Archived Newsletters

Glenn Commission Report

On September 27, the Honorable John Glenn released the final report of the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century (known as the Glenn Commission, see Fall 1999 newsletter). The 48-page report, entitled Before It's Too Late, discusses a number of ways to improve the quality of science and mathematics teaching nationwide.

The primary message in this report holds that America's students must improve their performance in mathematics and sccience if they are to succeed in today's world and if the United States is to stay competitive in an entegrated global economy. The Report's second message points in the direction of a solution: the most direct route to improving mathematics and science achievement for all students is better mathematics and science teaching.

This is particularly opportune time to focus on strengthening mathematics and science education, the report argues, because (1) reform efforts have sharply focused the attention of the American people on education as a public issue; (2) the nation now has a surplus of resources to invest in education; (3) a coming demographic shift in the teaching force -- two thirds of which will be retiring in the next decade -- offers an unparalleled chance to plan for and make changes at the core of education itself; (4) our schools can now put to work what educators have learned in the past generation about curriculum, high standards, effective teaching, assessment, and how children learn; and (5) the rising generation of college graduates is once again showing an interest in teaching as a profession.

The recommendations in the report are based on three goals:

Goal 1: Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12
Seven interdependent action strategies are offered to implement this system:

  1. Each State, must immediately undertake a full needs assessment to determine what teachers require, both in their schools and their professional lives, if they are to routinely deliver high-quality teaching;
  2. Summer Institutes must be established to address the professional developmentneeds identified;
  3. Building- and district-level Inquiry Groups can provide venues for teachers to engage in common study to enrich their subject knowledge and teaching skills;
  4. Leadership Training is needed to prepare facilitators for the Summer Institutes and Inquiry Groups;
  5. A dedicated Internet Portal must be available to teachers so they can make use of and contribute to an ever-expanding knowledge base about mathematics and science teaching;
  6. A nongovernmental Coordinating Council is needed to bring together the above initiatives and those that follow to assess accomplishments;
  7. All states and local districts should initiate reward and incentive programs, both to support exemplary professional development that results in higher student achievement and to increase the attractiveness of teaching as a profession.

Goal 2: Increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation
Three action strategies are offered for this goal:

  1. A direct strategy that identifies exemplary models of teacher preparation whose success can be widely replicated; 
  2. An overarching strategy of finding ways to attract additional qualified candidates into teaching from among high school and college students, recent college graduates, and people at mid-career; 
  3. Creating 15 competitively selected Mathematics and Science Teaching Academies to annually train 3,000 Academy Fellows, who will be nationally recruited for a one-year, intensive course on effective teaching methods in mathematics or science.

Goal 3: Improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers
Four action strategies address this goal:

  1. Focused induction programs are required to help acclimate beginning mathematics and science teachers to the profession, create formal mentoring relationships, and introduce teachers to Inquiry Groups;
  2. District/business partnerships are needed to provide support for a broad range of efforts that can help create professional working environments for teachers. These efforts can enhance teaching by providing materials, facilities, equipment, and mentor stipends;
  3. Incentives -- whether in the form of cash awards, salary increases, support for further education, or community-wide recognition -- are needed to encourage deserving mathematics and science teachers to remain in teaching and improve their skills;
  4. Salaries of all teachers must be made more competitive, but especially for mathematics and science teachers, whose combined preparation and skills command high wages in the private sector. The report concludes by challenging all Americans directly to take personal responsibility for expressing their views on mathematics and science education to policy- and decision-makers, and to take the initiative to implement the report's action strategies in their own communities.

The commission estimates the action atrategies for achieving the three goals will cost more than $5 billion annually. These funds and other resources will come from a diversified set of sources, including all levels of government, higher education, business and industry, professional education associations and teachers' unions, community groups, and the citizenry.

Download Report

Copies can also be ordered from Education Publications Center, U. S. Dept. Of Education, PO Box 1398, Jessup, MD 20794-1398.

From the Executive Committee

With 3,995 members, we are the fourth largest APS unit (close behind FIAP with 5,163members, DCMP with 4,885 members, and FPS with 4,402 members).

Although APS has increased our income by $0.50 per member, our net revenue is still less than our expenses (mainly newsletter costs and travel expenses to committee meetings and paper sorting sessions). Apparently other forums are having similar problems.

Electronic distribution of our newsletter would result in a considerable saving to the Forum. A committee chaired by Jack Wilson has been formed to plan electronic distribution of our newsletter. Options include electronic distribution only, electronic distribution plus paper distribution of certain issues only, individual option of either type of distribution (possibly with a charge for a paper subscription).

As a cost saving effort, the Fall meeting of the FEd Executive Committee was an electronic one, using Learnline, a distance learning program developed under the auspices of Jack Wilson at RPI.

Education Sessions at APS Meetings

FEd maintains a very active presence at APS meetings. Although we haven't normally sponsored sessions at the March meeting, this past year we co-sponsored one invited session with the Forum on Physics and Society on "Communicating with Congress: The What, When, How, and Why." This session, jointly organized by Ken Heller and Laurie Fathe, had three speakers: Bill Richards ("Communicating with Congress: A Congressman's Point of View"), Radford Byerly ("Communicating with Congressional Staff") and Laurie Fathe ("Communicating as a Group: Meetings, Campaigns, and other Joint Efforts").

At the last April meeting, FEd organized 4 invited sessions, a contributed session, and an open forum. The invited sessions and their organizers were:
The Changing Face of Undergraduate Education (Ruth Howes) with speakers J. D. Garcia, Robert Hilborn, Corinne Manogue, and Matt Doty; Communicating Science Outside the Classroom (Ernest Malamud) with speakers David Goodstein, Karen Johnson, Warren Iliff, David Crippens, and Robert Lee Hotz; Preparing Future Faculty for Teaching (Kenneth Krane) with speakers George Walker, John Cumalat, Gay Stewart, and Yehuda Salu; Teaching Physics Courses to Non-Majors (Gay Stewart) with speakers Lillian McDermott, Dave Wall, Art Hobson, Barbara Jones, and Riscilla Cushman.

The contributed session on Using Modern Experiments to Teach Physics- Undergraduate Research and Beyond, chaired by Ted Hoddap and jointly sponsored with the Student Physics Society, had 10 contributed papers. The open forum, chaired by Ken Heller, featured a lively discussion on "What should APS do about Education?"

At the March 2001 meeting, FEd plans sessions on Teaching Physics Courses to Nonmajors.

At the April 2001 meeting, FEd plans sessions on Preparing Faculty of the Future (Ken Krane); Recruiting and Retaining Undergraduate Majors (Gay Stewart); Whither Advanced Placement? (Jim Wynne); Recruiting and Retaining Women (Alexis Wynne); and Lobbying for Physics and Physics Education (Kenneth Heller and Jack Wilson).

