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MN PhysTEC Program in 5+ Club

Three men, two younger, one older, the older one is explaining a mettalic sphere and one of the younger ones is holding a stick up to the sphere
Michael Revering, Steve Brehmer and Jeffrey Chaffin discuss a lecture demonstration that teaches students to measure static electricity
Richard Anderson

The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) recently announced the initial inductees into “The 5+ Club,” a group of institutions that has graduated five or more physics teachers in a given year. Last year, the School of Physics and Astronomy graduated seven physics majors who are obtaining their high school physics teaching license. The great majority of institutions graduate less than two physics teachers a year, and the most common number of graduates is zero.

Minnesota’s PhysTEC program, initially funded through the American Physical Society and currently funded through the School of Physics and Astronomy (SPA), is a successful collaboration of SPA faculty, experienced high school physics teachers, and the DirecTrack to Teaching program of College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). Interested and highly qualified physics students are recruited to be ‘Learning Assistants,’(LA) who provide small group interactions in large introductory course. As part of their training, the LAs work every week with an experienced ‘mentor teacher, reviewing research on how students learn, and how best to work with students. These early teaching experiences often open students’ eyes to teaching physics as a career.

The program is designed so that both the LAs and the students in the courses benefit from the experience. One LA, Natalie Perrine stated "For me the option of being an LA was perfect. I often struggled with pursuing my challenging physics degree knowing I intended to teach. The material I was learning seemed too complicated for high school education and it often left me frustrated. Being an LA offered me the opportunity to remind myself why I wanted to be a teacher. It easily allowed me to apply my physics knowledge in a classroom setting. I constantly was reminded of my drive for teaching by interacting with younger students in physics classes and it helped me to push through challenging courses. I enjoyed being able to share my knowledge, and even found it easier to explain physics in simpler terms since I was delving into more complicated versions. I know that being an LA helped me to continue my pursuit of being the best physics teacher I can be."

Another, Lauren Albert, said "Working as an LA has given me the opportunity to cultivate my skills in working with students and fuel my passion. I feel better prepared and more confident as a result of the support and practice I received through this program."

In their 2014 report, the American Association for Employment in Education found that the teacher shortage in physics is number one among 59 education fields. Graduating five or more physics teachers a year is a significant achievement, helping to address the severe national shortage of high school physics teachers. The United States has a severe, long-term shortage of qualified physics teachers. In fact, in 2013 the National Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics reported, “the need for qualified teachers is greater now than at any previous time in history.” Of the approximately 1400 new teachers who are hired to teach physics each year, only 35% have a degree in physics or physics education.

PhysTEC, a flagship education program of the American Physical Society (APS), aims to improve the education of future physics teachers by transforming physics departments, creating successful models for physics teacher education programs, and disseminating best practices. The project has funded more than 40 sites to build physics teacher education programs (see for more details).