If you are a professor in a college or university physics department (or chemistry, computer science or math department), then you have a responsibility to help recruit high school teachers – even if you aren’t getting any help from your College of Education colleagues.

If you are a professor in a physics department (or chemistry, computer science or math department) that has a wonderful working relationship with your university’s College of Education so that your students find the idea of becoming teachers attractive and they can smoothly transition into a teacher education program and earn a permanent certification, then you should stop reading now. This post isn’t for you.

For those readers who are still with me because the physics teacher education program on your campus isn’t running like a well-oiled machine, I’m going to start with some tough talk:  You’re not off the hook.  You can’t just throw up your hands, say “Our College of Education sucks!” and give up. That’s not good enough.

There are things you can do to introduce your students to the teaching profession, familiarize them with evidence-based instruction and give them access to school districts even without the help of your fine colleagues in the College of Education.

Start with this: Tell your students that high school teaching is an important and noble profession. If that sounds too simple to help, consider that the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs made that their very first recommendation in January 2017 report “Recruiting Teachers in High-Needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates”:

Impress upon university faculty and advisors in STEM disciplinary departments the importance of promoting middle and high school teaching with their undergraduate majors and graduate students, and of providing them accurate information about the actual salary and positive features of teaching.

Second, start a learning assistantship program. Here at FSU, learning assistants are undergraduates who serve as paid instructional staff in our SCALE-UP introductory physics classes. They attend the two three-hour class periods per week and attend the weekly TA preparation meeting. Learning assistants tend to become interested in teaching as a vocation because they begin to understand that the design of the SCALE-UP class and the exercises we use are based on research on how students learn – and generally physics majors are intrinsically interested in approaching challenges through research. In addition, they usually enjoy the interactions they have with students in the SCALE-UP classes.

Class Panorama

A SCALE-UP physics class at FSU

Our Learning Assistant program is modest – four students per semester. Our Dean graciously picks up the $10K/year cost.

In 2010, the University of Colorado – where the learning assistantship idea was hatched – reported that their learning assistantship program had tripled the number of “well-qualified” high school physics teachers they were producing.  In fact, it is not unusual for a few of the students in our SCALE-UP classes to become interested in the idea that teaching strategies can be based on how students learn. At least two alumni of FSU’s SCALE-UP program are now teaching physics in Florida high schools. So is one of the former graduate teaching assistants in our SCALE-UP program – and he is now teaching physics in a SCALE-UP format at his school (much to the delight of the U.S. Secretary of Education).

Third, invite school district or school leaders to campus and let them talk with your students about teaching careers. Last year, I invited the Chair of the Bay County School Board, Ginger Littleton, and the school district’s then-Human Resources Director, Sharon Michalik, to visit our SCALE-UP physics classes, and they did a nice job talking about the profession.


Sharon Michalik, then Bay District Schools Director of Human Resources, talking with students in a Studio Physics class about teaching careers in March of 2017.

This spring, I was contacted by staff at Orange County Public Schools and asked about the possibility of a visit with undergraduate majors in chemistry, computer science, math and physics, and that presentation is scheduled for next week. The OCPS folks didn’t ask specifically about students who are already in FSU’s teacher preparation program, although I’m sure they would be glad if such students showed up. Instead, they asked for an opportunity to talk with students who haven’t decided on teaching as a career to see if they can make the sale.

None of the strategies we have adopted had anything to do with our College of Education. We did these things on our own, with considerable support (monetary and otherwise) from our Dean and other members of the university leadership.

You can do these things, too, starting with encouraging your students to consider high school teaching careers. You don’t need anyone from a College of Education to tell you that is the right thing to do.

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Addressing the shortages of teachers in chemistry, computer science, math and physics: The report of the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs

Here is the Executive Summary of the report “Recruiting Teachers in High-needs STEM Fields: A Survey of Current Majors and Recent STEM Graduates”, which was released by the American Physical Society’s Panel on Public Affairs in January, 2017.  The Executive Summary concludes with a call to professional societies of STEM professionals and academic departments in those fields to get involved by sharing the importance of middle and high school teaching with their students and advocating for financial incentives to attract more strong students into high-needs subjects.

