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

By Andrea Roma, 2007 SPS Intern, Green River Community College

• Also see the AAPT Summer Meeting Blog


Andrea Roma (left) discusses some of the research results from her SPS internship at AAPT during the SPS poster session at the AAPT Summer Meeting. (Photo by Robert Merz)


The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) National Summer Meeting is a mix of events that covers many of the things that AAPT stands for. There are committee meetings, awards, speakers on various subjects, workshops where people share ideas and developments on various aspects of physics education, demonstrations, presentations, poster sessions, a large exhibition hall where a person can find every big (and many small) names in the making of physics education toys and books, and most of all, physics teachers. Lots of them. Hundreds of them (1,200-plus this year, their biggest ever). Oh, yes, and a sushi bar. OK, so maybe they don't all have that, it was more the hotel than AAPT, but it was a summer of firsts for me anyway, so why not.

The timing of the meeting was perfect. It was at the end of my SPS Internship with AAPT, and once it ended I still had a few days to wrap things up back at AAPT and get ready for what's next. There were several things that made the meeting more interesting for me than for your average first-timer.

The first was the fact that I had spent the summer up to this point hanging out on the administrative side of things back at AAPT headquarters in College Park, MD. I'd never been to an event of this type in any context in my life, and all of the last 2 months had been spent sitting among the people who plan these meetings, watching and listening to all of the angles and details that need to be considered. All of this was done around the daily workings of the organization and various other events that run during the summer, like the New Faculty Workshops and the Physics Olympiad. The thing about being at administrative headquarters is that I was surrounded by administrators. The only people with physics backgrounds were the people in the higher positions that had the offices that lined the window side of the halls. Out in cubicle land where I hung out, they were all hired for their superior administrative skills and held positions that would make someone with a physics background go insane. It takes a special temperament to do what these folks do, and our senior staff has a talent for finding them. I thank God there are people with these skills, and even more so that I'm not one of them.


The AAPT Summer Meeting was a chance to see the teachers who make up the ranks, such as those pictured above, attending a workshop titled "Hands-On Units for All Ages." (Photo by Justin Reeder)


The meeting was a chance to see the other side of AAPT, the teachers who make up the ranks. Having spent the summer doing research on the state of physics education in the country, I took as many opportunities as I could to listen to the people on the front lines of education. And there were many. Sitting at the tables in the food court or the hotel cafe, attending the workshops, going to committee meetings, even just wandering around the exhibition hall. I would occasionally ask questions, but mostly I just listened to them talk amongst themselves. I had an interesting conversation with a high school teacher about how and why he chose to become a teacher instead of getting into engineering. I listened to a conversation by a group of two year college teachers at their breakfast about the issues they were having with the way the universities saw them.

Sitting by myself at breakfast one morning, I listened to a lively debate at the table next to me about some particular aspect of current physics research and how it should be presented in the classroom (these fellows were clearly graduate level teachers). This is why AAPT exists, and why we have the meetings in the first place. A forum for the exchange of ideas, research, opinions, planning, all of the interactions that are necessary to advance the state, or more accurately, the art of physics education, and the shaping of the scientific curiosity, literacy, and understanding of our children. It's the rank and file, the membership, that holds the minds and the future of our students in their hands, and that is a very powerful position. More so than any administrator or senior officer or committee position anywhere else in the organization.

Another thing that made this more interesting for me is the way I was in a position to jump back and forth between staff and regular member. I was given the opportunity to attend some workshops and spend time just wandering around, as well as helping in any way I could with the rest of the staff. I helped in the "office", a room on the second floor which was ground zero for on site administration, with preparing for registration. I helped at the registration desk during the busiest times, Friday night and Saturday morning. I assisted Jackie at the exhibitors registration on the 3rd floor on Sunday, went to a workshop, then participated in the SPS poster session. The poster session was quite a bit of fun. If I had done this before the formal presentations the previous Tuesday back at the American Center for Physics, I would have had it memorized. I went through it repeatedly, always had an audience, and managed to miss getting any of the food because I didn't want to leave my spot. I had too much nervous energy to eat anyway. I also had some duties related to projects I was still working on that had me going to committee meetings for two year colleges and high schools. The line between watching all of the planning, then watching the logistics of fielding the issues of a plan in action was just one of many learning experiences.

Another educational aspect of this experience was the unique opportunity to hang out with the rest of the staff at the end of the days work. You learn as much about a staff that works well together by how they relax, the things they talk about, and don't talk about when the work is done as you do by watching them work. (It's almost like they do this for a living...)

A tribute to the administrative staff at AAPT, as well as the countless volunteers among the membership who participated in the planning and/or execution of the largest annual meeting ever-in the words of Tofik Hakim, AAPT's CEO:

"You will be pleased to know that the meeting at Greensboro has been a great success. Those of you present at the meeting deserve our collective gratitude and kudos. You pulled together, moved fast to address issues and fix glitches, and made members and attendees feel most comfortable and welcome. The energy at the meeting was electric--due to in most part to your efforts, commitment and attitudes. Thank you. "

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