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PhysTEC addressing physics teacher shortage

New teacher training program increases numbers of graduating teachers tenfold at some institutions

American Physical Society

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IMAGE: Valerie Otero, University of Colorado education professor and PhysTEC site co-leader, discusses teaching methods with Anil Damle and Anna Lieb, undergraduate peer instructors and potential future teachers. view more

Credit: Ted Hodapp, American Physical Society

The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) is breaking new ground in an effort to increase the numbers of physics teachers in US schools. PhysTEC supplies funds for cutting-edge recruitment and education of science teachers from among the population of physics students at participating college and universities. The program is an important step toward fulfilling the need for physics teachers as states shore up their K-12 science curricula and increasing numbers of colleges and universities demand that incoming freshmen have more science courses listed in their high school transcripts.

A recent nationwide effort to increase the technological literacy of our workforce and a trend toward emphasizing science education are among the factors that have led to an increase in the fraction of students taking high school physics of about 1% a year. Unfortunately, the US is suffering from a woeful shortage of qualified physics teachers; only a third of the nation's 23,000 physics teachers have a degree in physics. PhysTEC is designed to help US students remain competitive in an ever more technological world.

Eight years ago, the American Physical Society (APS), the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) jointly launched PhysTEC to help U.S. universities prepare more highly qualified physics teachers and alleviate the nation's critical physics teacher shortages. Some of the successes that PhysTEC institutions have achieved include

  • Greatly increasing the number of high school physics teachers graduating from their programs, in some cases by a factor of 10;

  • Using master teachers to provide critical mentoring support to new graduates and develop bridges between physics departments, education schools, and local K-12 school districts.

  • Transforming content courses for future physics and physical science teachers to help them teach in an interactive and engaging way;

  • Providing early teaching experiences for future teachers that develop their pedagogical knowledge and skills;

  • Securing allocation of substantial departmental and institutional resources for sustaining teacher preparation programs;

  • Measuring project outcomes and disseminating results through publications, presentations, conferences, and workshops.

PhysTEC began with six universities and has expanded to a total of 14 sites, which are chosen through a peer-reviewed solicitation that considers the applicant's potential to increase the number of teachers who graduate and develop programs that serve as national models. Evidence of collaboration between physics and education faculty is another important criterion.

In response to a recent request for proposals, the project received 45 proposals for four available slots. "The physics community is clearly showing broad interest in teacher preparation," said Ted Hodapp, director of education and diversity for APS. "If there were funding for 10 times as many institutions to replicate PhysTEC's efforts, major progress could be made toward putting highly qualified teachers in every one of our country's physics classroom. With today's highly competitive technical workplace, the need for physics teachers has never been greater."

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PhysTEC is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and APS.

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