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.
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.
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.