Nav: Home

Helping physics teachers who don't know physics

June 25, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio--A shortage of high school physics teachers has led to teachers with little-to-no physics training taking over physics classrooms, causing additional stress and job dissatisfaction for those teachers--and a difficult learning experience for their students.

But new research indicates that focused physics professional development for teachers--even those who have no prior physics training--can lead to better experiences for both students and teachers, and can improve students' understanding of physics concepts.

The study, published last month in the Journal of Science Teacher Education, followed two groups of advanced-placement science teachers as they went through three years of training. The program was designed to improve their understanding of physics concepts and to assist them in developing teaching strategies to help their students better retain what they learn about physics.

Justina Ogodo, the study's author and postdoctoral researcher at The Ohio State University's Department of Teaching and Learning, said that when she launched this project, she remembered being a physics student in high school, and being uninspired by the education she received.

"I truly hated physics, because my teacher would speak to the board--he would teach to the board," she said. "I imagined students were having the same experience I had, because the teachers don't have the content knowledge or pedagogical skills to teach physics."

Ogodo wanted to understand how a teacher's subject-matter knowledge could affect a student's ability to learn and understand. She followed a group of advanced-placement physics teachers through intensive physics professional development funded by the National Science Foundation, then compared their teaching practices and student outcomes with AP teachers who did not attend the courses.

To evaluate the teachers, Ogodo used the Reformed Teaching and Observation Protocol (RTOP) instrument, which has been in use as a teacher-evaluation tool since 2000. Ogodo used the instrument to measure each teacher's effectiveness in five categories: lesson design and implementation, content, classroom culture, communicative interactions and student/teacher relationships. She found that teachers who completed the training earned scores about 40 percent higher than teachers who did not participate in the professional development.

Prior to the training, Ogodo found, most teachers used "traditional, teacher-centered methods" to teach. Those methods include lectures, note-taking and problem-solving activities--methods designed to complete the AP curriculum and focused on the AP exam.

Ogodo observed that teachers who completed the course were more likely to use conceptual learning techniques and the Socratic method to teach their students--a method driven by inquiry-based teaching and learning, along with hands-on labs to help students see the real-world applications of the theories they learned.

The teachers who did not complete the training, Ogodo found, continued to fall back on lectures and standardized labs.

The shortage of physics teachers is severe. Across the United States, just 47 percent of physics teachers have physics degrees or physics education, according to the National Science Foundation.

And in Alabama, where this study was conducted, the problem is worse: Just 9 percent of physics teachers there have physics degrees or certification in physics education.

"They are just thrown into the physics classrooms to teach," Ogodo said. "That means they are not equipped to teach physics, and that can be frustrating for both teachers and students."

The results can be harmful, Ogodo found. Some teachers in Ogodo's study reported feeling a lack of confidence in their abilities, especially when teaching physics concepts they did not understand, and suggested that these feelings could lead to teacher burn-out. Ogodo also found that teachers' lack of knowledge can diminish students' interest in physics.

But in classrooms led by teachers who participated in the intensive physics education training, teachers reported feeling greater satisfaction in teaching physics and greater trust in their abilities.

Previous studies about science and education have shown that students' ability to achieve in any subject is directly connected to the quality and effectiveness of their teachers.

Ogodo said this study shows that increasing training for teachers will likely lead to better outcomes for students and to greater numbers of students seeking futures in the sciences.

"One student told me she likes to write, and that she wanted to be a creative writer, but that after taking this physics class with her teacher who had learned these better techniques, she wants to be a physics teacher," Ogodo said. "That just made my day."
This work was supported by the Alliance for Physics Excellence project, which was funded by the National Science Foundation through the University of Alabama, Alabama A&M University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Ohio State University

Related Learning Articles:

How expectations influence learning
During learning, the brain is a prediction engine that continually makes theories about our environment and accurately registers whether an assumption is true or not.
Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.
Learning is optimized when we fail 15% of the time
If you're always scoring 100%, you're probably not learning anything new.
School spending cuts triggered by great recession linked to sizable learning losses for learning losses for students in hardest hit areas
Substantial school spending cuts triggered by the Great Recession were associated with sizable losses in academic achievement for students living in counties most affected by the economic downturn, according to a new study published today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
Lessons in learning
A new Harvard study shows that, though students felt like they learned more from traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in active learning classrooms.
Learning to look
A team led by JGI scientists has overhauled the perception of inovirus diversity.
Sleep readies synapses for learning
Synapses in the hippocampus are larger and stronger after sleep deprivation, according to new research in mice published in JNeurosci.
Learning from experience is all in the timing
Animals learn the hard way which sights, sounds, and smells are relevant to survival.
Learning language
When it comes to learning a language, the left side of the brain has traditionally been considered the hub of language processing.
When it comes to learning, what's better: The carrot or the stick?
Does the potential to win or lose money influence the confidence one has in one's own decisions?
More Learning News and Learning Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at