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How do we alleviate the shortage of qualified physics teachers?

by marcusesses
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Astronuc
#19
Sep30-10, 09:27 AM
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Quote Quote by twofish-quant View Post
Also to question the question. It's not clear to me that we *do* have a shortage of high-school physics teachers.
It depends on the school and school district. And I believe the qualifier is "qualified". But then it is more complicated than just placing a 'qualified' teacher.

The next questions - are the students prepared to study physics?!

In my case, I was. I took calculus as a senior in high school, a second year of chemistry, concurrently with physics. Prior to calculus, I had done the core algebra (two years), trigonometry, and analytical geometry, with some analysis. There were about 20 of us out of more than 700 students that did that track. The rest of the student body took the second year of algebra or trigonometry with some analytical geometry their senior year. The other high school I had attended in 10th grade did not offer calculus.

Interestingly, during my senior year of high school, I substitute taught the first year chemistry class when the teacher was absent for a week. The department head explained that they could not get a substitute, and she thought I could handle it. It was an interesting experience.

Of course, when I taught in university, I encountered students with very weak math abilities, and some freshmen had trouble with seemingly simple word problems in the introductory engineering course. These kids came from all over the state, and there were some brilliant kids and others who I would discourage from pursuing engineering.


I think though a critical problem is how to deal with students who don't want to study, or at least, are not interested in physics. In my experience, the proportion of highly motivated and diligent students is a few percent of the student body. They are the ones who learn for themselves, and who work well, or excell, with a good instructor.


There may be a place for this approach:
If you don't know much math (little or no algebra, and no trigonometry), I suggest getting a textbook that is intended for a "descriptive physics" course, such as this one:

Conceptual Physics, by Paul Hewitt

Many U.S. colleges and universities use this book for courses for students who are not science majors. So do many high schools, for their non-AP courses.
Otherwise, students motivated to go into the hard math and sciences will take calculus and a calculus based physics program.
Andy Resnick
#20
Oct2-10, 02:55 PM
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Quote Quote by Astronuc View Post
It depends on the school and school district. And I believe the qualifier is "qualified". But then it is more complicated than just placing a 'qualified' teacher.

The next questions - are the students prepared to study physics?!

[snip]
Of course, when I taught in university, I encountered students with very weak math abilities, and some freshmen had trouble with seemingly simple word problems in the introductory engineering course. These kids came from all over the state, and there were some brilliant kids and others who I would discourage from pursuing engineering.
Not to pick on you, Astronuc, but the sections above happen to illustrate what I think is a large-scale cultural bias of physics *educators* (and many students). I think becoming aware of this bias (which I admit to having) helped improve my instructional practice. Again, I am specifically discussing teaching physics to non-physics majors (and even non-science majors or high school students).

The bias can crudely be written as 'physics = math'. Or, the idea that the more sophisticated the mathematical model, the deeper the physical understanding. This is a *belief*, not a *fact*. For example, it is common to express certain highly sophisticated mathematical results in *subjective* terms- using words like 'more elegant', "beautiful", 'simple', etc.

My claim is that teaching *physical* insight does not require teaching *mathematical* insight. Here's my evidence:

I am going to list 1 homework problem each from 4 different physics texts, and your task is to match the problem to the text. The texts are:

1) Kaku, "Quantum field theory- an introduction"
2) Giancoli, "Physics" (6th ed.)- standard algebra-based intro physics
3) Steele, "Popular Physics". Published in 1878, designed for high school instruction.
4) Pieper and Beauchamp, "Everyday problems in science", published 1925, designed for high school.

And the questions are:

a) With what momentum would a train weighing 100,000 kg, and running at 10 meters/second, strike against an obstacle?
b) Consider the electric field created by an electron. Draw the diagram if the charge were positive instead of negative.
c) Determine your own height in meters, and your mass in kilograms.
d) Can glass be used as an electrode? Why or Why not?

No cheating! I'll put the answers at the end of this post. These problems are posted nearly verbatim- the only changes I made are to standardize the units and language.

