APS News

APS Topical Group is New Home For Physics Education Research

APS’s brand new Topical Group on Physics Education Research (GPER) was recently approved by Council and is now recruiting new members. So far, 160 people have joined the group, which needs a minimum of 200 to hold elections for its Executive Committee.

Eric Brewe, an assistant professor of science education at Florida International University, has been one of the main organizers of the new group.

“The topical group is the organization that is going to represent the interests of physics education researchers,” Brewe said, adding that until now the overlap between working physicists and education researchers has been limited because they tend to go to different meetings.

“Physics education research is a field of physics so we ought to be represented in the physics professional society,” Brewe said. “It’s really important to interact with people at the national meeting level.”

The main purpose of the new group is to bring in researchers whose primary focus is physics education research, as opposed to traditional physics. There is already a similar group in the American Association of Physics Teachers, and Brewe has worked with them to set up the topical group within APS. In addition, he has been working with APS’s Forum on Education.

“One of the things is to understand how different GPER is from the Forum on Education,” Brewe said. “While the two have a strong overlap, they’re not identical.”

The primary charge of the Forum on Education is to get physicists more involved with education at all levels, even though their primary research is elsewhere. The topical group however is primarily aimed at education researchers who specialize in physics, many of whom also have a background in physics.

“[It’s like] the difference between astronomers and the people who look at stars,” Brewe said. “I might go to a public talk about astronomy, but I wouldn’t necessarily go to a research talk on astronomy.”

Brewe, along with the other founders, started organizing the new group a year and a half ago. They wrote their first article about the formation of the group in the Summer 2012 Forum on Education newsletter. At about the same time, they also polled the membership about potential support for the new group.

Not long afterwards they started collecting signatures to petition the APS Council. Council approved the formation of the group at its meeting in April of this year.

The organizers expect to reach 200 members by the end of summer and are aiming to hold elections in November if all goes well. Looking ahead, Brewe said  that the group will be working with the Forum on Education for the April 2014 meeting, and will likely start organizing its own sessions at the 2015 meeting.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Science Writer: Michael Lucibella