The United States faces persistent shortages of appropriately trained middle and high school STEM teachers in high-needs fields, particularly physics, chemistry, and computer science. The American Physical Society, American Chemical Society, Computing Research Association, and Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership surveyed over 6,000 current and recent majors in our disciplines.

Our goals were to:

  • Investigate the attitudes and opinions of undergraduate majors and recent graduates from high-needs STEM fields towards teaching.
  • Identify incentives that are both feasible and likely to be effective based on the responses of students showing some interest in teaching.
  • Develop recommendations for the professional societies and disciplinary departments.

Our main findings were:

  • Around half of STEM majors indicate some interest in teaching, suggesting a significant pool from which more STEM teachers could be recruited.
  • For STEM majors with some interest in teaching, 80% say that various financial incentives would increase their interest. They report the most powerful incentive would be an increase of teacher salary.
  • Undergraduate STEM majors underestimate teacher compensation, and the salaries they report would interest them in teaching are close to actual salaries.
  • Students are most inclined to consider teaching in departments where the faculty discuss teaching as a career option.
  • Mathematics majors indicate the most interest in teaching and respond most strongly to incentives. Chemistry and physics majors show less interest and physics majors respond less strongly to incentives. Computer science majors show the least interest.
  • The aspects of teaching that most worry STEM undergraduates are substantially different from the aspects of teaching that worry practicing teachers.

Our recommendations to professional societies and disciplinary departments are to:

  • Impress upon university faculty and advisors in STEM disciplinary departments the importance of promoting middle and high school teaching with their undergraduate majors and graduate students, and of providing them accurate information about the actual salary and positive features of teaching.
  • Support high-quality academic programs that prepare students for STEM teaching, and expand good models to more universities. Strong programs provide improved coursework, prevent certification from requiring extra time, and support their students and graduates financially and academically.
  • Support financial and other support for students pursuing STEM teaching.
  • Advocate for increases in annual compensation, including summer stipends, on the order of $5,000 – $25,000 for teachers in the hardest to staff STEM disciplines.
  • Support programs that improve the professional life and community of STEM teachers.
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To reverse Florida’s decline in high school physics, college and university faculty should step up

Florida was a weak state for high school physics even before enrollments declined 8% over the last three years.

A survey of state departments of education we performed in the summer of 2015 showed that Florida ranked 23rd among the 30 states plus DC that responded to our survey with an enrollment rate (total number of high school physics enrollments divided by the number of 12th graders) about half of the average rate we measured for all thirty-one responding jurisdictions.


If physics is the gateway high school science course for college STEM majors, then this is a serious problem.

Who is responsible for fixing this Florida problem?

I can tell you who is not going to fix it.

The people leading the high schools where physics is considered a luxury specialty for the elite few students aren’t going to fix it.  They are perfectly happy with the way things are.  In fact, I can tell you from personal experience that they can get very upset if you point out that what they are doing is not OK.

The parents in those schools and districts where physics is considered an extra – even for students in engineering academies – aren’t going to fix it.  They don’t know any better.  They don’t know their kids are either at high risk for failure if they declare engineering or a physical science as a college major or are (as at UF) unwelcome in a physics classroom altogether.

Florida’s educational policy-makers are not going to fix it.  Almost a decade ago, they decided that the state’s high school science curriculum should be focused exclusively on biology.  A recent Florida Department of Education Economic Security Report showed that among college majors with large enrollments in the State University System, Biology has the lowest median first-year earnings – even lower than Psychology and English (figure from the report is shown below).  The state’s policy-makers are unmoved.

economic security

So who’s left?

Who’s left is the state’s college and university faculty in physics and other science and technology fields that require physics.  We have to do something about it.

Over the years, I’ve heard lots of excuses from my colleagues at FSU and elsewhere why we can’t or shouldn’t do anything about the problems that high school physics has in Florida or in other states.

One excuse is that the culture of the K-12 schools is vastly different from that of the universities in which we are comfortable.  As an observation, this is valid.  As an excuse, it’s not.  The correct way to respond to this observation is to look for opportunities – K-12 educators and leaders who want to improve the preparation their students are getting for college STEM majors – and then to just ask, “What can I do to help?”

