Science teachers' perspectives on their experiences in a graduate program in physics education and effects on their practice
Ketola, Randall Gordon
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Physics education research is showing that programs for physics educators should look different than traditional physics programs designed for other majors, but how? In the literature review preceding this sequential, mixed methods study, three exemplary, research based physics programs for practicing teachers are examined with respect to physics education research, especially the five principles for effective physics teaching set forth by senior physicist and physics education researcher E. F. Redish. This study provides an in depth examination of a well-established physics graduate program for practicing teachers at a small, midwestern university that is also measured against these same five principles: Constructivist, Context, Conceptual Change, Individuality, and Social Learning. In this setting, information was gathered in the form of a teacher survey, as well as through case studies of selected participants. The results of this study affirm that graduate programs designed specifically for the development of physics teachers are, in fact, different. The data also indicates the value placed on, as well as the frequency with which the participants utilize these teaching approaches in their classrooms. Results showed that participants felt the program placed a higher emphasis on using multiple representations to convey information to students, as well as on teaching translational skills with respect to these representations. Smaller class sizes, more staff attention, and total immersion were cited as essential. Financial concerns with respect to some of the activities did occasionally arise. An area of concern was the lack of adherence to the Individuality principle, which states students have unique backgrounds and abilities that should be considered when designing a lesson. Assessing student prior knowledge when designing and implementing lesson plans also was not indicated as a frequent practice in the program, or in the teachers' own classrooms according to participant data. In summary, according to participants' reports, the graduate program investigated modeled four of the five the principles proposed by Redish to a great degree, the exception being the Individuality principle. Based on the data contained in the survey, interviews, and portfolio submissions, recommendations for designers of future graduate programs for physics teachers were also made.