Kennesaw State named leader in graduating physics teachers
by Philip Clements March 21, 2015 04:00 AM MARIETTA — Kennesaw State University…
Georgia (Mar 23, 2015) —
Link To Articlehttp://mdjonline.com/bookmark/26533953-Kennesaw-State-named-leader-in-graduating-physics-teachers?sp-tk=82C8E298F997CF86741C32A36AAF096677C1BF820855231FC7B6F55F9220343C108F2BE93EA4B702DBDDAAFE7996DBAC27697528B1935BA4469A9DBF18FBF022BD22FCFD5016A0A51D4E706
MARIETTA — Kennesaw State University has been recognized by a national science organization as one of the leaders in the preparation of physics teachers, an area with a major shortage.
The Physics Teacher Education Coalition — or PhysTEC — selected KSU as one of only 11 inductees into its inaugural “The 5+ Club,” which is made up of colleges and universities that graduate five or more physics teachers in a given year.
Monica Plisch, a principal investigator and project director for PhysTEC, said the organization is a project of the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers.
“We’re two of the leading professional societies in physics,” Plisch said. “Our mission is to improve the education of future physics teachers.”
She said PhysTEC has directly funded more than 40 physics departments in colleges and universities throughout the country to help them improve their physics teacher education.
In its 2014 report, the American Association for Employment in Education found the teacher shortage is the highest in physics among 59 education fields. Similarly, the National Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics reported in 2013 “the need for qualified teachers is greater now than at any previous time in history.”
David Rosengrant, associate professor in physics education at Kennesaw State University, said it feels great to be singled out by PhysTEC as a leader in the field.
“A lot of people see physics as a typically low-enrollment major, so there’s always the question of ‘Why should we continue to really support some programs that have such few students?’” Rosengrant said. “So, to be recognized as, ‘Hey, you’re actually one of the top performers,’ I think helps shows everyone the importance of getting good quality teachers out there.”
Plisch said KSU has had more success than other universities in producing physics teachers partly because of its unique program.
“They have a specialized program for preparing physics teachers,” she said. “Not just science teachers, but they have specific training on not only the physics content but also how you actually teach physics.”
Plisch said KSU has a “top-notch” faculty and has developed a reputation over time.
“So, anybody who is interested in teaching physics, I would expect that they would take a strong look at Kennesaw State simply because they have a really excellent program,” she added.
“A lot of education programs, they’re more general (and) focused on science education and you might get one methods course on how to teach science education,” Plisch said, noting a program like this might have one future physics teacher compared to 10 future biology teachers, so physics can easily be overlooked.
“I think it’s kind of a situation where, if you build it, they will come,” Plisch said. “So Kennesaw State has specialized in physics teacher preparation, and I think they’ve built a reputation in that area and they’ve been able to attract large numbers of future physics teachers.”
Plisch said the U.S. Department of Education found “fewer than half of all secondary physics teachers have a degree in the subject,” which she said is much less than other disciplines.
Rosengrant said because a lot of physics teachers aren’t trained in physics, they don’t have the content background and there’s some apprehension that might affect their teaching.
“So, what happens a lot of times, especially in physics, is you get teachers who may not be as comfortable with the material,” he said. “But, if a student can see that their teacher (or) their instructor is excited about the material, it’s easier for them to buy into it.”
Rosengrant said, for instance, when he went to get his degree in education, he was lumped in with all of the other science educators and taught how to teach in general.
“The mentality was, ‘You have a content degree and we’re going to teach you how to teach and you’re going to figure out how to make the two work in a classroom,’” he said, noting it wasn’t until he went back to school specifically to learn how to teach physics that he was able to effectively teach the subject.
Plisch said there are several reasons why there is a shortage of physics teachers, including an overall shortage in people pursuing physics degrees.
“If you look at the number of graduates in the life sciences (such as biology, zoology and botany) and compare that to the number of graduates in physics, it’s a 10-to-one ratio,” Plisch said.
Rosengrant said physics sometimes has a negative reputation of being a difficult and challenging field of study, so a lot of people are discouraged from attempting to study it. He noted students’ interests regarding post-secondary study is based on their high school experience.“So, if they have poor experiences in high school with physics, they’re less inclined to want to study it in the future. It’s almost like a domino effect — when you have a shortage of highly qualified teachers in physics, you don’t bring more people into it because you don’t have people getting the students excited about it as much.”
Both Plisch and Rosengrant said it’s important to keep producing good physics teachers because they keep the cycle to improve physics education going. By contrast, if there aren’t many good physics teachers, then students won’t be as interested in the subject and there will be fewer people pursuing physics as a discipline.
“There’s going to be teachers retiring, there’s going to be more students taking science classes (and) there’s going to be more students taking physics,” Rosengrant said. “So we need to get more teachers into the classrooms.”
High demand for physics teachers and an increase in the number of students taking the subject both contribute to the shortage of physics teachers, Plisch said.
About 40 percent of all high school graduates have taken at least one physics course before they graduate, Plisch said, compared to about 25 percent 15 years ago.
She said the increase in students being educated in physics is already contributing to an increase in people pursuing degrees in physics.
“I think what happens is once students get exposed to physics in high school — and if they had a good experience and they had a good teacher — they get turned on to physics,” Plisch said. “But if they never had that experience in high school, how can you expect somebody to chose that as a major in college.”
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.