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Feature: AAPT Summer Meeting Roundup

By Paul Charles Whitford, University of California, San Diego, ‘04

SPS members leave a student poster session at the AAPT Summer Meeting in Sacramento, CA.  

Excitement might not be the first word that comes to mind at the mention of an AAPT meeting. The name, American Association of Physics Teachers, may give the impression that the crowd won't be too lively. However, nothing could be further from the truth. To get an idea of who is there, first think of the most energetic, fun and enthusiastic professor you ever had. Take several hundred people just like that, from across the nation, and you have the makings of an AAPT meeting. AAPT meetings provide an excellent opportunity to meet these interesting people and to both present your ideas and learn from others on everything education-related from Women in Physics to Teaching Physics in Africa.

With the meeting as full of exceptionally personable physicists as the ground state of a Bose-Einstein condensate, the opportunity to network is remarkable. Besides getting to hang out with Gary White, Director of SPS, we met some of our nation's most acclaimed teachers including the AAPT President Elect, Richard Peterson. We also hung out with a group of physics education researchers, including Noah Finkelstein and our own Ed Price, who were full of fire and fun. Noah, now at UC Boulder, was once a graduate student at UCSD and was able to give valuable advice concerning an outreach project which is being revived here in San Diego in which graduates and undergrads team up with middle school students to help with physics projects for the regional science and engineering fair.

Let's not forget this is a professional meeting, which means there are opportunities to present work, including sessions specifically for students. In addition to reporting for SPS, we presented a poster at the SPS poster session. Our presentation was about the PMUG (Physics Majors User's Guide) program at UCSD, in which graduate students mentor undergraduates in some of the out-of-class aspects of physics. If you are interested in presenting your work, or would just like to go to an AAPT meeting to be a reporter, SPS often helps fund students' travel to the event, so look into it!

Not only do you get to see PER research; there are sessions geared at every aspect of physics education. Two of our favorite sessions were "Teaching Physics in Africa" and "Public Outreach Activities of the World Year of Physics 2005." If you have ever considered teaching in a third world country, what can be better than being in a room with 20 people who already have? We were able to hear first hand what the day to day life is like in these countries, what kind of challenges there are, and what we can do to improve the situation. As far as 2005 goes, every physicist needs to know that it's THE WORLD YEAR OF PHYSICS and get pumped up for it. This session included spokespeople from the APS, SPS, AIP, the Einstein Experts, the AAPT - of course - and even the Swedish laser-meister Per Olof Zetterberg. If you're not ready for The World Year Of Physics, then you didn't attend this session; but it's not too late. Go to the Winter 2005 meeting in Albuquerque.

The three days we were at the conference were busy all the way to the last half hour, when we had the chance to sit down with AAPT President-Elect, Richard Peterson, of Bethel College, and learn about how he became involved in AAPT. Neither a physics eduation researcher nor a gung-ho lecturer, Richard got his start in AAPT back in graduate school when he caught wind of the apparatus competition AAPT was having. Being an experimental optical physicists, he couldn't resist joining in, and the rest is history.

In closing, the Summer 2004 AAPT Meeting at CSU Sacremento was an
opportunity to learn about an enormous range of physics education-related topics; to share our PMUG work with others; and to interact - formally and informally - with scores of friendly, enthusiastic, and dedicated physics education researchers and teachers.

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