Preparing high-school physics teachers

Preparing high-school physics teachers
Theodore Hodapp, Jack Hehn, and Warren Hein
Phys. Today 62, 40 (2009)

High-school teachers are one of the most important factors in developing the science and technology workforce of the future. Institutions of higher learning in the US will need to dramatically increase the number of high-school physics teachers they educate if every high-school student who wants to take a physics course is to have access to a highly qualified teacher. The responsibility for that teacher preparation cannot be left solely to education departments or schools of education; we physicists must work with our colleagues in education to address the significant shortage of qualified physics teachers.

Many of the more than 23 000 US high-school physics teachers are not adequately prepared to teach the subject. Only one-third of them, for example, majored in physics or physics education. Poor teacher preparation denies students access to a quality education in the physical sciences. Moreover, students without access to a good high-school physics course are often unprepared for introductory college physics. Physics once attracted the best undergraduates, but now other options seem more attractive. Quantitative indicators are down too. Physics majors now represent only about 1.4% of all science and math undergraduates; 40 years ago the number was 4%.

To improve physics teacher education, the American Physical Society (APS), the American Institute of Physics (AIP), and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) jointly created the Physics Teacher Education Coalition ( in 1999. Funded primarily by NSF and the APS 21st Century Campaign, PhysTEC has been working closely with about a dozen colleges and universities—and more broadly with a larger coalition of institutions—to identify and disseminate effective practices and innovative methods and to advocate for an enhanced role of physics departments in the education of future teachers.

The number of highly qualified teachers educated at PhysTEC institutions has substantially increased over the past eight years. From our experience in PhysTEC and from visits to successful programs around the country, we are excited to report a number of ideas for helping physics departments to improve the education of future teachers. We include examples and offer suggestions for direct action.

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