A Book for the Millennium

The Council of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) has recently published a Physics 2000, a compendum of reviews by leading physicists as a way of celebrating the new millennium. The idea of collecting a summary of reviews arose during a meeting of IUPAP in 1998. Each of the commissions was asked to contribute an article of about 2000 words on their field, explaining the major advances in their field in dthe last part of the century and predicting how they expect it to develop. The book is edited by Paul Black, Gordon Drake, and Len Jossem.

Information on ordering a copy is available via email.

Journal of Science Education and Technology

The Journal of Science Education and Technology is offering a 20% discount for FEd members who wish to subscribe ($54.40/year rather than $68). To obtain the discount contact: Journal of Science Education and technology, 9 Cliff Road, Weston, MA 02493 and state that you are a member of the APS Forum on Education.

The Journal publishes original, peer-reviewed, contributed and invited papers on improving and enhancing science education at all levels and welcomes contributions from FEd members. A free online copy of the journal can be downloaded

National Science Education Act Fails to Pass

H.R. 4271, the first of three bills introduced by Congressman Vern Ehlers that comprise the National Science Education Act , failed to gain House passage on October 24. The bill, which would have authorized $235.3 million over three years to improve and enhance science and mathematics education programs at the National Science Foundation, had 118 cosponsors and had enjoyed broad bipartisan support.

The bill was supported by many organizations, including AS, AAPT, and AAS. It was approved unanimously by the Science Committee this summer, and received 215 "yea" and 156 "nay" votes in the House, but because of the parliamentary procedure being used, it did not pass.

Some Members were concerned about a provision that authorized $50 million in each of the three years for NSF to make grants to "a state or local education agency, a private elementary or middle school, or a consortium of any combination of those entities, for the purpose of hiring a master teacher" to provide support and expertise to other teachers. A question was raised about the constitutionality of making available Federal grant money to private school for the hiring of these master teachers.

The bill was voted on under a procedure called suspension of the rules, which is intended to speed passage by limiting floor debate, not allowing amendments, and requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. Because of the controversy, enough Members were reluctant to agree to suspension of the rules that the bill did not the two-thirds of the votes required for passage. Because of the lateness of the congressional session, this means it will have to be reintroduced next year.

Meanwhile, in the House Education and Workforce Committee, hearings continued on H.R. 4272, the second of the three bills in the National Science Education Act. Alan Greenspan, chair of the Federal Reserve, called on legislators to make math and science education a national priority. He said that increasing the national focus on science and math education is "crucial for the future of our nation" in an increasingly technological society.

During the hearings, the committee also heard from Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman and Intel Chair Craig Barrett. Lederman reminded them that we have 16,000 independent school boards, but the incredible changes in society brought about by the scientific revolution demand some coherence that only a Federal role can provide. Barrett suggested that the government forgive loans for math and science teachers and that teachers should be rewarded for improvement of math and science scores.

Growth in Undergraduate Physics at the University of Arkansas

Gay Stewart

Physics course enrollments are up at the University of Arkansas, the number of undergraduate physics majors is up, and the physics baccalaureate graduation rate is up. These pleasant developments occurred because we've heard many observers' advice about reversing the recent negative trends in physics education, and we've altered courses and programs accordingly. The move is toward more flexible, practical, and student-friendly paths for three categories of students: non-scientists, non-physicists who can use a physics degree outside of physics, and physicists. Here, we discuss changes impacting the B.S. degree.

Our department has 17 full-time faculty, of whom 14 are heavily involved in our PhD program (although many do some undergraduate teaching), two are oriented toward undergraduate education and education research, and two are employed in administration and research. We granted our first PhD in 1964, and today grant about 3 masters and 3 PhDs per year. We are perhaps representative of many departments at large state universities that developed a research orientation during the post-Sputnik years and that are now strongly affected by negative trends in government support and physics employment during the post-cold-war era.

University Physics II
The increase in the BS program began with significant recruiting in a reformed introductory physics course, University Physics II (UPII), an NSF-supported project. A primary motivation of UPII is to instill in the student an appreciation for science. We do this by firmly tying theory and lab together and to the applications the students are familiar with, showing the relevance of every topic. Preliminary results find a large majority (approximately 95%) of the students liked the new course and felt they learned more from it. Most students rank the class in the top 10-30% of all classes taken in college. The course typically has an enrollment of approximately 150 engineering and science majors.

When students were given a 50-minute closed-book problem-solving test written for a 1990 class (average 53.8%), they finished in 35 minutes with an average of 69.2%. On conceptual multiple-choice questions they out-performed previous classes where the concepts had been specifically addressed by 10-18%. On the multiple-choice section of an AP exam they did at least as well as similar classes nationally, despite it being the only time multiple-choice test in the class.

The class has also had remarkable results in increasing student confidence, even on the concepts not specifically covered in the class, and leveling it between the genders. Males come into the class much more confident than females in their ability to do science and with more positive attitudes about science. They leave the class with almost no statistically significant differences on confidence or attitudes. The students were at least as positive in their attitudes toward science as any students in the Introductory University Physics Project.

Necessary to the functioning of this type of course is a very coordinated effort on the part of the faculty member and TAs on course material, evaluative instruments, and grading. Good TA preparation is vital. For education to improve, better teaching is vital. We treat TAs as apprentices and acquaint them with successful educational techniques. A class on physics teaching was initiated. The Department has become one of the four pilot sites for the Preparing Future Faculty program in physics through the AAPT, Pew Charitable Trust, and NSF.

More Information

More Tracks for Majors, More Major
There are currently four official "tracks": the professional track, an optics track, an electronics track, and a computational track. In the professional track are graduate school preparation, astronomy, and physics education emphases.

This program, which grew out of faculty effort to play to the strengths of our department and to match the interests of students, became official in 1998. For two years prior to that, the increasing number of physics majors in our program allowed us to develop more electives, begin building an undergraduate research base, and tailor course requirements to careers our students wished to pursue. The program inherits the strength of personalized curricula for the students while allowing this to be done by any adviser, a necessity as our number of majors exceeds 70. With a steady supply of well-prepared undergraduate students, it is easier to get faculty to prepare undergraduate research topics.

While the particular tracks were chosen because they matched the research specialties in the department, they were also chosen for applicability to industrial positions the students might wish to pursue with a terminal BS. Almost any research specialty can be used as a basis for such a track with some research into what industry wants. The key to being able to support a specialty track is that it builds on the strengths of those in the department.

Another vital requirement is that the faculty not be burdened with teaching many new courses. With the exception of the classes created for the BA that also have BS enrollment, there was only one completely new course created for the BS program. To a large extent, the program was created by completing existing courses for the optics track and by revising introductory level classes to allow dual enrollment with senior undergraduates. We found this particularly doable in laboratory-based classes where the requirements of the writeup and the instructions in the lab manual can be tailored to the level of the student. Another approach was to have a three-hour undergraduate course taught concurrently with a four-hour graduate course. The undergraduates finish 3/4 of the way through the semester, and the graduate students proceed. The undergraduates have no problem with having a final exam out of the way early, although many of them change enrollment to the full graduate class. The final path was utilizing courses (such as computer modeling) in other departments that were well-matched to the needs of our students.

It is also necessary that the number of hours required of the students be reasonable. We increased the required hours of physics by four, but we eliminated a math requirement, complex variables (it is still suggested for our professional track students). We got rid of our "prequel" course and started teaching the introductory physics sequence concurrently with the introductory sequence in calculus. Since the introductory physics course does a good job of showing students why they are studying calculus, the math department has approached us about coordinating the courses. Since our new course is a third-semester of introductory physics required just for physics majors, we have time to do this. We teach the topics needed by engineers for certification in the first two semesters, then go back and pick up the things that received shortened coverage: thermodynamics waves, acoustics, physical optics, and fluid dynamics.

To institutionalize the changes necessary to maintain and continue to build the undergraduate program required the cooperation and support of the entire faculty. This was made possible by careful consideration of manpower constraints and research interests. While it is necessary to have someone who mentors the students and makes sure the curriculum is serving them well, it is essential to have the faculty support. It is not impossible for one faculty member to teach a course and recruit many new majors. However, to sustain those majors to degree, it must be possible for the faculty to maintain the program within their normal workload.

Gay Stewart is Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Arkansas and a member of the FEd Executive Committee. She is active in physics education research and directs the Arkansas Precision Education Group. She is organizing a session on undegraduate recruiting and retention at the April APS meeting.

Browsing the Journals

Thomas D. Rossing

  • Universities across Europe are scrapping their traditional degrees in favor of British-style qualifications, according to an article in the October issue of Physics World. British students typically graduate three or four years earlier than their German counterparts, who take about six years to complete their diploma. Lengthy first degrees in physics have been favored in some countries because they allow students to gain a thorough theoretical training, but as a result of an agreement at a conference in Bologna last June, these are being modified to allow three- or four- year bachelors degrees followed by optional masters degrees.

    Not everyone is happy about the changeover, however. "I find it a pity," Nobel laureate Gerard 't Hooft is quoted as saying. "I think that the Dutch system [in which people graduate only after having studied up to masters level] is superior to the Anglo-Saxon system, and in my opinion our courses are of a higher level." Michael Kobel, a physicist at Bonn University, recognizes that a German diploma takes too long to complete, but does not think it needs to be scrapped. Students at Bonn now graduate half a year earlier than at other German universities.

  • "The structure of matter" is the title of an essay by Harry Lipkin in the July 13 issue of Nature. The author reminds us that the twentieth century began with the consensus that matter is made up of atoms and molecules and ended with the confirmation that matter is made of even tinier objects called quarks. How are such realities established? The answer appears to lie in a pattern of independent convergence, one of the most powerful confidence-building patterns in scientific research. There are few examples in the history of science when the same result, reached by three or more truly independent means, has been overturned. This, in the author's opinion, is much preferred to the explanation of the "scientific method" in which scientists are said to do experiments to "test hypotheses." The description of the acceptance of new ideas as a result of independent convergence appears to fit reality.

  • Fundamental symmetry principles dictate the basic laws of physics, control structure of matter, and define the fundamental forces in nature, a paper by Christopher Hill and Leon Lederman on "Teaching Symmetry in the Introductory Physics Curriculum" in the September issue of The Physics Teacher reminds us. Today we understand that all of the fundamental forces in nature are unified under one elegant symmetry principle. The laws of physics are invariant under spatial and temporal translations, and rotations in space. According to Noether's theorem: For every continuous symmetry f the laws of physics, there must exist a conservation law. For every conservation law, there must exist a continuous symmetry. This interesting and prvocative article includes quotations about symmetry from Hermann Weyl, C. N. Yang, Richard Feynman, and Michael Jordan.

  • Delegates from European countries met in Cork, Ireland recently to consider issues in senior secondary physics education, according to a report in the July issue of Physics Education. One of the issues was the decline in the number of students taking physics. Another was that fewer girls study physics than boys, with the ratios varying from as much as 4:1 in England and Wales to 1.5:1 in Finland. As one way of increasing the number of students taking physics, it was recommended that there should be other physics courses available, considering such matters as the nature of physics, the links between physics and technology, and the role of physics in society. Also recommended was the creation of a database on physics education in different European countries so that policy makers and physics educators in each country could gain a better understanding of the range of issues.

  • Some cautionary remarks about physics tutorials are offered in a guest comment in the November issue of American Journal of Physics. Good tutorials, by design, avoid much of the mental drudgery, usually pursuing a far more direct route to learning. However, when mental struggle is preempted, deeper understanding may not develop, the author cautions. We should tutor our physics students sparingly, lest we deprive them of those wondrous moments of intellectual discovery so fondly remembered later in professional life. Ultimately, deeper understanding is the reward for sustained thought, eventually satisfying one's inner need for explanation.

  • "Physics and the Olympics" is theme of the cover photo as well as three articles in the September issue of Physics World. "Physics, technology, and the Olympics" points out that athletes are increasingly turning to science and technology in their quest to run faster, jump higher, and throw further. "The physics of twisting somersaults" shows how a fundamental understanding of the mechanics behind somersaults can help gymnasts, divers, and trampolinists devise ever more complex routines in pursuit of gold medals. "Hydrodynamics makes a splash" discusses experiments to measure the forces on swimmers and whether sharkskin swimsuits can make a difference in winning swim races.

  • "A New Paradigm in Integrated Math and Science Courses" is the title of a paper from Drury College in Springfield, Missouri appearing in the November issue of Journal of College Science Teaching. The integrated curriculum, which is required of all nonscience majors at the college, consists of a 3-hour mathematics course, a 6-hour science course, and a 3-hour undergraduate research course in science. The science course, which is team-taught by faculty from physics, chemistry, and biology, is designed to emphasize the problem-solving aspect of science and he interdisciplinary nature of many of the problems we encounter. In the research experience course, students apply the skills and knowledge acquired in the two preceding courses to solve scientific problems. Four to six variations on this course are typically offered each semester.

  • The state of Dutch science is the subject of an article in the September 22 issue of Science. During the past two decades, the Netherlands has stopped being a top science spender, scientific careers have gone out of fashion, and women's participation in science is appallingly low. A looming shortfall in the research workforce is a serious threat to the country's scientific vigor, according to a study ordered by the Dutch parliament and released this past summer. Science spending, as a percentage of the gross domestic product, has fallen steadily. In order to stem the tide, the Dutch government launched Innovation Impulse, an initiative to encourage young, bright scientists. The first 40 grantees will each get $120,000 a year for 5 years to start a research group. The fund is slated to grow to $60 million in 5 years, enough for 500 candidates.

