The third annual induction ceremony for the Dr. James T. and Jana L. Cook Future Physicists of Florida FSU Panama City Chapter will be held on Monday, October 2 at the Holley Center located on the Panama City campus of Florida State University.
Future Physicists of Florida (FPF) was founded in 2012 and is intended to recognize middle school students who have demonstrated ability in math and science and to encourage these students and their parents to persevere through the rigorous high school math and science courses needed to prepare for bachelors’ degree programs in fields like engineering, computer science, physics and the health professions.
During the 2015 and 2016 induction ceremonies, 350 students were inducted. The impact those students have had on Bay County’s high schools has been remarkable. Physics enrollments in the district grew from 100 in 2015-16 to 230 in 2016-17, and further growth is likely in 2017-18. This enrollment growth was helped along by the loan of $40,000 worth of teaching lab equipment by FSU to Bay County high schools last fall.
The Bay County FPF chapter was renamed for retired cardiologist James Cook and his wife Jana last fall when they provided a gift to FSU’s Panama City campus to help support STEM education in Bay County. The gift was announced during a day of STEM-related activities hosted by FSU-PC for FPF inductees.
FSU-PC Dean Randy Hanna and audience at the 2016 Bay County FPF induction ceremony
The Tallahassee Democrat has now published the written version of my pitch to high school parents to prepare their students properly for college STEM majors.
When I give that pitch to a group of parents in person, the slides below are what I use.
A big thank you to Rutherford High School physics and math teacher Rachel Morris for this photo.
You can read the story here.
One issue with the story: It says “The district has the lowest physics enrollment in the state,” which was once (sort of) true – Bay had the lowest physics enrollment rate of any non-rural district in Florida. But that has changed, and dramatically. In 2015-16, the district had 100 students enrolled in high school physics. In 2016-17, the number was 230 – more than twice as large.
Bay District Schools are on the move – and in the right direction!
The number of new teachers fully certified to teach the highest level high school math courses in Florida (and therefore earning the state’s “Math 6-12” certification) is dropping quickly. Many high schools are already filling the gaps left by the shortage of Math 6-12 teachers with teachers having the less rigorous “Math 5-9” certification, which is really intended for those teaching in middle schools. Math 5-9 teachers cannot teach courses above the level of Geometry, so in some cases schools are left scrambling to find teachers to cover courses in Algebra 2 and Precalculus.
But there is hope that the decline can be reversed if there is determination to do so at the state or local levels. In January, the American Physical Society released a report on a survey of college students around the nation majoring in chemistry, computer science, math and physics and of recent graduates in those disciplines who are presently teaching at the high school level. One of the primary conclusions of the report is this: Math majors generally have more interest in teaching careers than computer science and physics majors (chemistry majors have about the same level of interest as math majors). And among those four disciplines, math majors would respond most strongly to incentives such as scholarships, loan forgiveness and salary increases.
There are already a few local incentive efforts underway in Florida to attract students with strong math skills into the teaching profession. One is the Jacksonville Teacher Residency Program. Another is Bay County’s bonus program for teachers in critical shortage areas.
But it’s clear that more districts – or perhaps the state – will have to start incentive programs to reverse the decline.
While teacher shortages have made headlines in the past year, a look at results of the Florida Teacher Certification Exams for the years 2013-2016 show that at least at the high school level the sharpest declines in the supply of new teachers are occurring in two subjects – math and physics.
The plots below show the number of first-time examinees who passed the exams during 2013-2016. The first plot shows the numbers of examinees passing the exams for Art, Physical Education and Social Sciences. The numbers are fairly steady in all three subjects, although there is a slight decline in Social Sciences.
The second plot shows STEM subjects in which the numbers of teachers are fairly high – Biology, Earth/Space Science and Math 6-12. Teachers certified in Math 6-12 can teach any high school math course. Teachers with another math certification, Math 5-9, are limited to teaching Algebra 1, Geometry and other low-level courses. The supply of new Biology and Earth/Space Science teachers has been fairly steady. However, the number of exam passers in Math 6-12 dropped dramatically from 2013 to 2016.
The third plot shows Chemistry and Physics – STEM subjects in which fewer teachers become certified. The supply of new Chemistry teachers has declined gently. But the story in Physics is quite different. First, the number of new Physics teachers has been low throughout the 2013-2016 period. Second, the number has dropped significantly in the last few years.
I did not include English in this analysis because the certification exam format changed for that subject in 2015.
Data were taken from the (always amazing) Florida Department of Education website.
Your daughter or son is not well prepared for a college major in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) or health field unless she or he has taken Chemistry, Physics and a math course called “Precalculus” in high school. Taking a Calculus course in high school is even better.
The American Society for Engineering Education says that students who might choose Engineering in college should take Precalculus (and preferably Calculus), Chemistry and Physics in high school.
Earning a bachelor of science degree in Computer Science generally requires a considerable amount of math, including Calculus. And Physics is generally encouraged if not required for a Computer Science major. Taking those subjects for the first time in high school provides a much better chance of success in college.
Admission into medical, dental or physical therapy school requires college physics, lots of chemistry and a considerable amount of mathematics. Taking those subjects for the first time in high school makes it more likely that a student will earn high grades in the college versions of those courses – and those college grades go right into a student’s application for professional school.
Research tells parents how important high school courses like Physics, Precalculus and Calculus are for students who might have an interest in a STEM field. A study published by University of South Florida researchers in 2007 showed that students who took Physics in high school were twice as likely to complete a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field as those who stopped at Chemistry and didn’t take Physics.
The same study demonstrated that students who took a high school Precalculus course were three times as likely to earn a STEM bachelor’s degree as those whose highest math course was Algebra 2. Students who took a high school Calculus course were seven times as likely to earn a STEM degree as those who stopped in Algebra 2.
Not all students pursuing STEM and health fields have the best high school preparation. About a quarter of the students in my studio physics courses at FSU – and those are students majoring in fields like engineering and computer science – did not take a high school physics course. Our studio physics program provides such underprepared students the best possible chance of success, but they are still at a serious disadvantage.
About half of the FSU students intending to enter professional school in a health field did not take a physics course in high school.
If your child is being advised not to take physics or calculus for some reason, get your advice elsewhere. I talk with counselors and teachers around Florida who encourage students to take on seemingly risky challenges like physics and calculus.
Recent research has shown that parents play a very important role in determining whether their children take the challenging high school math and science courses necessary to prepare for college majors in STEM and health fields. In other words, your encouragement may be the critical factor that opens a world of opportunity for your children.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal compared Orange and Seminole County high school physics enrollment rates in a School Zone post today.
Lest a reader simply conclude that Seminole generally does better than Orange because Seminole’s students are uniformly more affluent, I’ve included a plot of the physics enrollment rates for high schools in the two districts against FRL. In the middle FRL range – the 30’s and 40’s – Seminole County high schools beat Orange County high schools convincingly.