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[an error occurred while processing this directive] AAPT Summer Meeting Blog

By Justin Reeder, 2007 SPS Intern, University of Wisconsin - Platteville

• Also see the AAPT Summer Meeting Report


SPS Intern Justin Reeder (left) explains how he used a radar gun in outreach activities on speed and motion during the SPS poster session at the AAPT Summer Meeting. (Photo by Robert Merz)


Wednesday, 25 July 2007
Now that the big SPS Intern presentations are over with at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) it is time to get ready for the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) Summer Meeting in Greensboro, NC.  Plus Ryan Field, a fellow SPS Intern, and I are going to have to wrap up our work on the SOCK outreach kit, make sure we get all the supplies on order, and do final writing and publishing of our user’s manual.  Lots to do and indeed so little time.

The first thing I figured to tackle was my poster presentation for the AAPT conference.  I figured that with some modifications my AIP Powerpoint presentation would work nicely if I could get it published as a poster.  I checked with Tracy Schwab and he said that Kinkos might be a good place to check.  So Tracy and I went on a road trip to check them out.  On the way Tracy told me about some of the cool stuff to do in the College Park area.  Once at Kinkos I was quite surprised at the price, which was around $70.00, they were going to charge me for the printout.  I thought this was rather expensive and so we headed back to AIP.

I remembered at our presentations yesterday that Doug Dalton had made up a really nice display for in the front foyer for guests to see of our activities over the summer so I asked Doug how he had went about making his display.  Once he showed me how to use some of additional office equipment and the all important laminator, I was off to work planning, printing, and laminating pictures for the poster.  Half way through I realized that I had forgotten about what I would put it on.  I needed poster board and it was near the end of the work day.  Luckily I found out that Katie was going to do a bit of shopping after work and was happy to help me out.  We did some hunting around Target and I managed to find the supplies I needed.  She then dropped me back off at AIP.

Time to burn some of that midnight oil as us engineers can be so good at.  I went back up to second and picked up where I left off on working on my poster.  I managed to get most of her done by 8:30 or so and I was looking forward to showing Gary in the morning.  It was finally time to go home and relax for a bit.

  Table of sin


The infamous "table of sin," a Friday tradition at the American Institute of Physics. (Photo by Justin Reeder)

Friday, 27 July 2007
“Table of Sin” Day.  Every Friday the breakfast club at AIP has one person bring in goodies for breakfast. I wanted to make my contribution--what could I bring that would be totally cool for breakfast and of course have lots of sugar, vital for the morning wake up?  Ah, doughnuts would be the answer and they must be fresh.

After getting my sugar rush in I finished up packing the stuff I would need for Greensboro and then shortly after that it was already time for lunch.  I had lunch with fellow interns Andy and Meagan downstairs on the front patio.  It was actually kind of weird since it would be my last one before my internship was over. 

Then it was off to the airport where I ended up getting delayed on the tarmac because there was bad weather in between D.C. and Greensboro.  I was glad I had grabbed a bite to eat in the airport.  I was looking forward to getting a good nights rest at my hotel and getting organized and orientated for the conference.

Saturday, 28 July 2007
Well my hotel room at the Hampton Inn in Greensboro is just fabulous.  I had no idea what I was getting when I booked it through Austin Travel but it rocked.  My room consisted of a huge king size bed, full desk, sitting area, refrigerator, and a microwave. I also got to enjoy a really nice continental breakfast before heading over a block to the conference.


A small model of an electric moter is demonstrated during a workship titled "Hands-On Units for All Ages." (Photo by Justin Reeder)


However I would get a little surprise as the it was raining outside.  In D.C. it had hardly rained all summer and yet once I did a little traveling and didn’t have my umbrella the skies opened up.  I managed to borrow an umbrella from the front desk and made it over to the conference. 