One west coast colleague told me once during a meeting several years ago that our professional society should not assist such efforts because he didn’t have the personality necessary to cooperate with middle and high school teachers.  I would have burst out laughing except that several others in the meeting seemed to be nodding along – they didn’t think they had the necessary personality traits, either, and they figured that was a good enough reason for our professional society to decline to help.

Another colleague from the mid-Atlantic region who was actually very active in K-12 affairs in his state told me that Florida is culturally beyond help and that I am wasting my time.  I responded that giving up on Florida was not an option for me.

Here is another of my favorite excuses:  “I can’t get a grant for that.”  No, you probably can’t.  And never mind, I’ll find someone else to talk with.  (By the way, among the National Science Foundation’s merit review criteria for grant proposals is “broader impacts”, which can include work with the K-12 schools.  And yes, it’s helped me in the review process for nuclear physics grants.)

My own experience with the K-12 world is that I can help in modest ways if I find K-12 educators who really want to do better and collaborate with them.  I think I’m being realistic in saying that there are hundreds of students around the state who are (or were) better prepared for college STEM majors because I helped an educator – teacher, counselor or administrator – with what that educator knew needed to be done.

My batting average with state-level policy advocacy is probably zero, and if I measured my self-worth by that I’d be very discouraged.  But as an educator myself, I know that the extra work I invest in my studio classroom every semester probably really helps perhaps only a few dozen students learn more than they would have in a lecture hall.  That’s the scale of success that I’m accustomed to, so improving the lives of hundreds of kids in the K-12 schools over a period of years seems pretty good – and sufficiently rewarding.

I only wish more of my colleagues felt the same way.

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Orange County Public Schools to FSU science and math students: Think about a career teaching with us!


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Bay County’s Bozeman School provides an excellent illustration of what it takes to prepare rural students for a range of STEM careers

When Hechinger Report journalist Tara Garcia Mathewson contacted me last August – a few days before the solar eclipse – to discuss high school physics, I was on my way to rural northern Bay County to visit an Honors Physics class at the Deane Bozeman School.  Bozeman, a K-12 school that graduates about a hundred students per year, had not offered physics the year before but was now able to because they had recruited chemistry and physics teacher Denise Newsome during the summer.

Tara’s Hechinger Report article on high school physics, “One reason students aren’t prepared for STEM careers? No physics in high school” was published recently and focused on the shortage of high school physics teachers.  Tara pointed out that “physics is the only discipline that has a ‘considerable shortage’ of teachers in every region in the country — edging out other hard-to-staff subjects such as bilingual education, math, chemistry and all types of special education.”

Denise, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at FSU, hadn’t taught physics at her previous school, but she’d gotten warmed up on teaching physics by leading a summer camp on the physics of dance for middle and high school students at Florida State University’s Panama City campus.  The dancers would strap on some of the same kinds of sensors we use in our studio physics classes at FSU’s Tallahassee campus and then the motion and forces generated during the participants’ dancing would be recorded and reviewed.

Denise has gotten a bit of technical help from the FSU Physics Department.  She drove out to Tallahassee in mid-January with Bozeman’s Van de Graaff generator for some repairs.  She also picked up some webcams and laptops, and received some advice from the department’s teaching laboratory staff on using them.

Before Denise left Tallahassee, we asked her to make sure the Van de Graaff was working properly.  As the reader can see below, it was.


Bozeman School chemistry and physics teacher Denise Newsome making sure Bozeman’s repaired Van de Graaff generator was working before leaving the FSU Physics Department in mid-January.

Given Denise’s success during her physics of dance camp last summer, we already knew that she was comfortable with her Pasco physics lab equipment.  But last week, Denise sent me a picture of a computer display from a motion experiment that prompted me to ask her to come back to Tallahassee to show us – the presumed physics experts – how she inserted the webcam image.

motion lab

The Bozeman School clearly recruited an ace when they got Denise.

But of course, Denise is only part of the Bozeman School story.  Bozeman is now the strongest rural school for high school math and science in the Florida Panhandle – and it’s not close.  That doesn’t happen unless the school leadership is committed to excellence in those subjects.

Tara included this quote from me in her Hechinger Report article:  “The decisions that teachers and leaders at the school, district and state levels make about the importance of physics for their high school students make a tremendous impact on how many students take physics, and therefore how well students are prepared for the rigorous STEM majors in college.”  The leaders at the Bozeman School decided they wanted their students to have access to high-quality courses in chemistry and physics, so they did what it took to attract Denise to make it happen.  The Bay County school district has provided encouragement and support for Bozeman’s initiative.

