Second Annual Institute on Nuclear Science and Medicine to be held for rising 9th graders at FSU-Panama City July 8-12

Two students in last summer’s Institute on Nuclear Science and Medicine at FSU-Panama City determine how the intensity of radiation exposure depends on the distance from a calibrated source.

The second annual Institute on Nuclear Science and Medicine for rising 9th graders sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Nuclear Training and University-Based Research (CENTAUR) will be held on FSU’s Panama City campus July 8-12, 8:00 am-3:00 pm each day.

The lead teacher will be Rutherford High School physics and math teacher Rachel Morris. FSU Physics Professor Paul Cottle will be one of Rachel’s assistants.

The institute will explore nuclear spectroscopy and medicine. Students will learn about modern physics topics including discrete energy levels, gamma, beta and alpha radiation, mass-energy equivalence, and the use of radioactive isotopes for medical applications. They will learn hands-on with gamma-ray detectors and field-grade radiation monitors.

The institute will include field trips to FSU’s Fox Superconducting Linear Accelerator Laboratory, the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, and a nuclear medicine facility.

The institute is free, but each prospective student must write an essay to apply. To apply, contact FSU-PC STEM Liaison Ginger Littleton.

CENTAUR is a consortium of universities and national laboratories that was formed to develop the next generation of leaders in nuclear science. The consortium is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration and based at Texas A&M University. Florida State University is a partner institution.

Two students prepare for a gamma-ray spectroscopy measurement while two assistant instructors look on.
FSU Physics Professor Sergio Almaraz-Calderon explains one of the experimental stations at the Fox Superconducting Linear Accelerator Laboratory.
Institute students search for radioactivity in the environment on the FSU-Panama City campus.
The Future’s So Bright They Gotta Wear Shades: Institute students, instructors and visitors in diffraction glasses
Lead instructor Rachel Morris present a student with a certificate on the last day of the Institute.

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Orange County Public Schools leadership team coming to the FSU Physics Department on April 2 to recruit teachers for the second year in a row.

A leadership team from Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) will be holding a teacher recruiting event at the FSU Physics Department on April 2 at 5:00 pm. The event will be held in UPL 101.

The April 2 event will be a follow-on to last year’s successful visit.

In addition to discussing teaching careers, the OCPS team will be offering math and science tutoring jobs in the school district this coming summer.

Students from all science and math departments are encouraged to attend. Refreshments will be served.

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It’s time for the Florida Legislature to pass HB 7061 and give teachers and educational leaders a way to work around the General Knowledge teacher certification test.

Florida’s shortage of teachers for its K-12 schools is continuing to intensify. The Orlando Sentinel reported in January that halfway through the school year there were still 2,200 teacher openings around the state – 700 more than at the same time last year.

What should the state do to address the shortage? The debate on this issue can seem politically intractable. For example, Governor DeSantis and the leadership of the Senate proposed the expansion of recruiting and performance bonuses, but the unions representing teachers argue that bonuses would not be effective and that substantial increases in base salaries would be required to make a difference.

But there is one step that Florida can take that would help ease the teacher shortage significantly and that earned a bipartisan and unanimous vote in one legislative committee last week: that is to provide a workaround for one of the three exams that teaching candidates in Florida must pass to earn “professional” certification. Failing that exam, called the General Knowledge Test, pushed 1,000 individuals who were already teaching with temporary certifications (which are valid for three years) out of the profession last summer alone. The bill that unanimously passed the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee last week, HB 7061, could end that waste of talent.

To earn a “professional” certification, a teaching candidate must pass an exam that demonstrates expertise in the subject that the candidate would teach – for example, an individual who wants to teach physics must pass the physics certification exam. The aspiring teacher must also pass an exam called the Professional Education Test that examines the candidate’s knowledge of “pedagogy and professional practices” (according to the Florida Department of Education).

The third test a teaching candidate must pass, the General Knowledge Test, is intended to make sure that every new teacher has the same knowledge of college-level math and English language arts that she or he did in college while earning a bachelor’s degree. While that might at first seem laudable, the General Knowledge test can be an insurmountable obstacle to an individual who has been pursuing a career outside of education and who decides to bring her or his expertise into the classroom a decade or so after graduating college.

That is exactly what happened to Emily Mixon, who decided to teach theater and dance at Escambia High School in Pensacola after pursuing a non-teaching career for more than a decade after college graduation. Her story was told by Katie LeGrone, a reporter at the Tampa Bay-area ABC affiliate television station (the Pensacola News Journal also reported on Mixon). Mixon had been teaching with a temporary certificate and had been evaluated by her principal at Escambia as an effective teacher. But last summer she was terminated because she could not pass the math portion of the General Knowledge test, which tests algebra and statistics skills. That is, Mixon was fired because she lacked math skills that were not relevant to the subjects she was teaching.