  • Women hold only 2% of the physics chairs in Britain, a stark reminder of how difficult it is to attract women into physics, according to a story in the September issue of Physics World. Only one in five undergraduates in physics is female. Although much the same situation exists in many other European countries, France is the exception, with women making up 9% of physics professors.

  • TelePresence Microscopy, developed as a means to share research facilities, has allowed students and faculty at universities to perform experiments at remote sites, according to an article in the April issue of R&D Research and Development. In fact it was even used to allow 6th grade students an opportunity to view a computer chip in an electron microscope at Argonne National Laboratory at the same time they studied a similar chip in an optical microscope at their school. They were able to remotely control the microscope and discuss with Argonne scientists what they saw and what it meant.

  • A thoughtful guest comment on "The Teaching of Physics" by E. Leonard Jossem appears in the June issue of American Journal of Physics. He reminds us that it is a responsibility of each physics department, in its own self-interest, to encourage and support efforts for self- improvement and self-renewal among its faculty and graduate student teaching staff. "It is the duty of the older, more experienced teachers in a department to impress the idea upon the beginner, by precept, example, and friendly counsel, that teaching is a serious business, requiring careful study." He also reminds us that information about a national program for Preparing Future Physics Faculty and about Workshops for New Physics Faculty are on the AAPT website at

  • A textbook needs to be portrait, helping students to get a sense of the scope of the subject; part map, indexing material collected thus far; and part tour guide, stimulating both questions and excitement while provoking further explorations, according to an editorial "The art and artistry of textbooks" in the October issue of Physics World. The educational purpose of a textbook is not just to introduce new material to the student but also to provide a link between student, teacher, text, and lab.

Teacher Certification: What you don't know can hurt you!

Ted Hodapp

November 1996, Washington D.C. While attending a conference sponsored by the American Association of Higher Education I attended a session on Minnesota's new teacher certification standards. What an odd thought: learning about Minnesota rules in Washington D.C. During this 90 minute session I learned that not only had the Minnesota State Legislature mandated that all teacher certification standards be changed, but that the process had been underway for several years. I educate teachers at my school, why hadn't I heard about this?

December 1996, St. Paul Minnesota. After returning to campus I learned that the Education Department did know of the standards reform effort. (When was the last time you asked your Education Department how license rules are changing?) I asked how I could be better informed and started attending meetings of a Minnesota citizens Science/Math advisory group called SciMathMN. This group was helping to define the new standards, and I learned that a committee had been working for several years with some considerable contention. I also found that not only were there NO physicists on this 12 member committee, but there was only one member of higher education on the committee. This seemed to be a pretty poor representation from the people who actually train teachers. I also learned that one of the main causes of contention was that the Minnesota Board of Teaching (our state agency regulating the licenses and professional development of teachers) had asked the committee to write a single competency-based license covering Science education for grades 5-12. A competency-based license is not based on teaching individual courses, but rather on satisfying a set of competencies that must be demonstrated. This meant that once licensed, a teacher could be asked to teach 12th grade Physics, Chemistry, Geology and Biology all the way through 5th grade Earth Science. This required not only an extremely broad content base, but also a huge pedagogical range to know what can be taught at any of the 5th through 12th grades. Call me a skeptic, but this seemed a bit ridiculous.

March 1997, St. Paul, Minnesota. The first draft of the proposed standards was released. My jaw drops several feet as I read how beginning teachers will be evaluated on their Physics content knowledge. Here is an example from this document:

"Explain why the gravitational attractive force between two masses is proportional to the masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them."
I'm not sure how I would go about explaining why gravity falls off by R-2, although I know there are observations that support this. In addition, of the 18 "standards" which were primarily directed toward Physics content knowledge, only one addressed kinematics and it was unclear exactly how one would go about assessing this (or many of the other "standards") to show competence.

Calls at this time to the Board of Teaching provided little help. I was asked to send in my comments on the draft with the understanding that the final text must go to an administrative law judge in three months for final comment and approval. (An Administrative Law Judge approves text into law.)

April 1997. Not exactly sure what to do, I composed, with the help of friends, a letter addressing the problems that I saw in the draft. These problems included unrealistic breadth requirements that would either leave future teachers totally unprepared for upper division courses or unrealistic preparation requirements that can only be met by super teachers. In the letter several alternatives were proposed to address these issues. I then undertook to get as many signatures as possible and began distributing the letter to every science department at every private and several public colleges throughout the state. Minnesota has a large number of private colleges that train a large fraction of the science teachers for the state. The response was amazing, most faculty had never heard of the issue, and in almost every school 100% of the science faculty signed the letter (try getting 100% of your faculty from different disciplines to agree on anything!)

May 1997. The letter and signatures pages were sent out to the Board of Teaching as well as to every member of the Minnesota State Legislature's committees on Education (one in the house and one in the state senate), and to the Governor. We received several comments from Legislatures thanking me for my comments with reassurances that Education was a primary concern of theirs. I felt like we were fighting the proverbial City Hall, but this at least seemed to be a constructive way to address the issue.
June and July 1997. Silence.

August 1997. I received a call from the Board of Teaching asking me if I would participate in an allday session to rewrite the standards. Clearly something had changed. This was good news, but only a single day to write standards that will probably last for a few decades? It seemed a bit strange. Nevertheless, I went to the session, and sure enough they wanted the assembled teams to write standards in about 34 hours. Each team had people from the discipline, and the scope of the licenses had changed from allscience to discipline specific. Some change in position, but still a difficult task. I protested that one afternoon was an inappropriate way to generate a license standard but we were told repeatedly that things had to be done this way, so we cranked out a laundry list of Physics ideas that a teacher should know. None of us were very happy with the result, but we figured that it would at least be input to a committee staff member that would help them craft a workable standard.
September 1997. The second draft license standard comes out and surprisingly enough, not only did they take our advice, they used it wordforword. The battle to split the licenses into disciplines had been won, but the format and language was still unworkable. However, it was now September and classes had begun, so I had little time to worry about this until I got my own courses under control.

