator system has been initiated in the introductory algebra-based sequence and uses Tutorials in Introductory Physics and some materials developed at the University of Maryland in the recitation sections. Second, the University of Maine has recently begun a Master of Science in Teaching (MST) program, housed in the Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research (for which members of the Physics and Astronomy department are key, including the Center director). Candidates in this program with a physics concentration take a set of courses on Integrated Approaches in Physics Education, which introduce students to research on learning and teaching of physics, and provide students with experience conducting discipline-based education research. In addition, the program requires a thesis project on learning and teaching of science/mathematics.