Personally, I have a hard time matching them up. Maybe it's obvious to you. What am I trying to demonstrate?

The mathematical content of the three books could not be more different- Kaku is a graduate text in theoretical physics, Giancoli is an algebra-based introductory text, Steele uses, at best, crude geometrical arguments familiar to Newton, and Pieper's book contains no mathematics *at all*- this book is more similar to a 5th-grade general science book than to a physics text.

In addition, the problems display variable levels of physical insight: one problem is simple plug-and-chug newtonian mechanics, another a simple measurement, another involves the abstract notion of 'electric field', and the last involves electronic properties of condensed matter.

Again, I am trying to address a barrier that prevents or discourages people from setting foot in a physics class because of the (justified) perception that a physics class is 'just a bunch of math'. And more, I am trying to demonstrate that physics teachers have the ability to present high-level physical insight *without* the use of advanced mathematics. This puts the burden of instruction where it belongs- on the instructor.

This is how I become more qualified to teach physics- I work on teaching *physics*, not *mathematics*.

Now, in terms of training *other* physics teachers, we have an opportunity to train better teachers. At CSU, there's a NSF-funded program in place called "UTeach", which is a national program with the explicit goal of producing better qualified seconday-school science teachers;

http://uteachweb.cns.utexas.edu/

In summary, there *are* reasonable solutions, and they don't have to involve increasing the level of mathematical difficulty.


Ok, here's the answer key:







1-b, 2-c, 3-a, 4-d
twofish-quant
#21
Oct3-10, 11:00 PM
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One thing that I did was in my intro astronomy class at University of Phoenix was to make the class relevant to my students. All of them were mid-career professionals who were taking business administration classes with the hope of making more money, so I set up the astronomy class so that they could get some quick and easy skills that they could take back to work the next day.

The three mathematical concepts that I tried to reinforce were

1) dealing with large numbers - exponential notation and how to do quick calculations involving large numbers
2) estimation skills - lots of Fermi problems
3) significant figures and error - how accurate is this measurement

I then built the astronomy class around these key mathematical concepts. You can spend about two or three days teaching exponential notation, and then they can go back to the office and look at spreadsheets and budgets in ways that they couldn't before.

There was an ideological point which is that science isn't about memorizing facts from textbooks, any more than trying to figure out what is going with your cash flow is about memorizing facts from textbooks.

Also, I had to make the algebra extremely painless. A rather large fraction of students were quite traumatized by any sort of math, so it turned out that I had to be more of a therapist than a mathematician to get the students to absorb the material.
Andy Resnick
#22
Oct4-10, 09:08 AM
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Excellent approach! What feedback did you get?
mal4mac
#23
Mar15-11, 12:34 PM
P: 1,054
In the UK they should bring back grammar schools and make it clear that only physics graduates can teach physics there, and only quiet, studious, respectful (and bright!) kids can attend. That would increase the physics teachers' prestige and give them some protection from the rabble who make teacher's lives a living hell (bouncers, former military, social worker masochists can apply to teach them...)

The only argument against this is that motivated 'late developers' might miss out - so there should be a way out of hell into the grammar school after each year's exams (and a way down for the 'clever rebel'!)

The gate-keeper exams should be set and run by the physics teacher - then see how much respect he would get from the stalwarts of the community trying to get little Johnny into the grammar!

Save nerds from hell! Create some proper schools...
physics girl phd
#24
Mar15-11, 03:26 PM
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While there are many attempts by universities to encourage undergrads to enter the teaching profession and to simplify the teacher's education programs to add alternative routes, a big problem, in my opinion, is that certification does not initially occur at the national level, so it is difficult to move states.

