The typical teacher of high school physics is not as well prepared in his/her content area as is the typical chemistry or biology teacher—slightly more than half of physics teachers have had six or more semesters of physics or physical science. However, nearly two-thirds of physics classes are taught by teachers who have had substantial course work in physics and are confident in their content knowledge and in their ability to teach the content, suggesting that the best prepared physics teachers are more likely to teach multiple sections.
Asked about their professional development needs, high school physics teachers expressed a need for help in a number of ways, especially in using instructional technology. At the same time, they spend very little time in professional development specific to science teaching, where they might receive such help. Physics teachers also called for help in accommodating students with special needs. However, very little of the professional development they do participate in is focused on this area.
The data strongly suggest a pattern of instruction that relies heavily on lecture/discussion, students working problems, and an occasional laboratory activity. Lecture/discussion accounts for far more instructional time than any other single activity (e.g., doing labs, non-laboratory small group work, individual student work). The use of demonstrations and the integration of computers into physics instruction are surprisingly infrequent; the latter is perhaps explained by teachers’ lack of preparation. The image of high school physics instruction is quite similar to what these teachers likely experienced in their college physics courses, and perhaps explains the prevalence of certain instructional strategies.