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Best Online Degrees in: Physics Education

Explore a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics Education

Online physics education degrees are designed for people who want to teach physics to high school students in public schools. This degree path is also a good fit for people with various science backgrounds, paraprofessional educators and teacher’s aides, and even substitute teachers who would like to transition into science education full-time. People pursuing physics education degrees should be comfortable working with teenagers, have both an interest and aptitude in science, and the ability to communicate the complex ideas of physics to young minds. To ensure the program is adequate to prepare you for your career, make sure that the program leads to teacher certification or licensure in your state before enrolling.

Many physics education degrees are designed to be completed in four to five years. However, program length varies from school to school — programs that follow a term or module format may be more accelerated than programs that follow a traditional semester format. In addition, students may be able to complete the program in less time by transferring in credits earned at other institutions, CLEP testing out of certain general education requirements, or applying credits earned from AP classes in high school. Students who attend the program part-time or who have not completed certain prerequisites will take longer to complete the program.

Class Curriculum

Students in an online physics education degree program take general science courses, advanced physics and mathematics courses, and teacher education courses in their prescribed curriculum. Courses may include calculus, introductory physics, analytical physics, chemistry, differential equations, thermal and statistical physics, mathematical methods in physics, and solid state physics. Along the way, students also complete general education requirements in written communication, the social and behavioral sciences, and the fine arts and humanities. A few of the major courses in this program might include:

  • Science Teaching and Learning. In this course, students learn the most important theories in science education, typically tailored for grades 5-12. Students also learn how to design, implement, and evaluate science lessons and see how they measure up to state standards.
  • Computational Physics. This course teaches students how to use computational methods to simulate physical systems, as well as solve various problems in physics, astronomy, and related fields. Students learn the computing languages and numerical methods necessary for creating physical simulations and investigate the behavior of those simulations.
  • Human Development and Behavior. In this course, students examine contemporary theories as to how people develop physically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally throughout their lifespan, and the many factors involved in human development that impact behavior. An emphasis is on the implications for classroom behavior and the education process.

Students may be assigned projects that require them to design appropriate lesson plans for a high school physics class. In addition, all students who are pursuing teacher licensure, including online students, must complete a supervised teaching practicum at an approved high school. This student teaching experience helps students build skills in lesson planning, classroom management, and physics instruction with high school students and provides an opportunity for teachers-in-training to receive constructive feedback from other teachers who mentor them. Aside from requiring student teaching, some online physics education degree programs will require that students put together a professional portfolio in science or physics education as a final project.

Building a Career

High school physics teachers often work with the brightest and most motivated students at their school, and are tasked with explaining the many complexities of the physical universe in a way that is compelling and understandable to teenagers. Because of their broad understanding of science and mathematics, they may wear other hats, teaching mathematics, chemistry, and biology as well. Teachers who are trained in physics education may have an easier time finding work than teachers who specialize in other areas because of the shortage of math and science teachers in school districts across the nation. In fact, of all school subjects, physics has the most significant teacher shortage — even more so than math or chemistry, according to Cornell University’s Physics Teacher Education Coalition.

High school teachers reported a median yearly salary of $53,230 as of May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While slow employment growth of only 7% is projected for high school teachers, those who teach science classes, particularly chemistry and physics, will experience some of the best job prospects. Graduates of physics education programs may also have an easier time finding work in urban and rural school districts than in suburban school districts, the BLS explains. Employment in the field is not guaranteed, and physics teacher salaries will vary based on your level of experience and education, the region of the country you live in, your school district’s budget considerations, and other factors.

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