As Tara said in her article, “Physics is widely considered to be a building block for a range of STEM disciplines.”  Because of Denise’s teaching in chemistry and physics and the support she is getting from school and district leadership, Bozeman’s graduates will have the opportunity to pursue any STEM career they choose.  Especially in the rural environment where Bozeman is located, that is a special thing indeed.


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On WUSF’s Florida Matters, UCF’s Physics Teacher-in-Residence Adam LaMee says online high school science not as good as in-person courses

Update (Wednesday morning):  Here is the recording of the full Florida Matters discussion.

UCF Physics Teacher-in-Residence Adam LaMee argued during WUSF’s show Florida Matters on Tuesday evening that online high school science courses aren’t as effective as in-person courses with qualified teachers.

And none of the show’s three other guests – all virtual school advocates and one of whom was Florida Virtual School CEO Jodi Marshall – argued with him about that.

Tuesday’s episode of Florida Matters explored virtual high school education in Florida and the statewide graduation requirement of taking at least one virtual course.

Adam pointed out that an extensive body of research shows that interactions between students are “critical” and that hands-on physical lab experiences improve student learning.

The one point in the show when Adam sparked a disagreement was when he said that the momentum for virtual schooling among policy-makers was “primarily motivated by budgets.”

The other panelists responded that students learn digital skills in virtual courses that are important in preparing for college and employment.  One panelist pointed out that the State University System has a goal of 40% of its undergraduate credit hours being from online courses.

Adam countered by arguing that all of the digital skills students might learn by taking virtual courses are learned in many physical classrooms already.

Adam taught in Leon County’s Lincoln and Rickards High Schools for years, moving to Orlando to join the UCF Physics Department in 2015.  Adam is also President of the Florida Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

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Florida’s statewide teacher bonus programs: A graphical summary

From the budget negotiation documents being posted by the Florida Senate, it appears that the statewide teacher bonus program will be funded at last year’s level of $234 million or a little above.

Several weeks ago, the Orlando Sentinel’s Leslie Postal reported on how this year’s statewide bonus program money is being spent.  The vast majority of the money is being spent on $1,200 bonuses for every public school teacher earning a rating of “Highly Effective” in 2016-17 and $800 bonuses for “Effective” teachers.

According to the Florida Department of Education, 85,192 teachers – 51.1% of all public school teachers in the state – earned “Highly Effective”.  Therefore, about $102 million will be spent on that particular bonus.

Teachers earning an “Effective” rating in 2016-17 – and there were 78,377 of those (47.1% of the total) – will receive $800 each, for a total of about $63 million.

It’s important to note that the rate at which teachers are evaluated as “Highly Effective” varies dramatically from district to district, as shown here.


Under the present state bonus program, there are three additional bonus types all (controversially) tied to SAT or ACT scores earned by the teachers themselves.  The first is a bonus that the Sentinel reported to be $7,200 that is awarded to 9,000 teachers that have both a Highly Effective rating and an SAT/ACT score in the top 20%.  Florida will spend about $65 million on that type of bonus.

In addition, the state provides signing bonuses of $6,000 each to first-year teachers who have SAT/ACT scores in the top 20%.  The Sentinel reported that only 586 first-year teachers will receive those signing bonuses, accounting for only a sliver of the total – about $3.5 million.

Finally, the Sentinel reported that bonuses of either $4,000 or $5,000 will be paid to 638 principals who hire a relatively large number of teachers eligible for the ACT/SAT-driven bonuses.  The total for that type of bonus is about $3 million – again, a very small percentage of the total.

The relative sizes of the expenditures on the different types of bonuses is shown below.


The nominal rationale for the ACT/SAT-driven bonus types is to improve recruiting of strong college students into teaching careers.  The ACT/SAT-driven bonuses have been in place for several years, so the improvement in recruiting would be visible by now if it were working.  But as shown below, the rate at which new high school math teachers – who would be most likely to have high ACT/SAT scores – are entering the profession is plummeting.  The ACT/SAT-driven component of the statewide bonus program just isn’t working.



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