For an aspiring math teacher, the math section of the General Knowledge test is redundant – a math teacher must demonstrate math skills on the much more rigorous math certification test. For Mixon – a dance and theater teacher – the math section of the General Knowledge test ended a promising teaching career much too soon.

Florida’s teacher certification exams in specific subjects like math and physics already provide assurance that teachers understand the material they are teaching. In contrast, the General Knowledge exam is just depriving the state’s students access to otherwise qualified teachers. The Florida Legislature should hasten to pass HB 7061, and Governor DeSantis should sign it. It’s one strategy to address the state’s teacher shortage that we should all agree on.

The Turlington Building, the headquarters of the Florida Department of Education
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Does Bay County’s Bozeman School have the optimum range of opportunities for rural high school students? It sure looks like it to me.

What would your ideal rural high school look like?

Here’s what mine would look like: It would offer its students the broadest possible range of high quality instruction, from career and technical education in fields that are in demand to a complete set of the upper-level math and science courses – including calculus and physics – that students need to prepare for college majors in demanding STEM fields like engineering.

It would look like Bay County’s Bozeman School, which is located in the rural northern part of the county and which houses grades from PreK to 12. At the Bozeman School, high quality chemistry and physics instruction and award-winning agricultural education are at opposite ends of the very same hallway.

The Bozeman School’s extraordinary range of educational opportunities and the leadership it took to assemble the team of educators who pull it off was recognized this weekend when Principal Josh Balkom was named a finalist for Florida Principal of the Year.

The school features an award-winning agricultural education program, led by newly-named Bay District Teacher of the Year, Becky Peltonen.

Last year, Becky was named Future Farmers of America Advisor of the Year for State of Florida.

At the other end of the same hallway from Becky’s classroom is the classroom of chemistry and physics teacher Denise Newsome. In addition to her school year teaching at Bozeman, Denise leads a summer camp on physics and dance for middle and high school students at FSU’s Panama City campus.

When I visited Bozeman one day after school in January, Denise and her Chemistry Club students were trying out some new Pasco force platforms at one end of the hallway while Becky was feeding a baby goat at the other end. It was a normal day at Bozeman.

Bay District Superintendent Bill Husfelt tweeted out a picture of Bozeman Principal Josh Balkom accepting his Bay District Principal of the Year Award while announcing that Josh is a finalist for Florida Principal of the Year.
Becky Peltonen being named Bay District Teacher of the Year on February 23.
Bozeman School chemistry and physics teacher Denise Newsome showing off her new Pathways to Engineering poster from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
During my visit to Bozeman after school on a day in January, Denise Newsome and her students tried out some new Pasco force platforms…
…while Becky Peltonen fed a baby goat at the other end of the same hallway.
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Teacher Certification Reform: House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee considering a proposal to provide districts, principals and teachers a way to work around the General Knowledge Exam

The PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee of the Florida House will consider at its Thursday meeting a proposal to allow temporarily certified teachers who are highly thought of by their principals a way to earn full professional certificates without passing the General Knowledge exam. Last summer, about 1,000 temporarily certified teachers from around the State of Florida were terminated because they were unable to pass the General Knowledge exam in their first year teaching.

The House proposal on teacher certification reform is much more significant than that being considered by the Senate Education Committee tomorrow as part of an omnibus education policy bill, SPB 7070. That bill, which features the authorization of a new school voucher program for low income students that would be funded from the state’s regular FEFP funding pool, would also allow temporarily certified teachers three years to pass the General Knowledge exam instead of the presently allowed one year. A temporary teaching certificate is valid for three years.

The language about the General Knowledge exam in the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee proposed committee bill (PCB) says this (lines 554-559):

If the applicant has failed to achieve the required passing scores after receiving support from the school district, the district school board may waive this requirement upon the applicant’s completion of a 2-year mentorship program and the recommendation of the mentor and principal.

The House PCB also tweaks requirements for and the evaluation of teacher education programs. In addition, the bill would grant charter schools access to the alternative certification programs maintained by the school district in which they are located. The PCB is similar to SB 1576, which was filed last week by Senator Tom Lee and which could serve as a companion bill.

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Teacher certification reform in Florida: Senate leadership bill is only a microstep, but at least it’s a microstep forward.