Much of the following rant is from an earlier post of mine (in a different thread):

Certification/licensure programs are completed at a university, and are mostly accepted for that state (it's a bit of a pain to get other states to look at an out-of-state university's program). You then have to teach in the state for generally 3 about years... at which point other states may accept your out-of-state license and reissue a new in-state license (the time-line varies by state, but not really by "need" in a certain area like Math). There is now a process for national licensure, but to qualify to submit your application for this (which I believe requires references, examples of work, etc. and taking additional tests, which are different from the Praxis) you must be teaching for something like ten years. Add on that the more experience you have, the more pay you get via labor union contracts... and generally the schools want CHEAP new teachers (so that adds onto the "hard to move" aspect).

my personal anecdote: Even with a Ph.D in physics, and an M.Ed. in classroom teaching... and TONS of teaching experience (since I'm now a lecturer at a university, ad even have taught a few students pursing teaching certification), I can't presently teach at a public school, since I let my own certification expire while I pursued my Ph.D. in another state. Actually, at this point in life, I'd probably like going back to teaching HS (due to life changes, including having some kids)... but it would be a pain to get recertification (according to state paperwork, I'd have to get forms filled out by a certification program that I attended and a HS that employed me some 10-15 years ago -- and both in a different state).
Birkeland
#25
Mar24-11, 02:52 PM
P: 20
The simple cause of the lack of physics teachers comes from a lack of people studying physics. I graduated with a B.S in Physics Education from Illinois State University, which has a fantastic reputation for Physics Educators, and one of the years I was there the program was named one of the best undergrad physics programs in the country. Despite this, our total population at any given time numbered between 100-150. What separates good teachers from the bad is the ability to both understand the material and to present it in a variety of ways, one without the other doesn't do much good.

For example, one of my calc professors was a brilliant mathematician. However, she couldn't explain anything without looking at its fundamental definition. A phrase like "the time derivative is the rate at which something changes" is a foreign concept for her.

This is not an issue that better pay can solve; it is simply a matter of numbers. There is only a small portion of the human population that has the talent for a subject like physics, this has been true even when STEM education has been at its highest. Of that population, only a small subset will have the ability to explain that material to others that donít have a physics degree.

Frankly, my concern would be less on the background of the teachers and just get them to use inquiry more and cookbook labs less. But thatís another rant.
Stephen Tashi
#26
Mar24-11, 03:47 PM
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Quote Quote by Birkeland View Post
There is only a small portion of the human population that has the talent for a subject like physics, this has been true even when STEM education has been at its highest. Of that population, only a small subset will have the ability to explain that material to others that donít have a physics degree.
By that logic (which I don't dispute) only a small number of students will be able to understand a physics course even if it is taught by a qualified teacher.

Are we talking about secondary education? The only solution will be to substantially replace human teachers with "automated" types of instruction. I think no convincing attempt has ever been made to do this. For example, if you look at instructional videos on mathematics and physics, most use relatively primitive graphics. Even the ones sold as "The Great Courses" are primarily a recording of the traditional type of class lecture. Teaching with videos and interactive computer programs is still in a primitive state.
Birkeland
#27
Mar24-11, 04:27 PM
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Quote Quote by Stephen Tashi View Post
By that logic (which I don't dispute) only a small number of students will be able to understand a physics course even if it is taught by a qualified teacher.
Well, this is from the standpoint of a secondary teacher, it all depends on what the goal of the course is. An AP B for C physics class (Similar to pre-med physics for B and intro physics major for C) can only be sufficiently understood by maybe 25%-50% of the student body. However, a physics concepts class can be easily understood by students of all abilities. My view is that students should learn general concepts that are useful in life (conservation of energy, ect) and learn what science is, its methods and uses. For that, little math is needed.

However, to truly understand the materials and to give students more than a superficial understanding does take a physics teacher. For example I have heard chem and bio teacher give at least 5 different explanations of how an airplane flies, all of them wrong.

edit:

I suppose I should point out, when I say only a small percentage have the talent for physics, I mean to be able to get through a B.S Physics program, I think a much larger percentage can understand the basic conceptual or Algebra based physics. However in terms of getting physics majors to teach physics, it is a challenge. For example, the program I went through, on top of the education classes I had to take, I still have 5 education class within the physics program, PHY 110,111,112 (intro calc based physics), mathematical methods of theoretical physics, diff eq based mechanics, advanced E&M, 3 hours of laboratory design, QM I, and solid state. In the end, I took almost as much physics as the straight physics majors, and graduated with a minor in math as well (much like every other physics major). To get through all that requires a vastly different way of thinking than a large percentage of the population possesses.
zodea
#28
Mar31-11, 08:13 PM
P: 3
I realize this thread has been going on forever, but I would like to make a couple of comments.

