Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Preparing Physics Teachers in Tennessee

In July, my wife and I are moving from Old Town, Maine to Murfreesboro, TN. I have accepted a faculty position at Middle Tennessee State University in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The department has recently become a PhysTEC site, which means they are dedicating time, people, and others resources to preparing physics teachers. The university has also become a UTeach replication site, called MTeach. Both of these programs come with lots of support and expectations. I am very excited about the job, the programs, and my new colleagues.

In the department, I will be teaching a variety of physics and physical science courses, including some specialized content and pedagogy courses just for future physics teachers, working to further our goal of preparing more and better qualified physics teachers, and carrying out research in physics education.

I am most excited about a couple of things:

Their algebra-based physics course is structured with 5 hours of problem-solving labs and 1.5 hours of lecture per week.
  • In the "lab", students do a quick "reading" quiz. Because their is little lecture time, students are expected to read some background material online before studio time.
  • Students then typically get in groups to work on a series of conceptual questions at a computer. The questions are "FCI"-like and provide students with immediate feedback.
  • The instructor then introduces a problem (often a goal-less problem). The instructor may model for the students how to approach the problem and then assign a new one, or he may send the students off to work right away.
  • The students collaboratively work on the problem. They then share their solutions with the class a la whiteboards.
  • At the end of the period, students typically work on a lab.
  • The entire class time (2.5 hours) revolves around one big idea: From the reading quiz, to the conceptual questions, to the instructor modeled example, to the problem solving, to the lab. The course has a very "modeling" feel to it.
  • In many of the classes, their is an undergraduate teaching assistant to help facilitate, because all physics majors are required to take a course called physics teaching practicum.
In their calculus-based course, they are switching to using Matter and Interactions. Since the school has no engineering department, this class is small (about thirty). This provides many opportunities to innovate. I'm hoping to push for some SBG.

They offer two physical science courses that are taken by pre-service elementary school teachers. I'll most likely be teaching one of those in the fall. I need to know more, but I imagine I'll be running this class similar to Student-generated Scientific Inquiry.

All undergraduate students are expected to do research and complete a thesis. Students in the physics teaching concentration will most likely be working with me.

A Master Teacher is working with the MTeach program as a teacher-in-residence.

A new interdisciplinary program in Mathematics and Science Education has been launched.

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