PhysTEC Logo

Knowledge and Skills

to ensure that teacher candidates are well prepared to teach physics effectively through rigorous and experiential preparation in physics content and pedagogy

The very purpose of a physics teacher education program is to provide teacher candidates with the knowledge and skills they need for effective physics teaching. Some of the more important aspects include:

  1. strong physics content knowledge,
  2. coursework in physics pedagogy (the study of physics teaching and learning),
  3. early field experiences in secondary physics teaching, and
  4. formal student-teaching experience, in which they have full control of multiple classes for at least a semester.

Strategies for Developing Knowledge and Skills

The first step we recommend in each of these areas is to complete the PTEPA Rubric. That will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what types of strategies are relevant for your institution.

Next, form a committee of physics and education faculty to design a coherent program.

A teacher preparation program should seamlessly integrate physics content, state teacher certification requirements, and pedagogical content knowledge. All courses in the program should be both necessary and appropriate. Faculty from physics and education will need to work together to determine an appropriate physics teacher program. See Leadership & Collaboration for strategies for this kind of partnership.

Physics Content Knowledge

Make sure your program incorporates research-based teaching methods. Decades of research in physics education research has found many best practices for ensuring students learn not only appropriate physics content but also how to think and reason like a physicist.

Coursework in Physics Pedagogy

Ensure students receive pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) training. Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) is subject-specific knowledge about teaching. Physics PCK includes common student perceptions or ways of thinking about the physical world as well as physics-specific instructional and assessment strategies. PCK has come to be recognized as a crucial element of what teachers need to be effective in the classroom.

You might build a specialized course taught by someone who is an expert in PCK or integrate PCK into a Learning Assistant training course. Look to the Rutgers Certification Program in Physical Science or Physics Education and the Learning Assistant Alliance as models for integrating PCK into physics teacher education.

Provide preservice and inservice teachers with subject-specific mentoring. An experienced physics teacher is best suited to help a novice teacher identify and address student difficulties and prepare appropriate lessons and activities. Teachers in Residence and Teacher Advisory Groups are helpful sources of mentors.

Field Experiences in Secondary Physics Teaching

Work to ensure future physics teachers get quality field experience in physics. A high-quality field experience includes mentoring from at least two different teachers, work with different populations, at least five lessons led by the student, and is subject-specific.

Use formative assessment as a mentoring tool. Instruments like the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) can provide a basis for discussions about teaching methods. Persistent student difficulties can be highlighted by conceptual assessments like the Force Concept Inventory. Be sure to emphasize that the purpose of assessment is to help the teacher hone their craft, not to "grade" the teacher's performance. Explore other strategies for Mentoring & Support.

Student-teaching Experience

Build collaboration with the university supervisor (i.e., the student-teaching experience course instructor). A university supervisor working in close collaboration with your physics teacher education team provides a valuable link to and some influence on your students’ teaching experiences.

Make sure that the teachers who supervise field placements are versed in PCK. The student teaching experience is a critical time when preservice teachers must be supported in practicing the methods they have been taught.

Further Reading for Measuring and Improving Knowledge and Skills for Teaching Physics

Recruiting and Educating Future Physics Teachers (Sandifer and Brewe, 2015)

  1. Resources hosted by the Accelerating Systemic Change Network
  2. Teacher Education in Physics: Research, Curriculum, and Practice (Meltzer and Shaffer, 2011)
  3. PhysPort includes many physics-specific assessments of content knowledge.
  4. The Phys21 report (Heron and McNeil, 2016)
  5. Describing undergraduate STEM teaching practices: a comparison of instructor self-report instruments (Williams, Walter, Henderson, and Beach, 2015)
  6. National Research Council (2015), “Reaching Students.”
  7. The Teacher Preparation Analytics’ “A Guide to the Key Effectiveness Indicators” (2016)
  8. Transforming the Preparation of Physics Teachers: A Call to Action - T-TEP Final Report (Meltzer, Plisch, and Vokos, 2012)
  9. Pedagogical content knowledge and preparation of high school physics teachers Etkina (2010).

Sign Up to Stay Informed

You’ll get PhysTalk, our monthly newsletter, and other occasional updates from PhysTEC.

Sign Up