STEM Certificate: The View from AAPT

For the last several months, the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) has been a partner with NSTA and other professional organizations discussing the implications of a STEM certificate. There are many challenges in this venture–not the least of which is the varying certification requirements across different states–but AAPT believes there are benefits as well.

AAPT recognizes that physics is not necessarily the favorite subject of many teachers–in fact, many science teachers find themselves teaching physics without sufficient preparation to do so. This can mean that the innovative strategies teachers employ in their primary area of STEM certification may not get implemented into physics concepts, with which the teacher is less comfortable. Providing support for teaching physics content and integrated STEM topics that incorporate physics is one of AAPT’s primary reasons for participating in the certificate discussions.

One way a STEM certificate might benefit teachers is by providing them expanded avenues for integration across disciplines thereby demonstrating relevance of content to students’ lives. Without relevance, teachers may drown in echos of “why are we learning this?” True integration can also represent areas of cutting-edge research, allowing teachers to make further connections with news stories or local resources when available. Resources from the partnering STEM organizations can be very helpful. For example, AAPT recently created, with NASA support, several resources about the 2017 total solar eclipse that may be used in secondary and perhaps upper elementary classrooms.

Meaningful integration is more challenging to achieve than many people think. How many of us have said, “oh sure, I can include some math in my science class”? From a math teacher’s point of view, this may look more like an add-on to reinforce a previously-taught concept than a lesson that actually teaches a relevant concept from mathematics. Good STEM can overcome this by using relevant topics that can address multiple concepts across the S-T-E-and-M.

Relevance and integration also provides teachers with increased opportunities to help students see the who and how of doing science.  Drawing from multiple disciplines that highlight a diverse set of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technologists can, in turn, help students from traditionally underrepresented groups see a future in STEM careers. This may also serve as “guerilla leadership” in that such teachers may then be able to help colleagues–even those not STEM certified–bring similar resources to their own classrooms.

STEM integration may help teachers, particularly those in upper elementary where high-stakes testing is beginning to rear its head, provide more effective instruction in a limited amount of time. Providing students with a strong conceptual foundation in the elementary grades is a key for encouraging them to consider successful STEM futures, in secondary and beyond.

How can we help? Many ways! AAPT’s The Physics Teacher has a special issue for September 2017 focusing on race and physics teaching, with additional articles forthcoming throughout the fall, that may be of interest for teachers who desire to better support their students from underrepresented groups. As another example, HERstories is a video series about women physicists from around the world.

AAPT has developed and is developing multiple resources that integrate STEM activities K-12. Many of these activities are linked to NGSS and the Common Core Mathematics and English Language Arts standards as well. The AAPT ComPADRE website has lesson plans and resources via the Physics Front, Open Source Physics, Interactive Video Instruction, and Physics to Go. The AAPT/PTRA (Physics Teaching Resource Agents) provides professional development on physics content, teaching techniques based on research in physics education, and integration of technology into curriculum. Finally, the AAPT eMentoring program is designed to connect AAPT members of the K-12 physics educator community with each other. More experienced educators (mentors) are connected with one or more novice educators (mentees). Through eMentoring, mentees receive guidance with lesson planning and pedagogy, encouragement and resources. In addition to the examples of physics-related resources described above, AAPT sponsors a Physics Day at each of the three NSTA Regional Conferences.

An effective STEM program should provide resources and support for creating learning opportunities that integrate concepts from across the contributing disciplines, and AAPT is proud to be part of the process. Perhaps providing STEM educators with the an integrated certification process, rooted in educational research and pedagogy, will increase the number of novice teachers who choose to remain in a STEM career. Resources and training in integrated STEM should also support students’ learning and their STEM-literate futures.

Author Bios

Janelle M. Bailey is an Assistant Professor of Science Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Temple University and the Past President of AAPT. A former high school physics and chemistry teacher, she now works primarily with preservice science and mathematics teachers in methods courses and supervising student teachers. Janelle has published articles for teachers in NSTA’s Science Scope, AAPT’s The Physics Teacher, and NESTA’s The Earth Scientist.

Jan Mader is a physics and chemistry instructor at Great Falls High School in Great Falls MT. She co-authored Teaching Physics for the First Time, and was a National Diffusion Network Teacher Trainer for the NSF project of PRISMS and Mechanical Universe. Jan is a 25 year veteran of the AAPT PTRA professional development cadre and has provided inservice and professional development institutes for K-12 teachers since 1989.

Editor’s Note

This is the third post in a series from expert voices in STEM education who together are pondering questions about STEM certification. The first and second post in the series can be found here and here. Consider adding your thoughts about STEM certification in the comments below. As we tackle this issue and others like it, the steering committee for the STEM Forum & Expo will be building the program for the 7th Annual STEM Forum & Expo, hosted by NSTA, to be held July 11–13, 2018, in Philadelphia, PA. Please subscribe to the conferences category at to get updates as these blogs are posted.

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  1. Michael Welter
    Posted November 15, 2017 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    One of the ironies about STEM is that schoolsystems have jumped on this bandwagon touting their STEM programs while physics and chemistry classes have been scaled back. LEAs have only promoted classes like general science, biology, earth/environmental, and physical science as necessary to secure diploma numbers. What self-respecting potential engineer would avoid taking physics and advanced math classes?

  2. Chris Orban
    Posted November 15, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Coding integration is a good opportunity to get STEM disciplines at the table and talking about best practices and making connections between disciplines (physics & math or physics & chemistry, etc.). And it would certainly be helpful to students if there was some attempt towards making sure that there aren’t multiple different coding frameworks for the same level of math, physics, chemistry, biology, which is what will likely happen in ten years if no one talks to each other.
    By the way, I am a physics professor at OSU and I lead the STEMcoding project ( We recently had an activity published to the hour of code (

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