The most likely outcome for teacher certification reform in Florida during the legislative session that begins next week is found in SPB 7070, the proposed omnibus education reform bill that the Senate Education Committee will consider during its meeting on Wednesday.

There are two items on teacher certification reform in SPB 7070.

First, teachers on temporary certifications, which are valid for three years, would have the entire three years to pass the state’s General Knowledge exam. At present, such teachers must pass the General Knowledge exam during their first year or be terminated. Last summer, about 1,000 teachers on temporary certificates were terminated statewide because they had not yet passed the General Knowledge exam.

Second, the fee structure for the General Knowledge exam would be reformed. At present, teacher candidates pay $130 to take the exam the first time. If they fail one or more sections of the exam and have to take the failed sections again, they must pay $150. Even if they must retake only one of the four sections of the exam, they must still pay $150 for the retake. It is a fee scheme that is actually insulting.

The staff analysis of SPB 7070 describes the fee reform proposal this way:

The bill amends s. 1012.59, F.S., to modify the requirement that the SBE establish in rule various certification fees. Specifically, the bill removes the provision that examination fees must be sufficient to cover the actual cost of developing and administering the examination and requires that the rule specify the following fees:
– Initial registration for first-time test takers.
– Retake of the full battery of subtests of an examination, if applicable. The retake fee for the full battery of subtests may not exceed the fee for the initial registration.
– Retake for each subtest of an examination. The retake fee for each subtest must be prorated based on the number of subtests within the examination.

Together, the timing and fee changes for the General Knowledge exam would provide a really small step – a microstep – forward. But at least it would be forward.

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The decline of high school physics in Florida: Number of public high schools with more than 1,000 students not offering physics grows to 36 in Fall 2018

The number of medium and large public high schools (greater than 1,000 students) in Florida that do not offer physics grew to 36 in the Fall of 2018 from 31 the year before.

Physics is recommended by the American Society for Engineering Education for high school students who might major in engineering in college. College majors in physical sciences like chemistry and meteorology and the health and life sciences require physics as well.

The number of Florida high schools lacking physics is growing at the same time that physics enrollments are dropping. The number of students in the state’s public high schools who take physics has dropped 12% in the last four years.

Three districts that are on the Gulf coast north of the Tampa Bay area – Pasco, Hernando and Citrus – together have eight of the state’s medium and large public high schools that don’t offer physics. Pasco has four (Anclote High School, Fivay High School, Gulf High School and Hudson High School), Hernando has three (Hernando High School, Springstead High School and Nature Coast Technical School), and Citrus has one (Crystal River High School).

In Pinellas County, Dunedin High School is not offering physics.

Lake and Polk Counties, which are located between the Tampa Bay area and Orlando, together have five medium and large high schools that do not offer physics. Lake has three (Mt. Dora High School, Tavares High School and Lake Minneola High School). In fact, district-wide Lake County had only 100 students enrolled in physics in the fall, down from 331 three years before. Polk County has two high schools without physics (Auburndale High School and Tenoroc High School), but that is an improvement from four schools a year ago. Furthermore, three of the four Polk high schools that did not offer physics in Fall of 2017 had students enrolled in physics in the Fall of 2018 (Mulberry High School, Lake Gibson High School, Lake Region High School).

The data used here came from the Florida Department of Education web site. The Physics enrollment numbers are those for Fall 2018. The school membership numbers – used to determine which schools have 1,000 or more students – are those for Fall 2017.

A complete list of the 36 schools is given here, sorted by school district:

Broward: Hollywood Hills High School, Coconut Creek High School

Citrus: Crystal River High School

Clay: Middleburg High School

DeSoto: DeSoto County High School

Duval: Ribault High School, Westside High School, White High School

Hardee: Hardee Senior High School

Hernando: Hernando High School, Springstead High School, Nature Coast Technical High School

Highlands: Avon Park High School

Lake: Mt. Dora High School, Tavares High School, Lake Minneola High School

Lee: Lehigh Senior High School, Estero High School, Island Coast High School

Manatee: Bayshore High School

Marion: North Marion High School, Lake Weir High School

Miami-Dade: Miami Jackson High School, North Miami Beach Senior High School, Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School

Nassau: West Nassau County High School

Palm Beach: South Tech Academy, Palm Beach Lakes Senior High School

Pasco: Anclote High School, Fivay High School, Gulf High School, Hudson High School

Pinellas: Dunedin High School

Polk: Auburndale High School, Tenoroc High School

Putnam: Palatka High School

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