Cultivating the Physics Teachers of Tomorrow

Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE) is committed to developing innovative programs that focus on educational excellence for diverse learners. One of these programs is the teacher preparation program in physics education, which has been routinely recognized for its outstanding contributions to the field of physics education. A 2014 report by the American Association for Employment in Education found that the teacher shortage in physics is number one among 59 education fields.

In 2015 the GSE received “The 5+ Club” award by the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, a partnership between the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). “The 5+ Club” recognizes institutions that graduate at least five highly qualified physics teachers each academic year. Approximately 20 institutions in the United States graduate five or more highly qualified physics teachers annually, with a majority of institutions graduating less than two physics teachers a year. The GSE has produced 17 highly qualified physics teachers since 2012 and continues to prepare highly qualified physics educators year after year.
Dr. Eugenia Etkina, professor and program director, created the teacher preparation program in physics education in 2002. She continuously improves the program to meet the demands of today’s science-driven world. The GSE is one of very few schools in the nation that has a master’s degree program dedicated solely to the preparation of physics teachers.

Physics education is the only teacher preparation program at the GSE where the students teach for four semesters and all of their field experiences reinforce the philosophy of the program.
“Cooperating teachers strongly support the program’s philosophy since they are program graduates,” noted. Dr. Etkina. “This enables the student-teaching interns to learn in a supportive environment that fosters a strong correlation between coursework and field experience.”  
The program has a community of the graduates that is approaching 100 members. The community regularly meets at the GSE and interacts daily through a Facebook group. This allows program graduates to continuously provide and receive personalized professional development
“About a month ago the program had a 10-year reunion for the 2005 graduates,” noted Dr. Etkina. “Out of the six graduates who started teaching in 2005, five are still high school physics teachers, and three of them work in the same schools where they were hired 10 years ago.”
In addition to preparing new teachers, the program provides continuous professional development for physics teachers. In collaboration with Dr. Suzanne White Brahmia and program graduates, Dr. Etkina developed the Physics Union Mathematics (PUM), which are curriculum materials for middle and high school physics that are freely available for physics teachers all over the world. Over 500 physics teachers from the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America use the materials. Every summer, about 20 physical science and physics teachers are invited to attend the PUM workshop where they spend one week learning to build an effective learning community in the classroom. Teachers improve their knowledge of physics content and physics process while sharpening their understanding of students’ ideas, allowing them to increase their students’ learning and motivation.
physics teachers discussing experiment
Dr. Etkina has been recognized for her contribution to physics education as well. In 2014 American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) awarded her the Robert A. Millikan Medal, the highest award for physics educators in the country, for her notable and creative contributions to physics pedagogy, such as creating numerous curriculum materials to help k-12 and college students engage in activities that mirror the practice of physics. In the same year she was named an AAPT fellow for her contributions to the organization’s mission of enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching.
To learn about the master’s degree in physics education with certification please visit the program webpage.