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Physics gets grant to boost teachers ed

Michel Riggin, Staff Reporter - November 14, 2012

The Central Washington University physics department won a $65,000, three-year award from the Physics Teacher Coalition, PhysTEC.

“The primary use of the money will be to develop a new degree program and to create a learning assistance program designed to give students hands-on classroom and teaching experiences while they are students in our program,” said Mike Jackson, department chair for the physics department.

Jackson said the grant will enable Central to offer a dual-degree in math and physics, similar to its dual-degree in physics and engineering. In five years, students can get both degrees, which are in high demand.

The role of the new degree program is to enhance the learning experience for students by providing additional assistance with activities and problem-solving sessions outside of class.

“A little bit of the money will go towards us [the department of physics] working with the community college,” Bruce Palmquist, physics professor, said.

The program will establish an advising program at the community colleges to make sure those who want to be physics teachers are taking the right classes.

Palmquist is the faculty member who wrote the grant for the funding from PhysTec. According to PhysTEC’s website, PhysTec is a coalition with a mission to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers.

PhysTEC recognizes areas that have an especially high need of physics and physical science teachers. Palmquist said Central’s physics department was granted the competitive award for a couple of reasons.

“One of the reasons was the fact that we wanted to work with the math department,” Palmquist said. “Another good thing about the program [Central’s physics teacher ed program] is that we are working with the office of continuing education that is providing funding to send students to the State Physics Teacher Conference.”

Jackson said Central was granted the award through strong connections between Central’s physics department and the science education department, the professor education program, high school physics teachers and community colleges.

Palmquist said that at the State Physics Teacher Conference, three students from Central went and learned about new teaching techniques. Kegan Powers, senior physics major, was one of the students who went to the conference and described it as a great learning experience.

The first night was a workshop. Teachers from around the state came together to showcase what they do in their classes.

On Saturday, there was a series of lectures from professors all around the state.

“Any advice from in-service teachers is very valuable to me,” Powers said.

Jackson said some of the learning assistants in the program also develop activities for classes in the physics department, which is particularly helpful for those assistants who plan to go on to teach physics in high school. Powers is developing an activity for one of Jackson’s classes right now.

“I’ve done a few different things working with Jackson and Palmquist doing pre and post assessment of circular assessment,” said Powers.

“With Palmquist you do a lot of inquiry-based learning, trying to get the student to grow interested in what they’re studying. It’s the job of the teacher to provide the opportunity to engage the students in the learning experience.”

Phystec’s website said the project’s goal is to address the needs of physics and physical science teachers through targeted outreach, financial support, and program development.

“When Phystec found that we were more likely to make better use of the money and that we understood the processes of applying for the grant, they were more likely to grant us the award,” Palmquist said.

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