The conference center itself was very impressive and just huge.  I got myself registered with the front desk, grabbed a cup of Chai Tea and picked up the bus that would take me out to the University for my first workshop, which was “Hands-On Units for All Ages.”  Here I picked up some really good ideas for presentations and projects that we could use back at U.W. Platteville for our Physics Phunshop which would be this coming fall.  I particularly liked the one where they made a small model of an electric motor.  We had done something quite similar to that at Platteville but these guys had found some better materials to use which made construction easier and more reliable.

After the workshop I did some looking about at the booths back at the conference center.  I tried to hook up with Matt for dinner but he said that he was pretty worn out from travel and such.  I figured I’d try to link up with Andrea but didn’t have too much luck.  So I figured I’d check out this Italian restaurant I’d seen outside my hotel. 

  Table of sin


Workshop attendees learn about the physics behind crime scene investigations. (Photo by Justin Reeder)

Sunday, 29 July 2007
Today I was up early and at the conference center early.  I had a full schedule of workshops to attend.  The first one I hit was one about physics used in crime scene investigation.  That one I thought was really awesome considering the actual physics behind basic crime scene investigations didn’t seem that complicated it was more a matter of being aware of them. 

I learned how investigators examined blood spatter patterns, how they analyzed broken glass, and some basic ballistics which helped piece together what happened at a particular crime scene.  Then we got a chance to do some of the activities that this teacher had her high school students do in class. 

I thought the whole workshop was really neat and I particularly liked it because it was a class that showed high school students the practical application of physics.  It showed that all the number crunching and mathematics had practical applications in their everyday lives.

While walking back from this workshop I ran into Professor Phil Young, one of my professors from U.W. Platteville.  I enjoyed a quick chat with him as we awaited the bus to take us back to the main conference area.  I enjoyed telling him about the workshop I had just seen and how my internship was going.  But before we knew it we I had arrived at my next site for the workshop so I had to split.


More than a dozen undergraduate researchers, interns, and reporters represented SPS at the AAPT Summer Meeting in Greensboro, NC, July 28 - August 1, 2007. Several of the SPS poster presenters are pictured above. (Photo by SPS Zone 7 Councilor DJ Wagner)


The next workshop I did was on about using toys in classroom demonstrations and the physical principles we could show students with them.  I thought this was a pretty good one but not nearly as exciting my previous one.  But I did find out a few concepts that could be pulled from some of the simplest toys.  After this workshop I managed to run into Andrea.  We grabbed a quick bite for dinner before we had to set up for our SPS Poster session where we would meet SPS Director Gary White.

At the SPS poster session I really got an awesome opportunity to talk to a lot of people about the SOCK I had worked on for most of the summer.  The chance to talk to these people in an informal setting really helped me improve my presentation skills.  I almost wish I had a chance to do this before my formal presentation at AIP but none the less the more practice I got with this the better I was getting, which was totally cool. After this I was pretty beat but indeed had been a very eventful day and I felt good that I had gotten a number of new people at this conference interested in the SOCK.

Monday, 30 July 2007
Today for my adventures at the summer AAPT meeting I decided to check out a presentation on interactive physics lecture demos for college classrooms.  I was intrigued by this topic because for one I wanted to see if I could pick up new ideas for my SPS chapter’s traveling road show.  Plus I also wanted to see what other methods of teaching physics were being used at other universities.  As an engineering student, I have had extensive experience in being exposed to the lecture, lab, and exam method of teaching and now I am curious if there are not better ways out there for learning the material in my major.

The presenters used a book series called Interactive Lecture Demonstrations—Physics Suite Materials that Enhance Learning.  I don’t remember the author or publisher of the series but I was indeed very impressed with this method of teaching students.  The traditional method of lecture and demos is where the professor primarily puts information to be learned on the white board, does some demonstrations, assigns homework, and then uses quizzes and exams for evaluating student learning and grading.  The method these guys presented was that students are given work sheets with some basic information on the lecture and demonstration they are going to see for that day.  Then they are expected to predict what they think will happen thus focusing on the students initial knowledge of the material.  Next the demonstration is performed and then a discussion follows as to what they observed, what their predictions were, and why they think there is a discrepancy.  During this whole process the students also have a worksheet to record notes on for the discussion, demonstration, and later the explanation.  Once the discussion is complete the professor then explains what happened.


