UBC's physics teacher training gives science enthusiasts the tools to inspire young learners

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      UBC’s faculty of education has left a large imprint on B.C.’s K-12 school system. According to the faculty’s website, it has educated more than 45 percent of the province’s elementary-school teachers and a majority of B.C. secondary-school teachers.

      Natasha Philibert-Palmer hopes to join their ranks. She enrolled in the faculty of education in September with the goal of becoming a high-school physics teacher. The physics teacher education program is rooted in a great deal of collaboration with the UBC department of physics and astronomy.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Philibert-Palmer recalled being one of the few teenage girls in her Physics 11 and Physics 12 classes when she attended secondary school.

      “I would love to encourage more girls to do that,” she said.

      She’s particularly interested in trying to persuade all students from other groups underrepresented in the sciences—including Indigenous learners—to become more interested in the subject.

      The self-confessed sci-fi fan graduated several years ago with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. For the past four years, Philibert-Palmer was overseeing outreach programs for UBC’s engineering department, which brought her in contact with many teenagers.

      “I really like working with kids,” she said.

      This month, she began her first two-week practicum. It’s part of a one-year program that includes courses in how to teach physics and the other sciences. There are also courses on the history of education, social justice in education, childhood development, and teaching students for whom English isn’t their first language.

      For Philibert-Palmer, it’s been a pleasant surprise to see how committed other teacher candidates are to promoting the well-being of students.

      “Everyone is really here for the same reason,” she said. “They really like children and they really want to help children and youth be the best people they can be, whatever subject they’re teaching.”

      Philibert-Palmer doesn’t come from a family of educators. Her dad is a mechanic who works on cars, and from a very young age she helped him in the garage. From there, it was natural to study mechanical engineering at university.

      “I’ve always really enjoyed figuring out how things work,” she said.

      Philibert-Palmer has a very good chance of finding work as a physics teacher when she completes the program in July of 2019. A provincial task-force report noted that 54 of the province’s school districts are having trouble finding and retaining science, math, and French teachers, teacher-librarians, counsellors, and learning-assistance teachers.

      “When I talk to teachers and I tell them I’m taking physics, they tell me there will be a job for me when I graduate,” she said.

      But first she’ll have to complete a 10-week practicum in a classroom in early 2019.

      “Then at the beginning of May, we have something really cool called the community field experience, which is three weeks long,” she added. “It could be with a community partner that does some form of informal education, like a summer-camp program, or a museum or Science World.

      “It could also be in a school district other than the one where you did your practicum,” Philibert-Palmer continued. “If you were in an urban setting, you could go for three weeks to a rural school district and experience that.”