Project Status: April 2008

Here is the latest news on the PhysTEC and PTEC projects.

Upcoming Events

In lieu of the normal advisory committee meeting, project management is planning a half-day retreat for APS, AAPT, and AIP PhysTEC PIs and society heads. The date is to be determined.

Annual reports from the PhysTEC sites are due on June 6th.

During the upcoming AAPT Summer Meeting in Edmonton, Alberta, the project is planning to bring 12 - 15 PhysTEC teachers together for a day of professional development and community building. These will be teachers who have been in the classroom at least one year, who intend to continue teaching, and whom site leaders have identified as exceptionally prepared to benefit from this type of intense program and become teacher leaders. In addition to the program we are organizing, we will encourage these teachers to participate in AAPT workshops and the general meeting.

The 2009 PTEC Conference will be held in Pittsburgh on March 13th and 14th, 2009, just before the APS March Meeting. The theme will be "Institutional Change." More information will become available on the PTEC website.

Past Events

In January, we took the PTEC booth to the AAPT Winter Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. The exhibition hall provided an opportunity to meet and talk to many members of the physics education community, including both those already on board the PTEC bus, and those just getting going. Several people who came by the booth joined us in Austin a month and a half later for the PTEC Conference (see below). In addition, PhysTEC co-sponsored a symposium on physics education entitled "The Many-Body Challenge: The Full-Community Solution for Strengthening Teacher Recruitment, Preparation, and Retention in Physics." Panelists included administrators from the Boston and Chicago school systems, as well as the director of the California university system's teacher preparation initiative, the director of IBM's Transition to Teaching program, and a statistician with AIP's Statistical Research Center.

The fourth annual Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PTEC) Conference took place in Austin, Texas, on February 29th and March 1st. For the second straight year, the conference attracted a capacity crowd of around 120 physics and education faculty, administrators, teachers, and students, who soaked up two packed days of one-and-a-half-hour workshops led by national experts on master teachers, assessment and evaluation, curriculum and teaching methods, and institutional partnerships. We received very positive feedback on the conference from participants, with nearly everyone who responded to our evaluation survey telling us that the event met or exceeded their expectations. Responses to the question about the most valuable aspect of the conference were split between the workshops themselves, and the opportunities to network with colleagues. The ideas that participants reported being most excited to try at their home institutions included Learning Assistant programs, assessment ideas, specific teacher preparation ideas such as Teachers In Residence or induction and mentoring support, and specific curricula or interactive teaching methods they learned about at the conference.

Along with workshops and plenary sessions, the conference provided an opportunity for members of the physics education community to build bridges with colleagues in other disciplines and with university administrators. Representatives from NASULGC (the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges) the American Chemical Society, and Math for America attended the conference and organized several conversations and planning sessions for future multi-disciplinary initiatives in science and math teacher education.

For full proceedings of the conference, please go to

In conjunction with the conference we held the semi-annual meetings of the PTEC steering committee and the PhysTEC Leadership Council. The steering committee meeting focused on a discussion of how to scale up the efforts currently being made in teacher preparation to the point where they can truly impact the problem at a national level. The leadership council meeting allowed project management to inform and receive feedback from the PhysTEC sites about various ongoing and upcoming project initiatives and opportunities. It also provided a chance for personnel from the sites to inform their colleagues and project management about activities and lessons learned from their projects. The 3.5-hour long discussion was invigorating and inspirational, as there seems to be an endless wealth of energy and great ideas from these leaders in teacher preparation.

We also presented the PTEC booth at the APS March and April Meetings. These meetings provided us with opportunities to interact with a large segment of the physics community that by and large does not attend AAPT meetings, and is probably unaware of PhysTEC and PTEC's efforts. We were able to have many productive conversations, some of which we hope to leverage into future PTEC membership and engagement in teacher preparation.

News from PhysTEC Sites

PhysTEC project management visited Cornell University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this past quarter.

On January 28th and 29th, Ted Hodapp, Monica Plisch, and Gabe Popkin visited Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. There they met with site leaders Rob Thorne, a physics faculty member; Deb Trumbull, an education faculty member; and Marty Alderman, the Teacher in Residence. They learned about a number of exciting developments at Cornell, including a Learning Assistant program modeled on the University of Colorado's, for which Alderman co-teaches the pedagogy course. Alderman has also been very active in drumming up interest in teaching - he has recruited record numbers of physics majors to information sessions about teacher certification, and he is working with Cornell Management School graduate students on a website to market physics to young people.