I teach high school physics. I doubt that I'm really considered qualified. After I have taught physics a few more years I might be getting close.

One of my biggest complaints is lack of student friendly materials. Let's say I want my students to do some additional practice on motion graphs. If I spend some time searching the Internet for potential worksheets/practice problems I might come up with 2-5 things that might possibly work with my students.

However, if I want to find something to help my biology students practice identifying parts of a cell and their functions (or any other biology topic) I will easily finds 100's of things that could be useful and it will take me much less time.

So if you want to make physics teachers "better" supply them with the necessary materials. I would seriously like to see some honest to goodness drill and practice sheets for physics. The materials that come with the text books are not what I need. They often only have one or two of each type of problem and if students need extra reinforcement it's not there.

Even if you have a "qualified" physics teacher, they probably get fed up with creating all their own materials and leave for something else. I'm to the point I'd rather teach any other subject than physics because there is so much more support for the other subjects. But I'm basically stuck teaching physics because I am the only teacher in my school who has the certification.

Zodea
jhae2.718
#29
Mar31-11, 09:29 PM
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Perhaps there ought to be a free online physics problem source...

I'm sure the people at PF could come up with some good problems.

Since it's high school, I assume algebra-based physics?
Stephen Tashi
#30
Mar31-11, 09:46 PM
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zodea,

I'd be interested in hearing your comments on the available materials for secondary school physics labs.
Andy Resnick
#31
Apr1-11, 07:32 AM
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Quote Quote by zodea View Post

So if you want to make physics teachers "better" supply them with the necessary materials. I would seriously like to see some honest to goodness drill and practice sheets for physics. The materials that come with the text books are not what I need. They often only have one or two of each type of problem and if students need extra reinforcement it's not there.

Even if you have a "qualified" physics teacher, they probably get fed up with creating all their own materials and leave for something else. I'm to the point I'd rather teach any other subject than physics because there is so much more support for the other subjects. But I'm basically stuck teaching physics because I am the only teacher in my school who has the certification.

Zodea
Excellent comment- this problem has been recognized by some organizations (AAPT, NSF), and there have been some attempts to generate this material, but you are correct that biology and chemistry are way ahead of the curve on this.
Birkeland
#32
Apr6-11, 01:43 PM
P: 20
Excellent comment- this problem has been recognized by some organizations (AAPT, NSF), and there have been some attempts to generate this material, but you are correct that biology and chemistry are way ahead of the curve on this.
I am currently in my third year of teaching, and I keep finding new places to find materials, but in the end you just usually end up making them. My issue now is that my school is now pushing us to teach college readiness standards. For those that don't know what they are, they are the standards the ACT is based on. (but we are not teaching to the test, that's important to understand. /sarcasm)

When looking for ACT style materials there is tons on Bio, Earth Science, Chemistry, ect. But almost no one has any for Physics. Instead, unlike every other class, where chem and bio was handed a binder full of everything they needed, I am told to go make it.

This is my way of saying that the problem is twofold. There is a lack of traditional materials and that physics is consistently behind the curve on adapting to new standards. That being said, there are two places in particular I go for materials.

http://prettygoodphysics.wikispaces.com/ (join the secure site for the real good stuff)

http://modeling.asu.edu/Curriculum.html (great modeling resources. If you are a non-modeler than just modify them.)

Hope that helps zodea
physics girl phd
#33
Apr6-11, 02:40 PM
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Quote Quote by Andy Resnick View Post
Ok, here's the answer key:1-b, 2-c, 3-a, 4-d
Huzzah! I score a 100! (thinking CAREFULLY of course, but using the reasoning about mathematical emphasis of old high-school texts, having used Giancolli for a term when subbing in for a colleague and seeing that type of estimation question in the text, etc.)

