Keynote Speech: Physics Teacher Education Coalition Conference (PhysTEC)

I am pleased to be here at the invitation of the American Physical Society. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a few folks with us today.

Ted Hodapp, Director of Education and Diversity at APS and PhysTEC PI.

PhysTEC Co-PIs Monica Plisch (Assistant Director of Education APS) and Beth Cunningham, (Executive Officer of the American Association of Physics Teachers).

Also the APS staff: Jacob Clark Blickenstaff, Teacher Education Programs Manager; and Sara Webb, Education Projects Coordinator.

I also would like to acknowledge a key advocate and a mover of the national-dialog, my colleague Howard Gobstein, Executive Vice President of Research, Innovation, and STEM Education, and Co-Director of the Science and Math Teacher Imperative.

The theme of this conference is "New Paradigms for Physics Teacher Education." Changing the paradigm is exactly what we must do as educators and professionals to protect the competitiveness of our country.

We must re-conceptualize what we do in the academy in teaching and recruiting students to become teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics—the STEM disciplines. Today I will talk about how we do that at the University of Colorado and then I would like to talk about how we can work together to meet our challenges. 

We are engaged in exciting and interesting times. It's a great time to be doing educational research. As educators and professionals, we know that educational transformation is at a critical juncture.

Especially since I'm an educator at heart and by trade, it is my privilege to be chancellor of a university that is a nationally recognized leader in producing educators in the STEM disciplines. 

I began my career as a high school English teacher. I came to CU 38 years ago as Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education and eventually was named the Dean of the School of Education. I was appointed chancellor at CU-Boulder in 2009.

As an educator, it was very gratifying to me to go to the White House in January 2010 and pledge to President Obama that CU would be among the universities to attack a national crisis. That we would join 120 other universities in the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities to be part of the solution to a lagging global competitiveness in math and science. As a group we pledged to double the number of science and math teachers graduated by 2015 as part of the APLU's Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative or SMTI. It is my honor to chair the executive committee of SMITI. 

What is exciting is that, perhaps for the first time, we are coordinating two key levers of change in STEM education—bringing together the institutional perspectives of universities with professional disciplinary societies, in order to collectively meet the challenges set before us. SMTI has been grateful to build on the tremendous groundwork laid in physics and to partner with this community and the PhysTEC organization.

Of course, the change we seek is realized on the ground, with the students in our classrooms. It is realized by each of you in your efforts.

One of our strategies at CU toward meeting this goal has been a multi-disciplinary approach called Integrating STEM or iSTEM, of which I am principal investigator. iStem spans three colleges and 14 departments. We are integrating more than 45 STEM programs on campus through iStem and our STEM community includes more 50 faculty members, including multiple Nobel laureates and National Academy members. 

Through this collaboration of the School of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, CU-Boulder has more than doubled the number of STEM majors completing secondary math and science teacher certification compared to just five years ago.

And the number of physics and chemistry majors enrolling in teacher certification has more than tripled in the past three years.

Education professor Valerie Otero and physics professor Noah Finkelstein are our IStem co-directors at CU.

I began by saying how we in the academy must re-conceptualize the way we teach STEM. The old adage that teachers teach the way they have been taught rings true. We have seen evidence of that over the years. So what has to change first is the way we teach undergraduates in STEM so that our students see more active learning. Our future is dependent on the development of new models. 

One way we do this at CU is with the Colorado Learning Assistant program. The Physics Teacher Education Coalition has been one of the main supporters and promoters of the Colorado LA program. We are honored at CU that PhysTEC has funded not only CU's program, but also funded universities throughout the nation to emulate the program, and has, in some cases, required that universities implement some form of the Colorado LA program.

The Colorado LA program is an experiential learning model. Undergraduates who have mastered coursework, in say physics or biochemistry, work interactively with their peers in learning difficult concepts by guiding small teams of students to discover answers for themselves. 

These undergraduate mentors discover the skills and joys of teaching while improving the education of their fellow students. Our assessments have shown it to be extremely beneficial for both the Learning Assistants and their fellow students. Students in the Colorado Learning Assistant Program are the agents of their own education and of educational transformation.

I enjoy repeating the testimonial of one of our students, Ryan O'Block, who signed up to be a Learning Assistant in an introductory physics course, when he said, "A light bulb clicked on for me. This is what I want to do." 

Or Cassandra Ly (Lee), who said, "The L.A. program confirmed my love for teaching. I'm not going back to pre-med ever. I've never been so sure about anything in my entire life." Cassandra graduated with a degree in biochemistry in 2010 and now teaches 7th grade science at a middle school in the Denver-metro area. 

Since the Colorado LA program began in 2003, more than 440 students have participated as Learning Assistants, improving introductory courses in 10 departments and helping more than 8,000 students annually. The LA program has been replicated in nearly two-dozen universities nationwide.

An annual APS-supported workshop at CU draws faculty from 25 universities to study how we teach STEM courses with learning assistants, and how we prepare future math and science teachers.

If you want to learn more about this effort, please join CU's Laurie Langdon who will be running a workshop: "Introduction to the Learning Assistants Program at CU Boulder."

Another way we prepare future math and science teachers is through the CU Teach program, emulating the renowned UTeach program, with the support of the National Science and Mathematics Initiative. This is a collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Education. It allows our students to earn a degree in a math or science major while simultaneously earning a secondary math or science Colorado teaching license.