Project management also noted that the Cornell physics department's strong emphasis on research presents particular challenges to teacher recruitment and preparation efforts. Currently the number of undergraduate majors is low, and the curricular model is geared primarily to prepare these majors for careers in research. However, a track does exist for physics majors who want to graduate with a minor in education, and there is interest in education among a number of the junior faculty members we talked to. As a result of the site visit, project management was able to make a number of recommendations to the local site leadership that, if implemented, may enable Cornell to become a model for highly ranked research institutions that want to become active in teacher preparation.

On March 5th and 6th, Ted Hodapp and Monica Plisch visited the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. They met with site leaders Cindy Cattell and Chuck Campbell, both physics faculty members, as well as Nancy Bresnahan and Jon Anderson, the two Teachers In Residence working on site. Anderson was initially hired for the 2008-2009 academic year, but as a result of strong support from the Dean's office and the physics department, the project leadership has been able to bring him on board this year, and he is co-teaching the Learning Assistant class. The Learning Assistant program at Minnesota is configured somewhat differently from other models, to incorporate a context-rich problem solving curriculum that has been developed and proven successful at Minnesota. Project management found in discussions with the Learning Assistants that several might be willing to consider teaching as a career, and pushed local site leaders to identify and encourage specific undergraduates who show promise to become teachers.

Other points of interest on the Minnesota site visit include two outreach programs that the department runs - Physics Force and PACES (Parents and Children Experiencing Science) - which appear to have potential to recruit future teachers both among undergraduates leading outreach activities and among those students being reached out to. In addition, these programs demonstrate the department's excellent connections with the local schools. The management team has also recommended that local project leadership and the TIRs have a conversation with the director of undergraduate studies, to listen to his concerns about high school teaching, share some of the positive aspects of the profession, and provide information on PhysTEC including the critical need for physics teachers.

On March 18th and 19th, Ted Hodapp and Monica Plisch visited the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (UNC). The local project leader Laurie McNeil is also chair of the Physics Department. Under her leadership, the department has developed a pedagogy course that is co-taught by a physics education research (PER) faculty member and the Teacher in Residence, and that gives students the opportunity to spend time in schools. The students enrolled in the course were enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn about teaching while earning credit that counts toward their physics degree. The pedagogy course is one of four courses students need to complete (in addition to a physics major) to earn a teaching certification. This streamlined certification program, known as UNC-BEST (Bachelor's Education in Science and Teaching), was developed mainly by the School of Education and recently received approval from the state. Already there is strong student interest in the program, and it promises to serve as a model for other institutions.

There is strong institutional support and a spirit of collaboration to develop STEM teacher education programs at UNC, driven in part by an interest among top-level administrators to give back to the community. The provost committed to support a non-tenure faculty position in physics education research and a similar position in biology for three years. UNC secured a grant from the Burroughs Welcome Fund to provide scholarships for future teachers, including a $5k salary bump each year for the first five years of teaching. The chair of the biology department has worked closely with McNeil to develop a biology teacher education program, and has benefited from the presence of the PhysTEC program on campus. During the site visit, the biology chair expressed an interest in developing a Learning Assistants program. The PhysTEC Learning Assistant program will begin next fall.

Project News

The editors of the PTEC-sponsored book on the preparation and professional development of teachers of physics and physical science have received approximately 35 prospectuses for articles to be included in the book. The book, to be published jointly by the American Physical Society and American Association of Physics Teachers, will include new reports reflecting cutting-edge research and practice, as well as reprints of previously published seminal papers. Printed copies will be distributed to chairs of all physics departments in the United States, and the book will also be freely available online. David Meltzer and Peter Shaffer of the University of Washington are the book editors, and they will work with the editorial board and the prospective authors to prepare articles for submission for publication.

PhysTEC is a partner on two Math and Science Partnership grant applications - one from NASULGC (the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges), and one from the University of Arkansas. The NASULGC proposal will organize a "top-down" administrative effort along with a "bottom-up" faculty effort to build math and science teacher preparation programs at ~20 institutions.


Ted Hodapp delivered presentations on PhysTEC at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (January 24, 2008), Cornell University (January 28, 2008), and the PTEC Conference (February 29, 2008). Monica Plisch delivered a presentation entitled "The Role of Colleges and Universities in the Preparation of Future Teachers" March 8th, 2008 at the Joint Spring Meeting of the Texas Sections of APS, AAPT, and SPS Zone 13.

View all presentations.

PTEC Member News

PTEC welcomed 22 members this quarter:

Angelo State University
Arizona State University
California State University, Sacramento
California University of Pennsylvania
George Washington University
Lone Star College - North Harris
McNeese State University
Middle Tennessee State University
Northwestern Oklahoma State University
Oranim Academic College
San Jacinto College Central
Spelman College
Texas A&M University - Commerce
Texas Southern University
Texas State University - San Marcos
University of Alabama
University of Houston
University of Louisville
University of Northern Colorado
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg
Weizmann Institute of Science