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UW’s Dale Among Professors Selected to Recruit Physics Teachers

March 5, 2015

Daniel Dale is one of nine higher education faculty members to receive recruiting grants to explore new approaches for bolstering the number of high school physics teachers.

Dale, a University of Wyoming professor and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was selected to receive a three-year, $20,000 recruiting grant from the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC). A flagship education program of the American Physical Society (APS), PhysTEC works to improve the education of, create successful models for, and disseminate best practices for future physics teacher education programs.

The goal of the grants is to establish a cohort of higher education facilities that places a strong emphasis on developing successful recruiting strategies that can be used at a wide variety of institutions, primarily those that focus on undergraduate education.

“My grant focuses on bringing in talented high school students to learn how to run the planetarium and give shows to schoolchildren,” says Dale, who received his grant funding Sept. 1, 2014. “Hopefully, this experience will spark an interest in a career in science teaching.”

Thus far, Dale says he has recruited one student from Laramie High School and two from Cheyenne Central High School. The latter two students will be freshmen at UW next fall and major in astrophysics, he says. Dale hopes to recruit 2-4 students per year with the grant.

“They’ll need to learn not only the software and hardware, but they also will, of course, need to learn some astronomy and night sky features and phenomena,” Dale says. “Planetarium goers expect to hear about interesting features relevant to the current night sky, but it's always enjoyable to wrap these stories of the night sky within the overall umbrella of science; in this case, astronomy. 

“So, you could talk about a solar eclipse, and then explain how that can be related to the search for planets outside our solar system. You could talk about Pluto not being a planet, and then relate that to a description of how our solar system formed,” he continues. “You could show how some stars in Orion are blue and some are red, and then relate that to stellar evolution and the temperatures, ages and future fates of stars, in general.”

Since the renovations were finished in the Harry C. Vaughan UW Planetarium last November, the full-dome shows now provide immersive 3-D experiences. Traditional star shows have been replaced with far more interactive presentations, similar to an IMAX theater. Laser shows consist of three lasers (red, blue and green) that project graphics on the dome. The lasers are synchronized with music, and pre-programmed graphics and images are displayed.

“I hope the high school students can be key members of our planetarium staff and present to 500-1,000 schoolchildren a year,” Dale says.

Andrea Burrows, a UW assistant professor of secondary education, and Tim Slater, a UW professor and Wyoming Excellence Chair in the Department of Secondary Education, are co-investigators on the grant.

Physics was rated as the field with the greatest shortage of new teachers, according to a 2014 survey of K-12 teacher educators conducted by the American Association for Employment in Education.

Institutions awarded the PhysTEC grants will use them to enhance activities directly aimed at increasing the number of physics teachers. These include boosting marketing efforts, improving advising, creating streamlined pathways to a physics degree/certification, providing financial support and developing early teaching experiences.

Other sites awarded recruiting grants include: Boise State University, Bowdoin College, East Tennessee State University, Indiana University-South Bend, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Salisbury State, Sonoma State University, and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The APS is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings and education, outreach, advocacy and international activities. APS represents more than 50,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories and industry in the U.S. and the world.

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