FEd Fall 2002 Newsletter - Building Bridges within the Forum

Fall 2002



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Building Bridges within the Forum

Charles H. Holbrow

What can the Forum on Education and the AAPT do for each other? I was a member of the APS Committee on Education as we worked in 1990-91 to found the FEd, and I remember our aspiration was to involve research and industrial physicists in the rising efforts of their local communities to improve science education in general and physics education in particular.

The objective of the Forum shall be the advancement and diffusion of knowledge regarding the inter-relation of physics, physicists and education. The Forum shall provide for all members of the Society an opportunity for discussion of and involvement with matters of physics education.

The mission of the AAPT,

The objectives of this Association shall be the advancement of the teaching of physics and the furtherance of an appreciation for the role of physics in our culture certainly supports a similar goal for its members.

The perspectives of FEd and AAPT members can be rather different, however. About 3000 members of AAPT teach high-school physics, and they are on the front-lines of state and local efforts to reshape science education. Few of the approximately 4000 members of the FEd teach below the college level, and an appreciable fraction of them do not teach at all. At the local level their concerns are likely to be to see that their children are well educated. Many also wish to help enrich local school programs by bringing their own expertise into the school or by providing access to the facilities of industrial, university, or laboratory research organizations.

AAPT and APS staffs already co-operate in several important projects. For example: APS (Fred Stein), with significant contributions from AAPT and AIP, is leading the PhysTEC program to build links between physics departments and schools of education in order to improve the science preparation of K-8 teachers; AAPT (Bruce Mason), with significant help from APS, AAS and AIP, is developing for the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) a physics component that will provide physics teachers with curricula resources keyed to the age and preparation of their students.

But FEd and AAPT can benefit from direct cooperation. Let me mention just two of many possibilities. First, anyone reading the FEd Newsletter has to be struck by the thoughtfulness and the imagination of many of its articles. The FEd thus acts as a think-tank for physics education, a rich source of interesting ideas. AAPT publications -- The Physics Teacher, the American Journal of Physics and the AAPT Announcer -- are also sources of commentary about physics education. I believe that more exchange of articles, more cross publication would benefit members of both organizations.

Second, although AAPT and FEd share members of four-year colleges and universities in common, we also connect to different parts of the physics community. Where the FEd enlists the industrial, university and research laboratory physicists that do not generally join AAPT, an important portion of AAPT membership are energetic and imaginative physics teachers from secondary schools and two-year colleges. These non-overlapping constituencies of the FEd and the AAPT can benefit from communication with each other. AAPT national meetings provide a unique opportunity for people from the physics research community to meet and talk with a wide variety of physics teachers. Recently, at the behest of the FEd the APS has arranged for AAPT members to attend for free the FEd-sponsored sessions at the APS March 2003 meeting. AAPT is planning to respond with a similar gesture. By this kind of cooperation the FEd and the AAPT can foster better communication between various parts of the physics community, and everyone - especially physics students - will benefit.

If you have ideas for other ways AAPT and FEd might cooperate, I would be very pleased to receive them.

Charles Holbrow, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Colgate University, is President-elect of AAPT. He is an APS Fellow and a member of the Executive Committee of the Forum on Education. cholbrow@colgate.edu.