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Working together to advance the teaching of science

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Roaring Fork High School Physics Teacher Alisa Grimes is now working with U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton (CO-3) to advance the proposed “Teacher Are Leaders Act of 2019.” Tipton is co-sponsoring the bill in the House along with Colorado U.S. Senator Cory Gardner in the Senate.

The bill supports an education development program geared toward improving funding grants for classroom teachers who are recognized leaders and are working with colleges and universities and local school districts. Improving classroom instruction and student learning is the main goal.

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Grimes and other physics teachers met with Tipton in Washington in July to discuss what can be done to slow the exodus of science teachers from the profession. Their proposal includes creating partnerships with higher education, increasing opportunities, and mentorship and establishing science teacher fellowships.

“One of six Colorado teachers will leave the field within their first five years,” Grimes noted, “That’s why I am working on policy to help create a community to support physics teachers.”

Grimes just received a master teaching policy fellowship from the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP), both based in Washington DC. AAPT selected a dozen physics teachers from around the country to participate in this program, which strives to enhance and support high school physics and several K-8 science disciplines.

Grimes and her colleagues spent a week in the nation’s capital brainstorming about ways to enhance physical science education in local school districts. The program aims to encourage teacher-driven efforts to advance education policy on standards for learning, instructional resources and assessments. It also focuses on recruitment and retention of physics teachers, professional development, and teacher preparation.

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“We are encouraging students to consider careers in teaching physics,” she said, “Plus many retirees are switching careers from jobs in engineering and science to teaching. We would like them to think about the opportunities in physics education.”

She refers people who want to learn more about the subject to the Aspen Physics Institute. “Their presentations are not too complex and have even included Nobel Prize Laureates as speakers.”

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Grimes, who has been teaching physics, biology and chemistry in Carbondale for three years, hopes to change the public’s perception of physics. The question “what is physics?” pops up often from both students and adults. Many people assume the science is too complex and mysterious to understand, according to the AAPT.

Not so, says Grimes. She agrees with experts who call physics the study of  “matter” (physical substances and what things are made of) and “energy” (how things work and the ability to work)

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Scientists often explain physics as the study of nature and the universe. It answers questions such as “why is the sky blue?” or “what is sound?”

Grimes also is involved in improving the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum at the University of Colorado Boulder, which addresses the need for more teachers to be skilled in these subjects. In addition, she participates in the Physics Through Evidence: Empowerment through Reason (PEER) programs at the university.                                                                      

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“I hope to make a significant contribution to the field of education through my work on science education policy,” she explained.

Grimes has taught science in Colorado for 15 years after growing up near Colorado Springs.

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“I have always been interested in science, but my emphasis switch to primarily physics after attending National Science Foundation programs at University of Colorado Boulder,” Grimes explained, “I want to help my students enjoy physics and see it as a way to better understand everyday events.”

In addition, she said, statistics show that college students who understand the fundamental of physics do better on entrance exams for law and medical schools. Plus, technology job opportunities are exploding right now and should continue to grow.

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