Program trains students in physics teaching

Published September 17, 2019

When you slip and fall while running around a corner, blame it on physics. The vibration of your phone buzzing also is a result of physics. Snap a selfie? Yep, physics is involved there, too.

In our everyday living, physics is present nearly everything we do. Actions such as walking, driving a car or waking up to an alarm clock work by the laws of physics. That knowledge, though, is getting lost on today’s high school students.

But through a renewed effort by the State Board of Education, high school students could be required to take a combined science program that includes physics. The California Science Framework, adopted by the State Board of Education, has recommended that all high school students take physics, biology, earth/space science and chemistry.

Including physics instruction, according to the education board, would broaden students’ understanding of the sciences and how things are connected. Like running and slipping.

Yet finding high school physics teachers has become challenging because fewer students are earning a credential in physics. At Cal State Long Beach, 60 physics majors graduated last spring, and only 10 are expected to go on to become credentialed teachers, according to Dr. Galen Pickett, who has taught physics on campus for 20 years.

Cal State Long Beach is one of 13 CSU campuses taking part in the American Physical Society’s Physics Teacher Education program that is aimed at increasing the supply of physics teachers.

“This initiative decided we are not going to survive long-term as a discipline if we don’t have more people involved in this,” Pickett said. “Getting trained physicists, with a substantial understanding of physics into high schools, where they can make good physics experiences, is a value for the discipline. More physics is going to be done eventually if we have more people doing that well in the high schools.”

Pickett’s push for more qualified teachers started in nine years ago when the university received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant, which ended in 2013, enabled he and fellow professors Chuhee Kwon (physics) and Laura Henriques (science education) the opportunity to figure out how to make physics enticing to high school students. It eventually led to the creation of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) project, which is designed to improve and promote the education of future physics and physical science teachers.

“Physics is the science of how things work. The basic question is why did that happen?” Pickett said. “If you can’t let go of the ‘why’ questions, then maybe physics is something you should take a look at.”

And with an increase in learning and opportunities, more high school students could be asking where do they sign up.