October 1997. I decided to talk with Pat and Ken Heller at the University of Minnesota about the issue. They have been involved in pedagogical development issues for some time (Ken is in the Physics Dept., and Pat is in the Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction). We discussed some strategies for addressing this and decided to write a small portion of the Physics standard that I would then bring to the Board of Teaching as a suggested alternative text for a Physics license. We also brought in Russ Hobbie (also on the Physics faculty at the University of Minnesota) and began work on a kinematics section. The format was written to focus first on assessment so that we would be able to ask how we would know that teachers understood the concept. Assessment was also a key concern of the Legislature, as they wanted a license that was competency based rather than coursebased. Competency based licenses make sense, but only if the standards are written to ensure understanding.
Within a space of a few weeks we assembled our new content standard for Kinematics. Here is an example of one small portion of the standard we wrote:

Understand linear and rotational motion in contexts including: live or inanimate objects at rest, rolling, sliding, walking, or rotating as they are pushed or pulled by things such as people, ropes, springs, and the gravitational pull of the earth; projectiles such as thrown balls or dropped stones; flying or floating objects such as birds, airplanes, balloons; elastic and inelastic collisions of objects such as balls or cars; objects moving and interacting in outer space such as orbiting satellites and planets; and the flow of gases and liquids. Beginning teachers should be able to:

  1. perform measurements and calculations to describe the linear and angular position, velocity, and acceleration of a given object, the forces and torques acting on an object, and the energy, momentum, and angular momentum of a system before and after an interaction.
  2. describe the motion of a given object using words, pictures and diagrams, graphs, vectors, and mathematical relationships.
  3. describe the forces acting on each object in a given system of interacting objects, using words, free-body vector diagrams and mathematical relationships, and explain the relationships between all the forces using Newton's Second and Third Laws.

I went to a meeting of members of the Board of Teaching including the executive director and member of SciMathMN. To our surprise, everyone was enthused about our work. Comments like 'This is exactly what we need' surfaced and we were asked if we could write the entire Physics standard. I asked when they would need this and the executive director replied one week. I gulped, but thought that it was probably doable. So, back I went to our group and we met daily for the next week and produced a document to take back to the Board of Teaching. They were again delighted and consequently asked us to write the entire standard including Biology, Chemistry and Earth sciences. I agreed although I was beginning to understand the real definition of "volunteer".
Our time frame was extended and over next five months we coordinated educators from across the state to help write, revise, and edit standards for 912 Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Earth Sciences. We also wrote a set of allscience core competencies that every science teacher must know and another set that all K6 science specialists must know. To be sure it was a great deal of work and some of the features we built into the standards were lost due to legalization of the wording. But in the end (October or November of 1998) the text was passed into law pretty much as we had written it.

The lessons we took away from the entire experience include some of the following thoughts. First, we were able to keep the license from being (at least in our minds) disastrously changed. This came about only as a result of a substantial commitment of voluntary effect on the part of a few individuals. Pat Heller, in particular, played a key role as her knowledge of pedagogical style in defining standards allowed us to focus on ways to write the standard in an assessable way rather than in vague terms. She was also familiar with similar efforts in other states such as Michigan whose licensing standards could be built upon. Second, the people working on this issue gained a familiarity for and an appreciation of the challenges faced both by teachers and administrators in the public school system. If education is to advance, it will only be because we learn to build connections between those who are concerned at each of the levels including parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

Is the current license better? My impression is that it is modestly improved. The scope is more appropriate for the grade levels and pre- and inservice teachers with competencies in additional can be more easily licensed in two areas (e.g., students with both biology and chemistry backgrounds -- the previous license forced chemistry and physics together). The process, however, for all of its rhetoric of building a competencybased license is still not a reality. The licenses in Minnesota (at least for the time being) are still primarily coursebased. Individual colleges construct a set of content courses to insure coverage of the material. Competency will only be addressed if assessment is in place. This remains a stated goal of the Board of Teaching in Minnesota, but it is unclear when this will actually occur. No doubt the development of an assessment instrument (most likely a written test) will encounter a strong debate!

Was it important, or would I do it again? The answer has to be yes! As an educator in the post secondary world I feel it is part of my responsibilities to help the development of the next generation of science literate citizens. Although I affect that directly (I hope) in my classroom, I also feel an obligation to do what I can for the students who never make it to the courses I teach. I think it is imperative to help students to not get turned aside from science at an early age, and this effect may help bring more science literate teachers to the classroom.

Another reason to get involved is that you are able to meet many of the people who are enthused about education within your state. These people can be great allies when you want to have an effect on your local situation. As individuals concerned about education we need to stay current with the developments in the education community. Graduation standards can be very contentious (as we have seen in California and elsewhere), but teacher license standards (which are probably more important) tend to be a much less politically sensitive issue. Currently the American Physical Society's Committee on Education is researching where state's priorities lie in this area so that the organization can alert members in appropriate jurisdictions to potential upcoming changes in policy or legislation.

If you are interested in helping with this effort on getting involved, contact a member of the Committee on Education or Suzanne Otwell at the American Physical Society (she is the staff member assisting the committee)

Finally, here are some web-sites that you might find useful:

  1. The Minnesota Standards:, The Physics section is subparagraph 7, near the bottom. 
  2. A page with links to all 50 state's certification requirements: 
  3. The APS Committee on Education Web Site:
  4. AAAS Project 2061:

Ted Hodapp is in the Department of Physics at Hamline University, St. Paul, MN.

Enrollment and Degrees Report

While the number of physics bachelor's degrees has seen dramatic declines during the past decade, the numbers seem to be leveling off, according to AIP's "Enrollment and Degrees Report." The number of physics bachelor's degrees conferred for the 1997-98 academic year (3,821) remained at essentially the same level as the previus year, although much lower than the peak of approximately 5,000 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Physics departments that offer graduate degree programs experienced a continued decline in the production of bachelor's degrees, and now PhD-producing departments confer fewer undergraduate degrees than do departments that only offer bachelor's programs.

PhD production for the 1997-98 academic year continued to decline, and this trend appears likely to continue over the next few years. The number of students entering their first year of graduate school in physics during the 1998-99 academic year (2417) remained vitually unchanged from the previous two years. Although the total number of physics students entering graduate programs has leveled off, the fraction who are US citizens continued to decline, setting new all-time lows. For the 1998-99 year, foreign citizens represented 52 percent of all students entering physics graduate programs.

Although their numbers have doubled in the past 20 years, "women remain a drastically underrepresented group among physics degree recipients at all levels," the report says. In 1998, women received 19% of bachelor's and 13% of PhDs in physics. For the same year, African- American students received 5% of bachelor's and 1% of PhD degrees, Hispanic students received 3% of bachelor's and 1% of PhDs, and Asian-American students received 5% of bachelor's and 5% of PhDs.

View Complete Report

Physics Education Research (PER) and Instructional Reform Beyond the Introductory Level

Richard N. Steinberg

There has been much reported (including in previous issues of this newsletter) on the benefits of using physics education research as a guide to the improvement of physics instruction.1 Curriculum and instructional strategies have been developed that recognize how students learn and address specific difficulties that physics students encounter. It has been shown repeatedly that implementation of these strategies results in improved student learning. With this success, the discipline of physics education research (PER) continues to grow, both with respect to its recognition as a scholarly enterprise in physics and with respect to its impact on classroom instruction. The Physics Department here at City College is now part of this growing effort.

PER and PER-based educational reform have taken place predominantly in two contexts, introductory calculus-based physics and courses for pre-college teachers. While these are areas of great importance to physics educators and deserving of attention, I would like to focus here on more advanced physics. In particular I consider the modern physics / elementary quantum mechanics that is typically taught at the intermediate and advanced undergraduate level. There are now physics education researchers studying how students learn this more advanced subject matter. As with introductory physics, results have shown that improved student learning is possible.

