CLAYTON — The idea of “physics” scares many students away from signing up for the class. And, advanced placement physics seems even more daunting.
“I was scared coming into this class,” said senior Abbie Haberkorn, a student at Clayton High who takes AP Physics. But physics teacher Josh Beck, 27, has figured out a way to make the subject fun, and interactive, drawing from lessons he learned from his own highschool physics teacher.
Beck, now in his fifth year at Clayton High, was named last week as Johnston County Schools Teacher of the Year.
He is currently the only physics teacher at the school. He also teaches a course in Anatomy and Physiology, but Physics is what makes him really come alive.
“Sometimes he’ll climb on top of one of the tables in the classroom,” said James Ferez, a junior in Beck’s AP Physics class. “He’s very energetic.” In that particular instance, Beck was demonstrating the different levels of electrons in an atom by acting them out, which included hopping on top of a table to show a different level.
“It’s really, really helpful if you’re a visual learner,” said Haberkorn.
The students say Beck lets them be involved in the action too. When learning how to measure force, the students each jumped onto a “force plate,” similar to a scale, which calculated the force of their jump. The force plate is one of the many tools, or toys, used in the classroom to help the students see what they’re learning. There are also bottle rockets, remote-controlled cars, miniature light bulbs with circuits, and a host of other tools the students get to use.
Beck said his own high school physics teacher inspired his style of teaching.
“He was kind of a clown in the classroom,” said Beck of his former teacher Chris Bond. Beck said it makes him sad to see physics teachers who focus on the math, and number-crunching part of the subject, and don’t spend time doing hands-on learning. “I feel like they’re missing out on the beauty of it,” Beck said.
A challenging subject
Despite all of the fun, Beck’s courses are still rigorous. Both Ferez and Haberkorn have been in Beck’s class since the fall semester, and both each say they have improved in the class, even though it is their most difficult one.
“He makes it so we’re not just remembering what he said and then regurgitating it,” said Ferez.
They said on many occasions during their free period, they visit Beck to ask questions about homework or a test, and he always makes himself available, even if it’s his lunch break.
“He’s good about not making you feel dumb when you ask questions,” said Ferez. “He doesn’t have a problem explaining something eight different ways if it will help.”
Besides making the difficult material fun, Beck also encourages the students to get to know their classmates.
“One of my favorite things is on Mondays, we get to tell a story from what we did over the weekend,” Ferez said.
Working his way up
A native of upstate New York, Beck moved to North Carolina to attend N.C.State University, graduating in 2008. During college, Beck did his student teaching at Clayton High and was hired by the school upon graduation.
“When I first started, I was floating between classrooms and had to switch classes with the students,” said Beck.
Now, his hard work has been recognized, and he has been awarded not only the title “Teacher of the Year,” but also $1,000 from the Association of Chambers of Commerce in Johnston County. He can use the money however he wants. Beck also received $500 from the Johnston County Education Foundation, which he is to use in his classroom.
Beck was one of around 400 teachers from across Johnston County nominated for Teacher of the Year.
The Association of Chambers of Commerce in Johnston County oversees the selection. The process starts in the Fall when teachers are nominated, then the teachers submit a paper of “best practices” as an example of how they teach in the classroom. From there, 20 seminfinalists are chosen and interviewed, which includes a demonstration of their best practices, so the committee members can see how they teach.
Beck will now go on to represent Johnston County Schools in the state competition for Teacher of the Year.