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BYU Produces More Certified Physics Teachers Than Any Other U.S. College

Photo by Ken Cole and Rob Johnson

BYU once again received The PhysTEC 5+ Club Award.

The award is reserved for U.S. colleges that graduate five or more certified physics teachers in a year. Only nine schools received the award this year, with BYU leading the pack.

Seventeen certified physics teachers graduated from BYU during the 2014-2015 school year—the highest number of physics teachers graduated by any college in the nation. The runner-up was Illinois University, with ten graduates.

Professor Duane Merrell of the BYU physics faculty accepted the 5+ Club Award on behalf of the school. The award is provided by The Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC), along with the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

“My job is to help all of the kids who want to become physics, chemistry, physical science or earth space science teachers.” Merrell said.

Part of what makes BYU’s program unique is that there is an entire major devoted to physical science teaching within the Department of Physics and Astronomy. According to Dr. Merrell, physics students here can receive certification by being a physics teaching major, or by simply fulfilling the physics teaching course requirements.

BYU’s physics teaching major has also become a resource for other faculty members in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Both Merrell and Adam Bennion, a BYU physics teaching alumnus, recall other members of the department sitting in on their classes getting ideas of how to improve their own teaching methods.

“They come in and sit in with us and look at how we teach the students here about . . . how to teach physics.” Bennion said. “And they take that back to their classrooms. I think that generates some interest when the faculty here are doing things to improve their own instruction.”

According to PhysTEC, the greatest teacher shortage in U.S. high schools nationwide, aside from special education teachers, is qualified physics teachers. The purpose of the 5+ Club Award is to recognize schools that are doing their part to fill this need.

Producing five or more graduates who are certified to teach physics is considered a significant accomplishment for any U.S. college. Unfortunately, most colleges in the U.S. do not produce any. Merrell estimates that BYU produces about 13 such graduates each year on average.

“We don’t do anything that any other university couldn’t do,” Merrell said. “We . . . believe in it enough at BYU that we actually fund it.”

Measuring the impact that BYU’s physics teaching program has had on the nation is difficult. But Merrell, who has been involved with the program for twelve years, believes that each of the 160 students who have obtained their physics teaching certification during that time has great potential.

“Exponentially, we have no idea what we’re accomplishing,” Merrell said. “I don’t know if you can ever measure how big of a deal it is.”