CORVALLIS - A new five-year, $5.8 million initiative funded by the National Science Foundation will help Oregon State University develop one of the nation's leading teacher education programs for high school physics teachers and address growing concerns about K-12 science education.
Called "PhysTEC," the program will begin immediately at six universities that are already national leaders in science teacher education, including OSU.
Its primary goal is to create teachers who are experts with inquiry-based, hands-on science education, a technique that has been shown to keep student interest high and produce optimal results.
"There are many problems we need to address," said Ken Krane, an OSU professor of physics. "A lot of high school physics teachers are retiring or changing careers at the same time that high schools are increasing their science requirements, and physics is being taken by many more students. In some high schools almost all of the students take a physics course, and the teacher shortage is critical."
Beyond that, Krane said, there are new ways to teach science of all types, including physics, which help stimulate student interest and convey science as a fascinating process, not just an accumulation of facts. The new programs should improve the content, effectiveness and methodology of teaching. Active collaboration between the college physics department, education department and local school community will be encouraged, and mentoring programs will be developed that try to reduce the high rate at which recently hired teachers leave the profession.
The NSF grant was made to the American Physical Society, in partnership with the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics. These professional societies hope to dramatically improve the science preparation and teaching skills of future secondary and elementary teachers.
Although the work at OSU will be focused on teacher education for high school physics teachers, the university will also develop a new inquiry-based physical science course for elementary teachers.
The techniques and approaches that are developed at OSU and the other five leading universities will eventually be made available to institutions across the nation, officials say.