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MU Physics Department Educates High School Teachers on Changing Curriculum

A $5 million grant brings 70 teachers to campus for month-long summer academy

June 02, 2011

Story Contact(s):
MU News Bureau, munewsbureau@missouri.edu, 573-882-6211

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— In an effort to better prepare Missouri high school students for science and engineering courses in college, University of Missouri physics professors are assisting in a movement that will encourage students to take physics courses in the 9th grade.

The physics effort is part of a national movement called Physics First; MU’s project is called the Academy for Teachers using Inquiry and Modeling Experiences (A TIME for Physics First). A TIME for Physics First is a project to implement year-long physics courses in 9th grade instead of 11th grade, reversing the traditional biology-chemistry-physics order suggested in 1892 by a committee appointed to standardize high school curricula by the National Education Association.

“Our knowledge of science has changed dramatically during the past century,” said Meera Chandrasekhar, program director and Curators’ Teaching Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Science. “Because biology courses now include elements of physics and chemistry, it’s more practical to teach physics first so students are better prepared to handle the material.”

The program trains 9th grade science teachers to teach conceptual physics as a way to significantly increase student achievement in science coursework. Professors from the MU Department of Physics and Astronomy will share their expertise in physics instruction with 70 Missouri high school science teachers.

“Students are often shocked at the faster pace and increased demands they experience in college-level physics courses; many struggle to keep up and become discouraged from continuing with science and engineering majors,” Chandrasekhar said. “Arming high school students with a solid background in physics will enable them to succeed once they graduate to higher level classes and will produce more qualified science and engineering workers.”

The 70 high school teachers participating in the month-long program come from 39 partner school districts in Missouri. They will attend a three-year series of summer academies, where they will engage in research-based professional development that includes comprehensive physics content, pedagogy, research and evaluation. They also will gain leadership expertise to reform science education at the secondary level. Coaches and mentors will support the teachers throughout the year.

Last summer, 35 science teachers began the series; an additional 35 teachers will begin this June.  This year, the science teachers will study full time at MU from June 6 – July 1. The science teachers will be accompanied by their math teacher colleagues for the week of June 13-17, and by their administrators from June 16-17.

A TIME for Physics First is funded by a five-year National Science Foundation Math-Science Partnership Institutes grant that began in September 2009. Other MU faculty members involved in the project include Dorina Kosztin, associate teaching professor; Deborah Hanuscin, associate professor; Paul Miceli, professor; and Angela Speck, associate professor, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy; and Dorina Mitrea, professor in the math department.

For more information, please visit http://www.physicsfirstmo.org/. For a list of the 39 partner districts, please visit http://www.physicsfirstmo.org/about/partners.php.

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