Forum on Education of the American Physical Society
Fall 2007 Newsletter

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Teacher Resources on the Nucleus

David Donnelly

The Nucleus (www.compadre.org/student) is the ComPADRE collection targeted at undergraduate students majoring in physics and astronomy. It is assumed that undergraduates majoring in physics and astronomy might follow a wide array of career paths, so the types of resources included in the collection are correspondingly broad. From its inception, the collection has had two primary goals: Providing resources that will enhance the learning experiences of undergraduates, and providing tools and resources that will facilitate the establishment of an online community of physics and astronomy undergraduates.

The resources included on The Nucleus take a variety of forms, and can be classified in three broad categories. The first category of resources includes the same kind of digital resources contained in all of the ComPADRE collections. These can take the form of simulations, tutorials, and references and are classified by subject. In addition, each resource has metadata associated with it that allows it to be searched by learner level (for example, general public, high school, lower undergraduate, or upper undergraduate), resource type, subject area, and keywords. Users can also search other collections in ComPADRE, as well as other digital libraries. The second category of resource included on The Nucleus is books. This collection started out by including textbooks that might be used by undergraduates, but it is expanding to include a wider variety of textbooks, as well as popular books on science by authors such as Steven Hawking and Richard Feynman. The book section will also have reviews and comments submitted by users. The third class of resources can be thought of as “opportunities”. The collection currently houses two searchable databases. One database contains research opportunities. These are typically summer internships or other research opportunities that would be of interest to undergraduates. These opportunities are searchable by keyword, discipline, and state. The collection typically has had well over 100 opportunities posted each year the database has been operational. The second database lists scholarships that would be of interest to undergraduates and is, again, searchable by keyword, state, qualifications, etc.

The other area of focus of the collection is on building an online community of students. To facilitate this, the collection offers a number of activities in which students can participate and tools to allow students to communicate. Most of these resources are housed in a section of the web site called “The Lounge”. Here, a user will find polls, contests, discussion forums, and a monthly physics challenge. The polls may be related to popular culture (e.g. what's your favorite movie), student life (e.g. what's your favorite physics class), or physics knowledge. For example, our current poll is: The objects below are all released from rest at the same time at the top of a smooth ramp. Which one gets to the bottom first? a basketball, a hula hoop, a skateboard, a one gallon can of ketchup, or a one gallon can of soapy water. Users are asked to respond to the poll, and then discuss their response in the discussion forums. The contests are usually related to physics, but often have a humorous aspect to them. One of the most popular contests was the physics haiku contest. Many imaginative entries were submitted, and the four winners are listed below:

Classic mechanics,
To be so old and still work;
Will you retire?

Radiative heat
Streams forth from the dark abyss--
From whence does it come?

Now and then she squints
At the sight of bright sunlight
Photons hit her eyes

Rosy shoots of Dawn
Display the beauty that is
Rayleigh Scattering

The monthly physic challenge was modeled on the physics problems presented in “The Physics Teacher”. As an example, this month's challenge is shown below.
Three objects are released from rest at the top of an incline. The three objects are:

  1. A uniform sphere of mass M and radius R
  2. A uniform cylinder of mass M, length L and radius R.
  3. A disk of thickness L and radius R whose mass density depends on radial distance from the axis of the disk as follows:

In what order do the objects reach to bottom of the incline?

Another tool available for community building is the student club section of the collection. In this area, physics clubs from anywhere can establish a web presence. The tool for creating a club page is simple and easy to use. The majority of the clubs listed are SPS chapters, but there are also high school physics clubs and other organizations listed.
As the collection continues to grow and evolve, additional sections and resources are planned. Two areas that are currently under discussion are a searchable database of job opportunities for people who have bachelor's degrees in physics and astronomy. There are several sites that list job opportunities for people with graduate degrees, but none that target undergraduate degree holders. The other area under discussion is a section that will provide resources for students who are engaged in teaching. In many physics departments, part of the teaching duties, particularly laboratory sections, are carried out by undergraduate students. The Nucleus would like to provide resources for these students to enable them to teach more effectively, and perhaps consider teaching as a potential career path. Development of this section will be tied closely to The Physics Front.
The Nucleus continues to grow and evolve in an effort to meet the needs of its users. The editors of the collection are always interested in bringing more users to the collection, and in receiving user feedback. Faculty are encouraged to make their students aware of the collection and the resources it provides. Students are encouraged to visit the site, make use of the resources, and participate in the community.

David Donnelly is chair of the physics department at Texas State University. He has been at Texas State University since September, 2000. His research interests are novel materials and processes for electronic and opto-electronic applications. He also has served as editor of The Nucleus since 2002.

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