APS News

Workshop Brings Inspiration, Information to New Faculty

New Faculty Workshop
Photo by Ken Cole

Mario Belloni of Davidson College leads a breakout session on teaching and modeling using physlets and open source physics at the 2007 workshop for new physics and astronomy faculty.
More than 80 new physics and astronomy faculty attended a workshop held November 8-11 at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD. The annual New Faculty Workshop, hosted by the American Association of Physics Teachers in conjunction with APS and the American Astronomical Society, helps new faculty understand how students learn physics and how that knowledge can be used to improve teaching methods.

The workshop, now in its 12th year, is designed for faculty in the first few years of their first tenure track appointment at a four year college or university.

Small-group sessions and discussion allowed participants to exchange ideas. The workshop “gives them the opportunities to explore what people have done,” said Toufic Hakim, AAPT Executive Officer.  

The workshop featured several large group sessions on topics such as research in physics education, peer instruction, interactive lecture demonstrations, assessment and evaluation, helping students develop problem-solving expertise, and getting students to prepare for class.

Participants also attended small group workshops on topics including active learning with real time physics; Physlets and Open Source Physics; digital libraries; tenure matters and time management; problem solving; and Quantum Interactive Learning Tutorials. Additional small group sessions focused on introductory physics, upper level physics, and astronomy. Separate sessions were also held for faculty from bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD granting institutions.

Speakers included Lillian McDermott, Peter Shaffer, and MacKenzie Stetzer (University of Washington), Eric Mazur (Harvard University), David Sokoloff (University of Oregon), Ronald Thornton (Tufts University), Edward Prather (University of Arizona), Karen Cummings, (Southern Connecticut State University), Evelyn Patterson (U.S. Air Force Academy), Ken Heller (University of Minnesota), and Jim Stith, (American Institute of Physics).

Workshop participant Tatiana Toteva of Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA said the workshop gave her new “enthusiasm for teaching.” “While I am really impressed with the effectiveness of the methods that were presented, it is really the enthusiasm of the presenters, and how much they care about their students’ learning, that inspires me to follow in their footsteps,” said Toteva.

For some, the workshop was an eye-opening experience. Workshop participant Barry Zink of the University of Denver said, “I traveled to DC having already taught a year of calculus-based introductory physics, with what I felt were reasonably good results, and good evaluations from students… I felt the teaching part of the job was probably most under control. The New Faculty workshop convinced me that I was wrong, I probably hadn’t taught my students much either! Though it might seem hard to imagine, this was a positive thing, as I feel I came away with many ideas on how to improve my students’ understanding of physics that I can implement in the limited time available,” said Zink.

Although professors may not be able to make significant changes in the way they teach based on one short workshop, “we planted the seed,” said Hakim. He has noticed that over time, workshop participants are coming in more aware of the newer teaching methods, having been exposed through others who have adopted those methods. “The effort that we’ve put in for the last 12 years is starting to pay off,” said Hakim.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff