In high school physics classrooms, modern lab equipment demonstrates commitment by school and district leadership to improving STEM readiness

To have the best chance to succeed, high school students in a tough physics course like AP Physics 1 that demands a hands-on pedagogy must have access to modern lab equipment like the Vernier equipment recommended by the National Math and Science Initiative or its Pasco equivalent.

With the passing rate on the AP Physics 1 exam stuck near 40% and students, parents and teachers wondering whether the course is worth the effort, making sure that classrooms are well-equipped is an urgent issue.

Just to be clear – AP Physics 1 is worth the effort. The pre-testing I do in my calculus-based studio-style introductory physics classes as well as my own observations show that AP Physics 1 alumni are better prepared for my course than other students.

During the last few years, FSU has provided about $50,000 worth of physics teaching lab equipment for Bay District high schools. It has been an excellent investment. In 2015-16, the 28,000-student Bay District had about 100 high school students enrolled in physics classes. This fall, the district has about 500 high school physics students – and about 90% of them will be using lab equipment provided by FSU.

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A story on the FSU physics teaching lab equipment loan to Bay District Schools in the October 18, 2016 edition of the Panama City News-Herald.

During my visit with Orange County Public Schools teachers last week, I learned that this summer the district worked with Pasco to provide new state-of-the-art teaching lab equipment for every high school.  It is an investment that demonstrates the commitment to further improving students’ preparation for college STEM majors.

While high school physics is being deemphasized statewide, Bay and Orange Counties are bucking the trend.  Properly equipping their physics classrooms is an important part of the effort.

There are many reasons that high school physics teachers decide to leave the profession.  But one talented individual who left teaching at the end of the 2017-18 school year told me he left because of the lack of proper lab equipment.  A one-time expenditure of about $10,000 would have caused him to stay in his high-needs school.

Of course, I am arguing for significant expenditures on lab equipment at a time when teachers are paying for classroom supplies out of their own pockets and parents are asked to contribute paper towels and other items.  It is ridiculous that teachers and parents have to provide basic classroom needs.

But I think it’s fair to say that a school district that doesn’t provide the proper tools for their physics teachers and students isn’t serious about improving the preparation of its students for college majors like engineering and health professions.

That’s something for physics teaching candidates to keep in mind as they evaluate job offers.  Parents should also look at this issue as they decide whether a high school is right for their children.

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