The Physics Teacher Education Coalition at Boston University

What is PhysTEC?

The mission of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) is to improve and promote the education of future physics and physical science teachers. Specifically, the project aims to demonstrate successful models for:

  1. Increasing the number of highly qualified high school physics teachers
  2. Improving the quality of K-8 physical science teacher education
  3. Spread best-practice ideas throughout the physics teacher preparation community
  4. Transform physics departments to engage in preparing physics teachers

While the Boston Unviersity program is in its infancy, the research shows that other PhysTEC institutions have demonstrated considerable strides towards these goals including significant increases in the number of graduating physics teachers, higher retention rates for PhysTEC graduates who enter into teaching, and higher learning gains in introductory physics for PhysTEC classes utilizing interactive-engagement teaching methods.  We hope to increase the number of graduates with undergraduate physics degrees, build a model program for learner-centered introductory physics, provide future teachers with early teaching experiences that are tightly connected to the findings of physics education research, and establish a professional development and mentoring network for project alumni.  The PhysTEC project is led by the American Physical Society, in partnership with the American Association of Physics Teachers and with continued support from the American Institute of Physics.  PhysTEC is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and individual and corporate contributions to the American Physical Society (APS).

What are the goals of the Boston University PhysTEC program.

Unfortunately, although the number of high school students taking physics has substantially increased, the number of qualified physics teachers remains in short supply. The Department of Physics and the School of Education at Boston University are partnering with the national PhysTEC (Physics Teacher Education Coalition) organization to recruit, train, and support outstanding physics teachers. Our vision is to establish a vibrant hub for physics teacher education.  The project will focus on pre-service education involving targeted and intense freshmen recruiting, changes to pedagogy in the physics undergraduate curriculum, early field experiences for future teachers, courses in physics pedagogy taught by an experienced physics teacher in residence and the development of a network of program alumni with a robust outreach component.

The department was recently awarded a grant from the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC), bringing in $100K to the university each year for the next three years to, primarily, fund a teacher-in-residence (TIR). The TIR will be an experienced physics teacher who will work jointly with Physics and the School of Education (SED) on various education projects. Boston University’s PhysTEC project is led by Andrew Duffy, Bennett Goldberg, and Manher Jariwala of Physics, and Peter Garik of SED. At the end of the three years of PhysTEC funding, the Office of the Provost, the Department of Physics, and the School of Education have agreed to jointly fund a TIR for an additional three years.

For the Department of Physics at Boston University, having PhysTEC funding to support a Teacher in Residence for the next few years comes at a perfect time. Beginning in Fall 2011, we will be using Learning Assistants /pages/show/139 in the discussion sections of our introductory physics courses. Learning Assistants are undergraduate students who took the course previously, returning to help the graduate teaching assistant work with the students. The TIR will help to train the Learning Assistants, and work with the graduate students to help them with their preparation for teaching. Also in the fall, we are starting an experimental studio section in our algebra-based physics course. Studio is a mode of learning in which the emphasis is on hands-on activities, rather than on lecture. Having an experienced physics teacher in-house will be a great asset as we re-design our curricular materials to do studio. Finally, after spending several years focusing on teaching courses for in-service physics teachers, we will branch out to start encouraging more undergraduates to consider teaching high school physics. The teacher in residence will be a role model for these students.

The presence of a Teacher in Residence also provides very special opportunities for the School of Education at Boston University. The Science Program in the School of Education is working towards defining programs to offer more students in the STEM disciplines the opportunity to earn initial licensure to teach while completing their science major. An important component of this is pre-practicum placements of interested students in easily accessible schools. Local schools for Boston University are in the high need urban district of Boston. As a result, a science teacher with experience in a high need district will prove invaluable for the development of our new programs and providing supervision of students during practicums.  The TIR may also contribute to a course for Education students on the management of a science classroom in a high need district.