Understanding and improving student learning in more advanced physics is a significant challenge. One reason is that much of the advanced material presumes a strong conceptual foundation in classical physics. For example, when we teach the photoelectric effect experiment, we assume that students have a strong understanding of current, voltage, and simple circuits. If not, how can they possibly make sense of the current-voltage relationship between two electrodes in the presence of light and then infer fundamental interactions between light and matter? Unfortunately, many students do not have the necessary foundation. During a study that I conducted in a standard modern physics course, I asked students to sketch the I-V curve for the photoelectric effect experiment.2 After class instruction on the subject, I showed students a photocopy of the photoelectric effect experiment schematic from their coursebook, but I did not say "photoelectric effect." Only about one-third of the students were able to provide a qualitatively correct response. About as many students erroneously believed that "V=IR." Others treated the photons as charged objects, were unable to understand the role of the power supply, or did not have a strong understanding of the difference between current and voltage. Of course, without understanding these fundamental ideas, it is difficult for students to come to a strong functional understanding of the photoelectric effect experiment.

There are also other examples of where we naïvely assume student understanding of prerequisite topics when teaching modern physics. For example, we assume that students understand interference and diffraction when we teach the wave properties of matter and that they understand potential energy diagrams when we teach about quantum wells. PER has shown that these assumptions are not necessarily valid and that there are implications in the teaching of modern physics. It is however encouraging that PER-based reform is helping students leave introductory physics with a stronger conceptual foundation and therefore better prepared to learn more advanced subject matter.

Obviously the more difficult and abstract content also makes understanding and improving student learning challenging. For example, in a modern physics course students are first introduced to the concept of quantum uncertainty, which is very hard for even experts to understand. Not surprisingly, students struggle with the idea. They misinterpret the graphs, equations, and diagrams used to represent and make sense of that which one cannot know. We can get students to solve complicated mathematical problems and to even use terms like "probability density." However, when the context is changed even slightly from the one in which the students learned the material, PER shows that they will mistakenly see a graph of a wave function as a literal path of a particle through space. We expect our students to be adept at thinking about electrons moving as particles through a crystal and to think also about the quantum mechanical nature of band diagrams. However, careful observations of student learning suggest that students do not understand the various models for conductivity and that they are misinterpreting many of the representations in a way that interferes with their ability to make sense of even simple conduction problems.

The difficulties described above are compounded by the lack of opportunity, time, and context for students to make sense of critical ideas. Students are not given enough opportunity to build an understanding of why classical physics is not enough and of how the tools of quantum physics help to make sense of complicated phenomena. They are not given enough opportunity to resolve the difficulties that they invariably encounter when learning quantum physics or to recognize when different models of physical systems are relevant or valid.

Despite the challenges, it is of growing importance for engineering and science students to learn elementary quantum physics. Quantum technology is the technology of the present and of the future. Devices such as lasers and transistors, medical imaging devices such as MRI and PET, and the atomic clocks that make the Global Positioning System possible, all depend on the quantum nature of matter. Quantum physics will drive cutting-edge technology for decades to come. However, for most undergraduate science and engineering students, quantum physics as it is typically taught is a barrier to future work. Most quantum courses still focus on an axiomatic approach whose relevance to the real world is obscure and where little attention is paid to what or how students actually learn. The physics community needs to improve instruction in quantum physics and make the subject more accessible to larger numbers of students.

I am currently part of a team of physicists that is using physics education research as a guide to developing curriculum, software, and instructional strategies in modern physics / quantum mechanics.3 Based on our growing understanding of how students learn quantum ideas, there are several elements to our approach. Curriculum is based on systematic studies of the teaching and learning of the subject matter. Materials that enable students to work constructively in small groups have been developed. Instructional strategies employ advances in technology. And, in order to situate the learning in contexts that are more meaningful to the students, applications of quantum technology are integrated into the course. Our preliminary observations suggest that these strategies are leading to improved student learning and greater student retention. Details on the project as well as links to other resources on the teaching and learning of quantum physics are available on the project web site.4


  1. Two recent reports that summarize the state of PER are E.F. Redish and R.N. Steinberg, "Teaching physics: Figuring out what works," Phys. Today 52(1), 24-30 (1999) and L.C. McDermott and E.F. Redish, "Resource Letter: PER-1: Physics Education Research," Am. J. Phys. 67, 755-767 (1999).
  2. R.N. Steinberg, G.E. Oberem, and L.C. McDermott, "Development of a computer-based tutorial on the photoelectric effect," Am. J. Phys. 64, 1370-1379 (1996).
  3. E.F. Redish, R.N. Steinberg, and M.C. Wittmann, A New Model Course in Quantum Physics, sponsored by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and the National Science Foundation.

Richard N. Steinberg is an associate professor in the Departments of Education and Physics at The City College of New York.

Congressional Science Fellowships

The American Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society are accepting applications for their 2001-2002 Congressional Science Fellowship programs. Fellows serve one year on the staff of a Member of Congress or congressional committee, learning the legislative process while they lend scientific expertise to public policy issues. Qualifoications include a PhD or equivaletn reserch experience in physics or a clsely related field. Fellows are required to be U. S. citizens and , for the AiiP fellowship, members of one or more of the AIP Member Societies. A stipend of up to $49,000 is offered, in addition to allowances for relocation, in- service travel, and health insurance premiums.

Applications should consist of a letter of intent, a 2-page resume, and 3 letters of recommendation. Please see websites American Institute of Physics or APS Public Affairs for detailed information about applying. If qualified, applicants will be considered for both programs. All application materials must be postmarked by January 15, 2001 and sent to: APS/AIP Congressional Science Fellowship Programs, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843.

Why Teacher Preparation?

Diandra L. Leslie-Pelecky and Gayle A. Buck

Improving the scientific preparation of prospective K-12 teachers has received dramatically increased attention and support in recent years. State and regional accountability efforts have included the adoption of state science standards, often based on a small number of national models. These standards mandate science content knowledge, thorough understanding of the process and context of science, and familiarity with technology as a tool for learning. States and local school systems are changing accreditation and hiring requirements in response to the new standards. There is a perception that the colleges and universities that prepare teachers are not adapting rapidly enough to prepare new teachers to meet the challenges that they will face.

Teacher preparation has been identified as a Federal priority in budget efforts of both Congress and the Executive Branch. There is a forecast need for two million new teachers within the next decade that will strain an already burdened system of teacher preparation. Professional societies of mathematicians and scientists have supported statements that encourage discipline-based departments to more vigorously and collaboratively engage in the process preparing future teachers, recognizing that all elementary school teachers are teachers of science and mathematics.

