Physics teacher program considered among best in country

The physics teacher education program at Buffalo State has been included as one of the best throughout the United States in a report called “Transforming the Preparation of Physics Teachers: A Call to Action.”

The report was created by the Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics, a collaboration of the American Physical Society, The American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Institute of Physics.

“Just 47 percent of physics and 46 percent of chemistry classes are taught by teachers with a degree in the subject,” said Tawanda W. Johnson of the American Physical Society in a press release. “The T-TEP report also emphasizes pre-service training to ensure teachers develop in-depth content knowledge and pedagogical skills.”

The report was conducted to research the preparation of students in physics education programs throughout the United States.

According to a press release by Johnson, the T-TEP report points out the importance of improving the preparation process for physics education departments with the exception of a few excellent programs.

“Buffalo State Physics is the largest producer of physics teachers in New York State and the Northeastern US,” said Dan MacIsaac, associate professor of physics at Buffalo State. “Physics teaching is also a distinctive initiative for the college and the rest of the SUNY system.”

According to MacIsaac, the courses in the physics department focus on the students’ learning and not about the professors themselves.

“The infusion of research-proven methods into our physics teach preparation courses, particularly the masters level courses is the big take-away,” said MacIsaac. “If you study what students know and how students learn and stay focused on excellence in student learning rather than on the teacher, then you can be extremely effective.”

MacIsaac said that Buffalo State has become a nationally recognized institution and often has a lot of funded opportunities for students interested in teaching physics. Incoming freshmen have many chances to get involved in the department.

According to the report by the T-TEP, the physics teacher education program gains a high level of support within the institution.

The report stated, “Both the president (Aaron Podolefsky, now on a leave of sickness) and the provost (Dennis Ponton) indicated that the physics program is highly respected on campus and serves as a success story in interactions with external constituencies.”

MacIsaac said that after being freshmen and taking the basic courses to improve their knowledge of the subject and become familiar with the department, there are other advantages once students become upperclassmen.

“Later, upperclassmen can tutor peers, be paid and receive credit for working as Physics Learning Assistants, and receive a variety of forgivable loans or stipends for becoming teachers,” MacIsaac said. “There is a shortage of qualified physics teachers nationwide, so there are many opportunities for students who want to become physics teachers.”

As stated in the report by the T-TEP, MacIsaac’s role in the physics education program is very important. He has been helpful in assisting the development of the program.

“MacIsaac has been instrumental in developing the current form of the program, advocating for it, and incorporating the Modeling Instruction Curriculum in several courses,” the report states.

Buffalo State also collaborates with UB, Buffalo Public Schools, the Buffalo Museum of Science and local companies such as Praxair.

“Buffalo State has a considerable impact in the physics education world,” MacIsaac said. “As a distinctive SUNY college effort, the physics teacher preparations programs punch well above our weight.”

Lauren Coppola can be reached by email at [email protected].