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'Physics First' Summer Academy Teaches Missouri Science Teachers

Goal is to teach content and pedagogy so teachers can introduce physics to ninth graders

June 27, 2007

Story Contact:  Katherine Kostiuk, 573-882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — School is out of session for most Missouri students, but 72 ninth-grade science teachers from 25 school districts around the state have gathered at the University of Missouri-Columbia to learn about energy, electricity and motion. The summer academy, called Physics First and funded by a $3 million grant, is equipping the teachers with tools they need to teach ninth graders about physics.

"The project's long-term goal is to increase the proficiency of students in science as evidenced by MAP scores, increase the number of highly qualified physics and physical science teachers, and increase students' interest and success in science and engineering degrees," said Meera Chandrasekhar, MU professor of physics.

The Physics First program began at MU last summer and this year includes a three-week academy for teachers who attended last year and a four-week academy for teachers new to the program. During the academy, teachers attend sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to gain hands-on experience with physics and to learn teaching pedagogy they can take back to their classrooms. Teachers also are given materials they can use with their students.

The last day of the academy will be June 29, but support will continue throughout the school year with activities such as Saturday follow-up sessions, monthly site visits from coach-mentors and meetings of professional learning teams. Another summer academy will be held in 2008 on the subjects of electromagnetism, heat, light and waves.

"The goal of the academy is to provide professional development for ninth grade science and math teachers so they can teach a full-year course in physics for ninth graders called Physics First," Chandrasekhar said.

Starting in 2010, state requirements will require that high school students take at least three years of science. Physics First aims to make physics an integral part of that series of classes by introducing it to students in the ninth grade. This is a system-wide institutional change in many districts that mirrors a national trend to put physics in the high school sequence to provide an informational base for chemistry and biology. According to the American Association of Physics Teachers, "teaching physics to students early in their high school education is an important and useful way to bring physics to a significantly larger number of students than has been customary."

Physics First is funded by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education through a math-science partnership grant. The program is led by MU and Columbia Public Schools. Sara Torres is the principal investigator from Columbia Public Schools. Faculty involved in the program include Chandrasekhar, lead investigator from MU; Dorina Kosztin, associate professor of physics; Mark Volkmann, associate professor of science education; James Tarr, associate professor in math education; and Kandiah Maniyannan, associate professor of physics at Missouri State University.