Sixteen Pharr-San Juan-Alamo elementary and middle school teachers have taken the role of student once again as they participate in the Physics for Teachers Program at The University of Texas-Pan American.
The program focuses on sharpening the science skills of elementary and middle school physical science teachers.
"Some of these teachers have never even taken a physics class in college, yet they are expected to go out and teach the subject," said Dr. Harold Poelzer, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at UTPA. "This program trains these teachers in the newest teaching methods as well as brings them up to date on the latest physics technology."
Physics for Teachers is funded through a $75,000 Eisenhower Grant awarded to UTPA.
"The need for this program is out there," said Dr. Mohammad Bhatti, assistant professor of physics. "When these teachers first came into the classroom, they were stumbling over the basics, but now they are flying."
According to Bhatti, there are multiple benefits to the program.
"These teachers are exposed to the latest physics technology like motion sensors and graphing calculators," Bhatti said. "Once these teachers are trained, they will in turn be able to teach their students in a better, more sufficient way."
The program began in June, with teachers spending 45 hours in the classroom during the summer. They are now signed up for 54 class hours throughout the academic year.
"It's a pretty intense program," Poelzer said. "These teachers are doing pretty good considering the class is high paced and they don't have that much experience with physics."
Marie Gower, a PSJA middle school teacher who has been in the program for about a year, said when she began the program her knowledge in the subject was very limited.
"I didn't have a clue about what was going on when I first started the program," Gower said. "I had only taken one physics class in college, so everything looked like it was in a foreign language."
Gower said that, although she felt a little lost in the beginning of the program, she has learned several new teaching techniques since.
"I've taught physics before entering this program, and the way I used to teach made it very difficult for the students to understand physics," Gower said. "The old traditional way of teaching was very abstract. Students need a hands-on kind of teaching - where they can actually get a first-hand look on how physics really works and not just memorizing facts."
George Cabrera, an Alamo Middle School teacher, agreed with Gower.
"This program teaches us how to challenge our students," Cabrera said. "If we can't challenge these students, we aren't going to be able to keep their attention long enough to teach them anything."