Physics & Astronomy Department


TeachPhys@JMU: Physics Teacher Education and Physics Pedagogy


Why teach?


Teaching is more than just a job. Are you fascinated by the mysteries of the natural world, from subatomic strings to the vast expanse of the universe? Do you enjoy working with people and seeing the light bulb turn on? Do you want to make a difference in a fun and rewarding career?


Nationally, around a third of high school physics teachers have a major or minor in physics, and the rate of high school physics enrollment and demand for science and math educators continues to rise. Physics consistently ranks near the top of the list of fields with the largest shortage in qualified teachers. There is currently great demand for high-quality teachers trained in both physics content and pedagogical application. JMU's Department of Physics & Astronomy offers a solid grounding in the disciplinary knowledge of physics and a variety of opportunities to explore teaching and physics pedagogy.


Why teach? To have career where you will make an impact doing something you love.


The Department of Physics and Astronomy at JMU is a PhysTEC (Physics Teacher Education Coalition) funded site. Our primary mission is to give students the opportunities and resources needed to be successful physics teachers. In doing so, we also aim to satisfy the great need for skilled physics educators.


What do I need to know?


JMU offers many opportunities to learn about and gain experience with teaching. It isn't necessary to know that you want to teach, but if you might be interested, there are many ways to learn more and explore the possibilities. For graduates who do pursue teaching, they will leave with a solid foundation of physics pedagogy on which to build their future careers.


The answers to many of your questions can be found here. For additional questions and to be put on the physics teaching mailing list (for occasional announcements about events, scholarships, and opportunities), please contact the Secondary Education in Physics Advisor, Professor Brian Utter (utterbc at jmu. edu).


What courses do I need to take?


To pursue the path towards licensure in physics education, you must either (a) major in physics and complete the Secondary Education track, which includes courses on pedagogy through the College of Education or (b) major and pursue teaching licensure in another science subject and complete a minor in physics to satisfy a secondary certification requirement. The College of Education program includes courses starting in the junior year and culminating with a 5th-year Masters in the Art of Teaching (MAT) program. Graduates of this program receive ample opportunities to practice the craft of teaching in addition to developing a solid foundation in physics content.


Below, is an example of a possible sequence of courses, but a list of required courses can be found in the Physics Teaching Checklist. Additional information is available from the College of Educucation on the Secondary Education Requirements. Requirements for the MAT program are also described in the MAT Program Handout. Contact the Secondary Education in Physics Advisor to discuss your particular situation.


Required courses for Secondary Education Track in Physics: Physics Teaching Checklist.


Secondary Education Track, Example Curriculum 1
Semester 1 PHYS 240 MATH 235 PHYS 105* BIO 114 Gen Ed
Semester 2 PHYS 250 MATH 236 PHYS 246 GEOL 110 Gen Ed
Semester 3 PHYS 260 MATH 237 CHEM 131/131L PHYS 247 PHYS 397
Semester 4 PHYS 270 MATH 238 CHEM 132/132L GSYC 160 Gen Ed
Semester 5 MATH 248 PHYS 340 PHYS 391 Gen Ed EDUC 300 PHYS 398*
Semester 6 PHYS 350 PHYS 392 EDUC 310 MSSE 370 MSSE 371 Gen Ed
Semester 7 PHYS 380 PHYS 491 Gen Ed Gen Ed Gen Ed
Semester 8 PHYS 492 MSSE 470S READ 440 MSSE 471S Gen Ed
MAT Summer EDUC 540 MSSE 607 MSSE 625 EXED 512
MAT Year EXED 520 MSSE 570 MSSE 571 MSSE 630 MSSE 650 MSSE 675


