by Emily Wurst

The role of a teacher, which is to educate, motivate and inspire students, is undoubtedly crucial. However, these same teachers must also be taught and prepared to reach their fullest potential. Out of the 22,000 physics and physical science teachers in middle and high schools in the United States, the majority have not been able to participate in deep, comprehensive studies of their subjects.

Studio portrait of Ann Robinson
Ann Robinson

This is where instructors such as the University of West Georgia’s Ann Robinson and Sharon Kirby come into play. Both Robinson and Kirby have been named by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) as recipients of the Homer L. Dodge Citation for Distinguished Service to AAPT. This honor is given for outstanding service or contributions to AAPT.

Robinson and Kirby, in addition to instructing part time at UWG, have devoted their time to AAPT activities. Both instructors are also physics teacher resource agents (PTRA), a resource of AAPT. PTRA is a position designated to benefit other physics educators.

“PTRA is about teachers teaching teachers,” said Kirby. “As PTRAs we are trained in both content of physics and strategies to teach physics. The strategies that we use have been shown to be extremely effective, both for the teachers and their students.”

One of the biggest activities that Kirby and Robinson do as PTRAs is a customized summer workshop held at UWG. The workshop, which targets teachers for grades 3-8, focuses primarily on physics, with shifting specifics each year to meet the needs of these teachers. The last time the program was held, 118 teachers were in attendance.

“Our work at UWG was one of 10 programs honored by the Math-Science Partnership (MSP) in 2013 by the U.S. MSP committee,” said Kirby about the workshops.

While the PTRA organization was previously funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NSF has recently pulled its monetary sponsorship. This means that programs like the summer workshops at UWG could be in danger.

“PTRA is one of the best professional development models with success stories from thousands of teachers,” said Robinson. “PTRAs have participated in national leadership institutes where they have developed their skills on a wide range of topics - to assist their fellow teachers. The program has involved more than 30 universities and college physics departments partnering to provide summer institutes and follow-up sessions.

“However,” Robinson continued, “they have to find their own sources of income to continue the program.”

Teachers Helping Teachers: UWG Instructors Named Recipients of Notable Citation for Service
Sharon Kirby

“Without funding, it is almost impossible to offer teachers this program,” said Kirby. “The use of grants has allowed us to offer hundreds of teachers these workshops.”

Beyond their involvement in AAPT and PTRA, Robinson and Kirby stand out amongst their colleagues as females in the male dominated field of physics. While the overwhelming majority of teachers in the United States are female, the opposite is true in math and science disciplines. Studies have shown that a presence of female science instructors encourages girls to go into the science fields themselves.

In addition to her work as a PTRA, as well being a co-chairman and future chairman within the AAPT, Robinson is a member of the Physics Master Teacher Leader Taskforce. Along with 15 fellow physics leaders, Robinson attended a summit in College Park this past December to finalize a report to support K-12 teachers in developing more effective STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching methods.

“The Physics Master Teacher Leader Taskforce emerged with a purpose to identify physic teacher leaders across the nation,” said Robinson. “The taskforce was developed by AAPT to bring attention to the deficit of highly qualified K-12 teachers in physics in the nation.

“One of the quotes we like to use was stated by Isaac Newton in 1676: ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,’” cited Robinson in reference to the AAPT and PTRA. This quote reflects the goal of these organizations, which is for teachers to use their own successes and experiences to develop and benefit others.

Posted on January 25, 2017