Statements of principle made by professional societies, legislators, and funding agencies are one thing, but advances in education ultimately start with a small number of 'in-the-trenches' educators trying to address a specific problem on the local scale. At the University of Nebraska, a university-wide initiative brought together interested faculty from math, science, engineering and education to develop a long-term plan for supporting math and science education. This working group showed us that, while we were all in agreement that improvements were necessary, there were rather large cultural (and spatial) gaps between educators and physicists that would have to be bridged if reform efforts were to be truly meaningful.

Assistant professors tend to have finite time horizons, so while campus-wide plans were being developed and implemented, we opted to focus our efforts on developing a one-semester course for prospective K-8 teachers. We thought that this would be an easier problem; however, the more we investigated, the more we realized that even this small effort had endless complexities. Research shows that prospective teachers often leave traditional college physics courses without the content knowledge necessary for them to be able to teach others. At the same time, there are temporal and financial constraints that cannot be ignored when developing a new class. Add to this state- and federal-mandated accountability standards and the problem begins to look quite formidable.

We began our research with a literature survey to see what had already been done or created. The literature contains a broad range of approaches, documented in varying levels of detail. Surveying conference abstracts showed that there is a lot of valuable work that never makes it to the formal literature. We needed an opportunity to have people with experience working with prospective teachers talk to us (and to each other) about why they made the choices they did. We decided that the most efficient way to gather information would be to obtain funding from the University and hold a 'mini-conference'. We originally planned to bring three or four experts to campus for a one-day intensive meeting that would provide us with the chance to 'compare and contrast' different approaches.

We soon realized that our concerns about preparing teachers were shared by many other people. The professional physics societies had recently endorsed a statement of the importance of physics departments becoming involved in teacher preparation. A discussion at the American Center for Physics led to a collaboration with the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) that allowed us to increase the number of speakers, broaden the focus from K-8 to K-12, open the conference to people outside the university, and produce a portfolio of resources to address some of the questions that we – and many others – are asking about teacher preparation.

We could not possibly address all of the relevant issues in a one-day conference, so we had to make some difficult choices to prevent the conference from becoming an incoherent race through every possible topic. From a long list of physicists and educators, we narrowed our focus to physicists at research-intensive public universities whose environments were similar to ours. We tried to choose a varied panel of speakers representing a range of approaches that could be compared with each other and serve as the foundation for further exploration. "The Role of Physics Departments in Preparing K-12 Teachers" was held on June 9th, 2000 at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. The speakers were: Fred Goldberg (San Diego State University), Karen Johnston (North Carolina State University), John Layman (University of Maryland - College Park), Stamatis Vokos (University of Washington, Jose Mestre (University of Massachusetts – Amherst), Fred Stein (APS), and Lynn Tashiro (California State University – Sacramento). About sixty physicists, teachers, teacher educators and students attended the conference.

In planning the conference, two questions struck us as fundamental. First, what pedagogical approaches exist and what data demonstrate the efficacy of these approaches with pre-service teachers? Second, how can a new course – especially one that may be personnel intensive – be initiated and sustained within departmental resource constraints? Our speakers were thus charged with the difficult task of addressing a broad range of concerns.

An important part of this conference was our desire to avoid making the conference seven consecutive colloquia. We wanted to have conversations between speakers, and between the speakers and the conference participants. We thus allowed the speakers a very short time – twenty minutes – for their oral presentations. The remainder of the time was organized around panels that focused on eight questions. Each topic was discussed by small groups of participants briefly at their table, and each table submitted three questions to be asked of a panel formed of a subset of the speakers. Further discussion between the speakers and contributions from the conference participants made this a very effective mode of operation. The most frustrating part of the conference was having to cut off interesting discussions when it was time to move to the next topic.

The lessons learned from this conference were numerous. The conference participants, including the invited speakers, provided a wealth of information that we are still sorting through. Although there are many differences in implementation, we have winnowed out a few common themes: 1) If teachers are expected to teach by inquiry, they must have experience with inquiry learning themselves; 2) Although it is not always easy, interaction with colleagues in the College of Education is important to ensure that courses offered by content departments fit into the overall education of the prospective teachers; and 3) A wealth of approaches to teaching future teachers already exist. Many of these are based on the results of physics education research and have undergone extensive testing and revision. Newcomers to the field don't have to (and shouldn't) start from ground zero.

The end of a conference always brings the inevitable question of, 'If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?' The interactivity of this conference was a very efficient mode for educating ourselves; however, we also realized that there are many issues that we were either unable to address or that we had to address in unsatisfactory brevity. The primary change we would make if we had more time would be to present more of the perspectives of working teachers, teachers-to-be and education faculty to provide a broader view of how a physics department contributes to the overall education of pre-service teachers.

Although the conference was invaluable to us in planning the course we will be offering this Spring, we felt that it is important to make the conference results available to others who might be in similar situations. We have collected papers from the invited speakers and a finished monograph will be out in early 2001. Additional information on obtaining a copy of the monograph is available via email. The conference website can be accessed through the 'Teacher Preparation Link'.

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Gayle A. Buck is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Nebraska. Their most recent research project focuses on understanding the impact scientists in the K-12 classroom have on student stereotypes.

Conference on K-12 Outreach from University Science and Mathematics Departments

David G. Haase and Brenda Wojnowski

Much of North Carolina's current economic prosperity is fueled by the scientific- and technology-based industries attracted by an outstanding university system. Despite North Carolina's national reputation for the improvement of its schools, science in North Carolina K-12 schools suffers because of lack of resources, lack of qualified teachers, isolated rural schools, and a state testing program that de-emphasizes science. This mismatch of the economy and the schools is a challenge for everyone to help overcome.

Scientists, engineers and mathematicians at the North Carolina universities have become involved in K-12 science at a variety of levels. They teach pre-service and in-service teachers. They run student enrichment programs and summer camps. They include students in their research projects. They lobby schools, school systems and legislators for science education issues. They write learning materials and serve as consultants for state and national curricula.

Fostering such involvement was the subject of the first Invitational Conference on K-12 Outreach from University Science Departments, February 10-12, 2000, hosted by the Science House of North Carolina State University and supported through a grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The goal of the conference, which brought together 70 participants, was to examine what scientists in North Carolina are doing to support K-12 science, and at the same time, to learn about exemplary programs in other states.

