How to Increase the Number of Physics and Chemistry Majors
There is a great untapped potential of minority students, average students and females, in the inner cities of this country who could become physics teachers and physicists, chemistry teachers and chemists, if only they could be turned on to a career in physics, chemistry and engineering.
by Stewart E Brekke, MS in Ed, MA
Regular contributor to the Gazette
May 1, 2009
It is the good experience in the high school course in physics or chemistry that generates many of the college physics and chemistry majors. Therefore, we need to make these traditionally hard courses substantive, but also user friendly.
There is a great untapped potential of minority students, Black and Hispanic, in the inner cities of this country who could be physics teachers and physicists, chemistry teachers and chemists, if only they could be turned on to a career in physics or in a related field such as chemistry and engineering. Another group of high school students that could tapped for the physics or chemistry major in college is the average student in both majority and minority communities.
In most high schools, only the top 30% or so of the school population takes the standard mathematically based physics course, and a few more take the chemistry course. Traditionally, physics and chemistry have been male oriented subjects. However, and unfortunately, in many minority high schools, males are often not the best students because they are targeted by gangs, peer pressure and violence; we must somehow reach them.
The advanced mathematics physics and chemistry classes, especially at the honors level, are often populated by a majority of young women. These young women have to be courted to make college physics and chemistry their major. I have found that these at-risk minority young women are excellent candidates for physics and chemistry professionals such as teachers, professors, industrial and health scientists. They need only encouragement and direction.
Many of the inner city girls and boys have never thought of majoring in physics or chemistry. By making the high school physics and chemistry courses user friendly, substantive but not unnecessarily hard, chemistry and physics teachers can generate many more successful college physics and chemistry majors from the enormous pool of inner city and middle class average and above average students.
I have found that many at-risk students do not always learn from examples in the text and/or from examples on the board. Thy learn from the teacher going around the room showing each individual student how to do a particular problem and then allowing the student to practice on two or more of the same type of problem.
As time goes on these at-risk students get the idea of how to solve a mathematical type physics or chemistry problem. With this type of empowerment they become interested in the real chemistry or physics because they are successful in the mathematical type problem solving, which is the basis of a career useful chemistry or physics course. Many university physics and chemistry professors would be surprised at the variety and kind of high school students who can actually do a standard mathematically-based college physics or chemistry course--from teenage mothers to gangbangers and football players--provided they are given a user friendly course with help in high school and support in college.