We got a UTeach grant at UT (Tennessee) too... but I'm sad to say I'm not seeing much effect . Our university still uses a fifth-year only approach to certifying high school teachers (where students start their Education Master's after they complete their BS -- either in a direct fifth year or after some time has lapsed)... so I think the department, although a few faculty seem involved in a minor role, is still largely hands-off. Although I got my M.Ed. in education through a fifth-year approach, I still think it's wrong to have this be the ONLY path to certification. I'd like to see some undergrads that are interested in teaching getting some exposure through outreach to the schools, and classes that included observations and student teaching (and at present moment coursework that has some of this included is limited enrollment to graduate students in the education program, which is through another College, not A&S).

Where our university does go right is by having a program where special education teachers (another high-need area) can get undergrad degrees in special ed. There is even a GREAT course offered through the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies (in the same College as the Teacher Education programs) where students organize and then conduct a week-long camp for students with multiple physical disabilities (with roughly 150 disabled students from around the state and ~200 university students in roles ranging from individual counselors -- each disabled student has his/her own aide -- to activity coordinators, photojournalists etc. -- university students are individual counselors their first year, but can repeat the course and take a higher role in subsequent years). Before camp they have some exposure to the local classrooms... but camp is trial by fire, but organized enough that the fire ignites interest. Our oldest son P, with multiple disabilities, is a participant.

Show me a university with an organized course like that for some science camp (supported by physics, chem, bio, etc. departments along with teacher ed), and I'd show you a program that could recruit and train excited, qualified teachers that can teach at a K-12 level.
Andy Resnick
#34
Apr6-11, 06:29 PM
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Quote Quote by physics girl phd View Post
We got a UTeach grant at UT (Tennessee) too... but I'm sad to say I'm not seeing much effect .
It's funny you bring this up now- this past week our UTeach program *finally* started to get proactive- both about getting students (the program is run through the education department) as well as more active participation from us (physics). I want to get more involved, but there seems to be some inertia regarding 'turf'. Supposedly in the fall we will have some sort of organized activity.... Stay tuned...
Birkeland
#35
Apr6-11, 07:17 PM
P: 20
Quote Quote by physics girl phd View Post
Show me a university with an organized course like that for some science camp (supported by physics, chem, bio, etc. departments along with teacher ed), and I'd show you a program that could recruit and train excited, qualified teachers that can teach at a K-12 level.
While not exactly that, I can't say enough about the Physics Education program at Illinois State. ISU is known as mostly an education school, and as far as the special ed and primary ed programs I'm sure that's true, but from the little I saw the secondary ed program I hated it. However, most of the secondary ed training takes place inside the content area itself. Even though my degree was Physics Education the whole way through, I took a bunch of ed classes and still was only 1 semester away from a full physics degree, so content knowledge was no problem.

As far as teaching experiences, we were only required 80 hours of observation by law, but our program required 140, a large portion of which was hands on experience in the classroom. We also took part in several teaching activities at local science museums, and went to teach a couple lessons at the Juvenile Detention center in town. While not a part of the program itself, the department runs something called "Physics on the Road" where we take physics equipment and demos around to schools that either lack the money for equipment, or the student numbers for physics courses and teach concepts and lessons. We also took part in a "Physics Night" each month at the children's discovery museum.

Even though nothing can really make you 100% ready for teaching until you get through your first year, this program really gave us as much experience as possible, with as much content knowledge as possible.
physics girl phd
#36
Apr7-11, 10:52 AM
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Quote Quote by Birkeland View Post
While not exactly that, I can't say enough about the Physics Education program at Illinois State.
Thank you! I knew there were some out there -- your alma mater's well-established "physics on the road" and "physics night" programs sound like great ways to get participants in the field. As Andy points out, the "inertia" of some institutions can be hard to overcome. People think $$$ is hard to come by, and then get possessive about their stuff / turf and are afraid to let undergrads have at it (especially if this undergrad doesn't compare favorably to that one ten years ago).

I'm glad to see from your profile you're still an active teacher / success story (and I agree about that first year about being the true test point -- but our training programs certainly need to provide as much good prep for that first year as possible!).


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