Physics in a week
Curtin University of Technology
School of Education
It has been evident for some time in the Australian education profession that there is a shortage of physics teachers and the active recruitment of physics teachers for secondary schools needs to be a priority (Dow, 2003; Goodrum, Druhan & Abbs, 2011). Two recent publications from the Australian Council for Educational Research (Wheldon, 2015; Wheldon 2016) on the Australian teacher workforce found that in 2013 about 20% of physics was being taught by out-of-field teachers. As a comparison, the figure was less than 10% for both biology and chemistry. If teachers without both a second year tertiary physics unit and some tertiary study in physics teaching methodology are also included in the out-of-field definition, then the figure for physics doubles to about 40%. In addition, the proportion of teachers in physics over 50 years old was reported at about 40% indicating that the national shortage could worsen in the near future as these teachers retire. In 2015, the WA Department of Education provided funding for Edith Cowan University (ECU) to provide a Year 11 Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE) Physics refresher course for Department of Education science teachers. The intention of this course was to provide a physics content refresher for teachers who had completed some senior secondary physics in the past, but had not carried on to physics at university level. The course was categorised as professional development; it was not assessed and did not count for credit as part of any university qualification. Initially, the intention was to run the course over a period of 10 weeks with online components and on-campus, face to face time of three hours per week. However, this was not a practical option, given the various requirements of the Department of Education, public schools, and in particular, the location of teachers in country and remote areas. Hence, the decision was made to offer a one week intensive short course to refresh teachers’ knowledge of Year 11 WACE Physics. This course was offered and ran on the Joondalup campus of ECU from 23-27 November, 2015. WACE Year 11 ATAR physics (School Curriculum and Standards Authority, 2014) is a broad and concept rich physics course. Teaching this over a year, or even a semester, allows time for reflection and consolidation that helps facilitate a deeper understanding of the material. Despite having over 20 years of experience in teaching physics at this level, both as a secondary school teacher and as a university lecturer, I have never been asked to teach physics in such an intensive manner. This was a new challenge and raised a series of questions. How might an intensive course be structured? Will I be able to teach all the content I would like the teachers to learn? Can I successfully use the tools of the teaching profession to keep teachers motivated, engaged, and in Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development to maximise learning outcomes (Churchill et al, 2016)? Is it possible to successfully teach Year 11 physics in a week? What factors would be important in making such an intensive physics course a success? In a broader context, should universities be expanding their provision of non-award professional development courses for teachers? These were my main questions. This paper is a case study that outlines the course and attempts to answer these questions.