The program begins with two simple steps. Step 1 invites science and math students to explore teaching as a career by providing first-hand experiences co-teaching science and math lessons in local elementary classrooms. The second is co-teaching in middle school math or science classes. About 170 students are enrolled in CU Teach.

These programs are responsive to challenges put before us by the President, the National Academies and professional societies. 

President Obama is wont to talk about more investment in education. He regularly cites the PISA comparison (the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment comparison). As a country we rank remarkably low in pre-college international comparisons in math and science in the U.S—21st out of 30 nations in science and 25th out of 30 in math. 

How do we address this? One way is with more and better teachers. Two out of three high schools physics teachers have neither a major nor a minor in physics and those physics teachers don't stay. This sort of data gave rise to the American Physical Society to proclaim that this is our No. 1 challenge educationally, alongside the "doubling initiative" for the number of physics majors, which is also a very high priority.

The National Academy of Sciences recommends to Congress that the U.S. give top priority to recruiting 100,000 math and science teachers over a 10-year period. That recommendation has spawned the "100K in 10" mobilization launched last June by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Opportunity Education.

"100K in 10," is a multi-sector movement of universities, professional organizations, foundations, corporations, school districts, federal agencies, states, and nonprofit organizations to apply their strengths and assets to strategically address the challenge. CU was proud to join many of you to be named as a member two weeks ago. 

We also need more and better STEM graduates. We need a million more college graduates by 2018 in science technology, engineering and math to fulfill jobs in those fields, according to the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University (2010).

We need significant more investment in higher education. We need it to support undergraduate excellence and we need it to support foundational research. This includes research into education within the STEM disciplines—that is a key form of investment in our future welfare.

We also need investment to bolster our graduate programs in STEM. The United States, once the destination of the world's best and brightest to obtain advanced degrees is now being outpaced in Ph.D. production for science and engineering doctorates by Asia and Europe, according to the National Science Foundation. 

Now is the time where we must be investing in recruiting, developing and supporting teachers. Now is the time when we must be investing in new forms of undergraduate and graduate education that are known to improve access to and quality of education. Now is the time for us to expand our commitment to foundational research that underpins these endeavors and models for sustaining and scaling these critical efforts.

The now-famed "Rising above the Gathering Storm" from 2005, prepared for the presidents of the National Academies, which led to the America Competes Act in 2006, argued for 10,000 teachers for 10 million minds. It also argued or tripling the number of graduate research fellowships.

In 2011 the National Academies proclaimed that it's our role to engage as academics and thinkers to set up frameworks for the next generation science standards in K-12. This year we will see reports out of the National Academies calling for an increased role in undergraduate physics education and physics education research. Many of you, including CU's own Valerie Otero are on that committee. 

Call to action

Universities and professional societies are a key lever for broader educational transformation and change. Historically, universities and professional societies have not been leaders and now the opportunity for engagement and change is calling on us. We must transform and lead in the national dialogue in STEM. Between us, we hold tremendous promise to change the paradigm. 

Universities are places where practices are created and redefined; places where we recruit and prepare the next generation of teachers; where teachers return for professional development; the places that define curricula and standards. 

Professional societies define our disciplines, establish the normative cultures of what it means to be a professional—what makes a physicist. Professional societies bring us together to coalesce into one community to solve our nation's challenges with a unified, strategic direction and with a strong degree of urgency. 

In coordinated efforts, among our organizations, we can change the paradigm.

We can leverage the tremendous resources at the university, the extensive networks of professional physicists and physics teachers, and the national attention in STEM education and teacher preparation in order to seed the future. This a future where all have access to quality physics education, and opportunities for a personally satisfying life that contributes to our society's collective welfare.

So here is my challenge to you, inspired by the words of my colleague Howard Gobstein.

Share your ideas and work with others—this PhysTEC meeting is a great opportunity.

Inspire your colleagues in other disciplines to learn about research on teaching and learning in their fields.

Have your department join PhysTEC, if they haven't already.

Identify attributes of model programs—such as the Learning Assistant Program—and consider their fit with your existing effort.

If you are a more senior faculty member, with some standing in your department, identify younger faculty who might be particularly interested in physics teaching and learning teacher preparation and provide them with encouragement, guidance, support and recognition.

Build a larger critical mass of science faculty engaged in teacher preparation, and promote the concept of CTEC to colleagues in chemistry.

Get further blessing from your dean of science for a more strategic, research-based focus on preparing science teachers.

Establish strong working collaborations between education and physics—and work with your local and regional school systems.

If your institution, or university system is a member of SMTI, identify and contact the institutional liaison and contribute to their campus efforts.

If you are an APLU institution or part of an APLU member university system and not part of SMTI, promote your institutional membership in SMTI.

And, perhaps most important of all:

Become a role model for your own physics students—particularly undergraduates—encouraging those who might be interested in teaching physics and helping them to identify how they might pursue their interest, at whatever education level. Students can't be what they can't see. Efforts such as the Colorado Learning Assistant Program enable students to develop teaching skills with junior classmates, and check out whether it's something they wish to pursue, all the while as they assist professors and other students.

As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

This is the time and the place to recruit and prepare teachers for physics education. It is up to us to be the ignition for change for the future of our nation and our society. 

Thank you.