A presenter demonstrates how to use toys in the classroom to teach physics. (Photo by Justin Reeder)


Now the presenters took us through a sample run of this procedure by teaching a mini class.  I have to admit that I was very impressed by the effectiveness of this method because I felt that after their lesson I had a far better understanding of what they were trying to teach than if I just read the book and attended a regular lecture.  Indeed I think the interactivity along with having students present the information they already know, showing them something, and then having them engage in discussion about what they saw tends to stimulate more learning and thought rather than here is the information and learn it.  Lectures seem to be more geared for problem solving and mathematical computation but they seem to miss out on the stressing of learning the concepts, which I feel is far more important than just being able to crank out just numbers and equations.  An equation is rather meaningless without knowing the ideas that it came from.

After this presentation I managed to get in a quick lunch with Meagan.  We touched base and talked about the neat things we had seen at the conference and who we had all run into.  I also definitely had to sympathize with Meagan as she recounted her rather difficult weekend.  She had spent half a day due to bad weather being delayed in the airports while the airlines tried to find her a flight that would get her to the conference.  That caused her to miss out on one of the first poster presentations she was going to be at.  Then she had a bit of transportation problems getting from the Greensboro airport to her hotel and to cap it all off, her order for the last Harry Potter book from Barnes and Noble had been lost.  Talk about a streak of bad luck.  But I did tell her that her tale made for one good story.

After lunch I checked out the vendors section of the meeting where I saw some pretty cool physics lab equipment, toys, books, and textbooks.  Then I happened to run across an interesting exhibit.  Apparently AAPT had put on a contest for members to come up with new ways to make home made lab equipment and demonstrations.  There was some good home made equipment.  One I thought was good was a homemade heat engine which used thermal convection currents generated by candles to cause a tinplate floating on water to spin.  Surprisingly simple and yet I thought rather ingenious.

As it got later in the afternoon I headed back to the hotel to do some more work on the technical pages for the SOCK.  I needed to work on the graphics for those pages and I figured I was a little worn out from checking out so many things at the conference.  A little change of pace wasn’t going to hurt.

  Table of sin


Jessica Clanton (center) presented research on the "Conceptual Presentation of Electricity and Magnatism Problems in Undergraduate Physics Textbooks" during the SPS poster session. (Photo by Robert Merz)

Tuesday, 31 July 2007
Yesterday Gary told me about a sectional that AAPT was putting on how to do presentations and poster sessions at national conferences.  I was indeed quite interested when I heard this because I figured I could definitely use the additional practice and the chance to get reviewed by more experts in this field the better.   At the session we were given a 15 minute power point show on things to consider and look out for while giving presentations.  Then it was our turn to speak.  Some of the topics that the other students in the room gave were indeed quite interesting.  One was about black holes and some of the new theories that were being put forth by top physicists.  I thought this presentation was particularly good because he stayed away from really technical jargon and managed to go at a good pace keeping his ideas well linked. 

Myself I did my presentation again and did quite well.  The advice the judges gave me were to remain more focused on one of my topics rather than trying to cover the entire time of my internship.  Plus they also suggested that since we had a lot of room for the posters that we should use all of the space with lots of visuals.  I thought this was all pretty good advice and will be implementing it for my future presentations.

In the afternoon I attended a session that Gary White and Jack Hehn from AIP were putting on dealing with Undergraduates’ Roles in Improving Education.  Here I learned about a new program that was being developed by the universities called Learning Assistants which is quite similar to the idea of a Teaching Assistant except that this is for undergraduates rather than graduate students.  Some of the other finer points that differentiate it from a TA are that a LA is required to take some education classes, must maintain a journal and do personal evaluations.  Plus they do more tutoring style assistance in small groups rather than teach actual classes.  I thought this was a really cool program and indeed it would be one I would love to see implemented at my own university.  Especially since it would give the broader range of experiences I need for pursuing outreach programs.

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