Invited paper sessions were organized around themes central to the K-12-University interaction:

  • Long term support for science in high schools that support outreach--Some universities, notably Juniata College in Pennsylvania, the Alabama system, and Purdue, have established on-going continuous support programs that bring laboratory equipment, school support and training to rural schools in their states. In North Carolina, The Science House has operated similar projects. These programs were discussed and contrasted. The presentations provided a how-to list for beginning similar projects.
  • What does a scientist/mathematician do to support K-12?--The focus of this session was the relationship of the scientific research activity of the faculty member to his desire and efforts to support K-12 learning. Scientists can involve students in research projects or bing up-to-date learning materials to the K-12 classrooms. Reports were made on several projects such as the traveling molecular biology laboratory bus operated by UNC-Chapel Hill and the inclusion of Eastern NC high school students in measuring migration of blue crabs in coastal estuaries.
  • Recipients of science and mathematics outreach--The next generation of scientists must include racial, ethnic and gender groups now under-represented in the field. Representatives of programs that work with African-American, Hispanic, and female students populations discussed approaches for achieving equity in the science classroom and eventually in the scientific workplace.
  • Involvement of scientific societies and industries--Presentations from industry and scientific society representatives--APS, Sigma Xi, and Glaxo Wellcome--showed how these organizations view K-12 science and also showed the opportunities for collaborations with university scientists. In his presentation, Dr. Ramon Lopez (UT El Paso, formerly Director of Education for the APS) noted that all types of scientist involvement are important but that true K-12 improvement comes only through continuing collaboration of scientists. The universities should be partners , not benefactors of K-12 education.
  • Science and education--Dr. Charles Coble, Vice President for School Relations of the UNC General Administration talked about the university system, through its setting of standards for admission, positively affects the achievement and learning of K-12 students.

These same themes were addressed in the contributed papers, which covered the spectrum of involvement of North Carolina university scientists in K-12 science education. In North Carolina there are examples of every level of scientist participation, from one scientist visiting one classroom to long-term school support programs such as the NC Education Future center.

There were several informal discussions of how K-12 outreach fits into the university culture of teaching, research and getting tenure and external funding. The faculty participants were from doctoral research institutions as well as four-year colleges in which the science faculty does significant pre-service teacher training. Although the state may have broad goals for improving K-12, individual college administrators have differing views on how or whether to support those goals.

The conference concluded with a luncheon presentation by Ronald Perkins, an award winning teacher and chemistry demonstrator, who from the point of view of a high school teacher, emphasized how important it is to engage students in the classroom in interesting and motivating science experiences.

The conference proceedings are available from The Science House, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-8211 or at

David G. Haase is Professor of Physics and Director of The Science House and Brenda S. Wojnowski is Associate Director of The Science House at North Carolina State University.

APS Statement on Science and Mathematics K-12 Education

In an age of rapid technological advances, a strong educational program in science and mathematics is essential for the United States. Despite the heroic efforts of many teachers and the large investments of school districts, in too many places we currently fail to provide it. Too many citizens leave school without the scientific literacy necessary to deal with new technologies and their far-reaching societal implications. Our country is not educating enough technologically skilled and knowledgeable workers, a situation that will compromise our competitive advantage in an increasingly global economy. Particularly in the physical sciences, too many students receive instruction from teachers insecure in their subject area knowledge.

Some progress is being made. The efforts of experts in science, mathematics, and education have yielded appropriate learning standards that are being increasingly adopted by teachers and school districts around the country as the first step toward improvement. Yet, further steps are necessary. To support a vision of science and mathematics education that ensures that all students receive high-quality instruction, APS recommends that policymakers:

  • Enhance support for the preparation of prospective science and mathematics teachers, particularly those programs that involve collaborative efforts of college or university departments of science and mathematics with their departments of education.
  • Recognize the critical importance of professional development activities for science and mathematics teachers, particularly by increasing investment in sustained in-service programs.
  • Support sustained efforts to develop and implement high quality instructional materials for science and mathematics.
  • Increase research on how students learn science and mathematics, and develop and disseminate strategies and conditions that promote effective teaching, learning and appropriate assessment.
  • Provide increased resources and incentives to enhance science and mathematics teacher recruitment, retention and professional status.
  • Support efforts to increase the participation and achievement of underrepresented groups in the sciences, mathematics and engineering to foster a strong, diverse workforce.
  • Provide incentives for partnerships among the private sector, universities/colleges and school systems to develop quality educational programs.
  • Support specific, targeted funding of national programs to improve the quality of science and mathematics teaching, such as the Eisenhower Professional Development Program.
  • Encourage coordination of efforts among federal agencies that provide support for K-12 science and mathematics education.


  • "Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for the New Millennium," National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, 2000.
  • "Before It's Too Late. A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century." (The Glenn Commission), 2000.
  • "To Touch the Future: Transforming the Way Teachers are Taught. An Action Agenda for College and University Presidents" American Council on Education, 1999.
  • "Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology." The National Science Foundation, 1996.
  • "National Science Education Standards," National Research Council, National Academy Press, 1995.
  • "Principles and Standards for School Mathematics", NCTN, Reston, VA, 1989.
  • "Science for All Americans," 1990; "Benchmarks for Science Literacy," 1993; "Blueprints for Reform: Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education," 1998; American Association for the Advancement of Science, Oxford University Press.

Executive Committee of the Forum on Education

Kenneth J. Heller
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Phone: (612) 624-7314
Term: 4/02

Jack M. Wilso
Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy Bldg
Troy, NY 12180
Phone: (518) 276-4853
Term: 4/03

Kenneth S. Krane 
Department of Physics
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331-6507
Phone: (541) 737-1692
Term: 4/04

Morton R. Kagan
784 St. Albans Dr.
Boca Raton, FL 33486
Phone: (561) 393-1700
Term: 4/02

Past Chair 
Andrea P.T. Palounek
LANL, mail stop H846
Los Alamos, NM 87545
Phone: (505) 665-2574
Term: 4/01

Home Page Administrator
James Wynne, Forum Councillor
IBM/T.J. Watson Research Center
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Phone: (914) 945-1575
Term: 4/01

APS Member-at-Large 
Andrew Post Zwicker
Science Education Program
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
PO Box 451
Princeton, NJ 08543
Phone: (609) 243-2150
Term: 4/01

APS/AAPT Member-at-Large
Ramon E. Lopez
University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, TX 79968
Phone: (915) 747-7528
Term: 4/03

Ernest I. Malamud
16914 Pasquale Road
Nevada City, CA 95959
Phone: (530) 470-8303
Term: 4/02

Gay B. Stewart
Department of Physics
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Phone: (501) 575­2408
Term: 4/02

Dean A. Zollman
Department of Physics
Kansas State University
Cardwell Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-2601
Phone: (785) 532-1619
Term: 4/03

Newsletter Editors
Spring Issue:
Deadline for Contributions: February 1
Ernest I. Malamud
16914 Pasquale Road
Nevada City, CA 95959
Phone: (530) 470-8303 | Fax: (530) 470-8303 (Call first - fax must be manually engaged)

Summer Issue:
Deadline for Contributions: June 1
Stan Jones
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Box 870324
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0324
Phone: (205) 348-5050 | Fax: (205) 348-5051

Fall Issue:
Deadline for Contributions: October 1
Thomas Rossing
Department of Physics
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115-2854
Phone: (815) 753-6493 | Fax: (815) 753-8565

Disclaimer: The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.