Secondary Education Track, Example Curriculum 2
Semester 1 PHYS 240 MATH 235 PHYS 105* CHEM 131/131L GSYC 160
Semester 2 PHYS 250 MATH 236 PHYS 246 CHEM 132/132L Gen Ed
Semester 3 PHYS 260 MATH 237 PHYS 247 PHYS 397 BIO 114
Semester 4 PHYS 270 MATH 238 GEOL 110 EDUC 300 Gen Ed
Semester 5 MATH 248 PHYS 340 PHYS 391 Gen Ed Gen Ed PHYS 398*
Semester 6 PHYS 350 PHYS 392 Gen Ed EDUC 310 MSSE 370 MSSE 371
Semester 7 PHYS 380 PHYS 491 Gen Ed Gen Ed Gen Ed
Semester 8 PHYS 492 MSSE 470S READ 440 MSSE 471S Gen Ed
MAT Summer EDUC 540 MSSE 607 MSSE 625 EXED 512
MAT Year EXED 520 MSSE 570 MSSE 571 MSSE 630 MSSE 650 MSSE 675
Notes: P105 is an optional 1-credit seminar recommended for majors. P398 may be satisfied through an alternate route in consultation with the secondary education track advisor. These are sample curricula only and there is flexibility in scheduling many of these courses. Consult the secondary education track advisor to discuss your situation. EDUC 310, MSSE 370, and MSSE 371 must be taken simultaneously. READ 440, MSSE 470, and MSSE 471 must also be taken simultaneously. EDUC 360 has been renamed EDUC 300.


What opportunities are available at JMU?


In addition to the curriculum described above, there are a variety of ways to learn whether teaching is right for you and to gain the experience needed to successfully pursue a teaching career. A few specific opportunities include:


• Learning Assistant Program

Introductory physics courses are taught with the aid of Learning Assistants (LAs), undergraduate students trained to facilitate conceptual understanding through research-based exercises, the University of Washington Tutorials in Physics. The LA program, developed at the University of Colorado, is a novel way to support conceptual change to benefit the learning and performance of students taking introductory physics. In addition, the LA program is one way for physics majors to gain teaching experience in a structured environment, and get paid in the process!


• Physics Pedagogy Course

While many education programs offer courses on teaching practice, JMU offers a physics-specific pedagogy course co-taught by Dr. Scott Paulson (JMU Physics) and Dr. David Daniel (JMU Psychology). This course, which focuses on the Science of Learning in the context of physics learning, covers such topics as conceptual change, metacognition, and effective teaching strategies based on learning science. Learning Assistants are required to take the pedagogy course, but the course is open to all interested students.


• Science and Math Learning Center

The Science and Math Learning Center (SMLC) is JMU's free tutoring center for students enrolled in many introductory courses at the university. They frequently hire physics majors to work as paid tutors.


• Physics Education Research

In the past couple decades, a growing body of research has focused on researching physics pedagogy itself to assess best practices in education. In fact, many physicists were at the forefront of this "Disciplinary Based Educaiton Research." Opportunities exist within the department to take part in Physics Education Research and Curriculum Development.


• Outreach Activities

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is active in bringing science to folks outside the Physics/Chemistry Building, from Planetarium shows to Science is Phun shows. These year-round opportunties allow for additional ways to take part in teaching in an informal setting.


Additional Resources


• Job Seeking

For general information about becoming a physics teacher, you may wish to check out Webinars offered by the American Physical Society. Recent sessions included "Landing Your First Physics Teaching Job (June 2012)" and "Becoming a Physics Teacher (March 2011)."


In addition to announcements from individual school districts, job seekers may wish to consult:


AAPT Career Center -- The American Association of Physics Teachers is a society of high school and college faculty dedicated to physics teaching.


Southern Teachers Agency -- which places teachers predominantly in private and boarding schools.


• Scholarships and Fellowships

Barbara Lotze Scholarships for Future Teachers for future high school physics teachers (Deadline: Dec. 1). Undergraduate students enrolled, or planning to enroll, in physics teacher preparation curricula and high school seniors entering such programs are eligible. Successful applicants receive a stipend of up to $2,000. The scholarship may be granted to an individual for each of four years.


Knowles Teaching Fellowship (Deadline Jan. 9). Designed to support promising teachers early in their career, this program awards five-year fellowships valued at $150,000. Appropriate for seniors and recent graduates. Undergraduates and graduate students are eligible.


STEM Teachers Scholarship, sponsored by the AFCEA and NSTA, offering at least 50 scholarships of $5,000 each to students actively pursuing an undergraduate degree, graduate degree or credential/licensure for the purpose of teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) subjects at a U.S. middle or secondary school.


• Professional Networks

AAPT, American Association of Physics Teachers

VAST, Virginia Association of Science Teachers

NSTA, National Science Teachers Association

APS, American Physical Society


For additional information:

Additional questions or interested in learning more? Please contact:

Dr. Brian Utter

Secondary Education in Physics Advisor

Associate Professor of Physics

(540) 568-4665

Additional information can be provided by Dr. David Slykhuis, Science Educator for the Middle and Secondary Education Programs in the College of Education.