Reflection of a Physics Road Show workshop.
I consider the workshop held at Colorado State University in Fort Collins Colorado a great success. The first full day observing Brian Jones’s Little Shop of Physics open house was truly inspiring. I have always marveled at Brian’s program and the creative and organizational energy that goes into it. I was inspired to new ideas for low cost apparatus and also to develop a program where the public can interact more with fun physics apparatus. The education that undergraduate students get from running such an exhibition and explaining physics principles is as important as the program itself. During this day it was also nice to be able to slowly meet the participants of the workshop around these interactive demonstrations. I came out with new ideas for road show and interactive apparatus. Not just from Brian, but from all the attendees at the meeting. Ideas that were discussed that I will take home and I also think should be passed on in the proceedings report are listed below.
Difference between Physics Demos Shows and Hands-on Interactive displays.
This is a personal struggle for me for sometime. Being one who generally does shows, I was sensitive to comments from colleagues that these shows are not useful since students may not actually learn from a lecture style presentations filled with flashy demos. I always felt that there was truth in what they said, but I have received so much positive feedback from the shows that I was not convinced they were useful. Through discussions at this workshop, I have arrived at the conclusion that it all depends upon your focus.
The demo shows are great for lighting a spark of scientific interest to students. It also provides a name for the university and is a great public relations avenue. The public relations can go beyond assemblies at schools and into presentations for the general public as well as other groups such as senior citizen centers. The interactive display type of outreach is much better when you are actually concentrating your efforts on teaching particular principle to a smaller number of students. Of course combing the two can be the best approach. A large show to spark the interest and then the more interactive activities to give the student the opportunity to get a hands-on experience to learn some principles.
Nuts and Bolts
The session on nuts and bolts was very instructive. Moving equipment is always a huge part of taking physics show on the road, I would rate the following items as the most important.
1) As your road show gets established, purchase or build equipment that will only be used in the road show. Equipment for a road show needs to be a little more robust. If you put together equipment for just used for the show, than you do not need to repack every time you go. Items needed for the show will less likely b forgotten, busted equipment will not hamper someone else, and the person doing the show will have more confidence in the equipment being used.
2) Build the packing into the demo! This is a great idea where if you are building a demonstration, or mounting a demonstration onto a platform, do it in the actual packing crate. When you are loading you simply put the lid on the demo and you are done. An example could be mounting a demonstration on the lid of a packing crate. Packing is done by just putting the lid and the crate back together.
3) Get a vehicle. Find the funding for a van as soon as you are starting to have a show where you are doing a considerable amount of off campus activities. The wear and tear on a personal vehicle can be very high. Funding a van could come from the alumni association, the university student-recruiting group, used motor pool vans, and even perhaps the college dean. One member mentioned having rolling mail carts and a wheelchair lift mounted on the van to help with loading.
4) Publicizing your program. Better results are obtained by getting information to school parent organizations. Principals and teachers have many things to read and think about. Parents are motivated to get some extra programs into the schools. Perhaps getting on the agenda of a districts principals meeting may also help.
5) Staffing. Using student volunteers has its problems with dependability and expertise. A paid staff offers stability and responsibility. Also a program where student earn credit for the outreach has some success. The credits need to really help them with their academic career.
6) Goals and Assessment. These discussions were controversial at times. Understanding that assessment is a key ingredient in obtaining outside funding, it is an issue that needs attention. Establishing your goal and then implementing as assessment process regarding that goal. The goal does not have to be directly increasing a students understanding of physics. Goals could possibly be ones that increasing awareness of science such as creating a popular public display, increasing the use of apparatus in teaching physics or physical science in schools, or reaching 50 teachers a year with workshops on obtaining and using apparatus in a classroom.
7) Respecting the teachers. The importance of not alienating the teachers you are working with is extremely important. Coming with attitude that you are going to help the poor teacher and that you know more than them is detrimental to any program. Indeed, many teachers can feel intimidated with your program and fear that you may get the students asking questions they cannot answer. The communication channel for having this not occur is essential.
The Future and Physics 2005
The enthusiasm for this was very high. I believe everyone wants to be a part of this project and it will be interesting to see what occurs in the upcoming communications between participants. The networking done at this meeting was very high. I think people interacted extremely well and I believe a high collaboration is possible over the next few years
The Sharathon session
This was a good part of the meeting and came at the best time, at the end of it all. People at this point were very tired of thinking and talking and taking some time to look at demo ideas and having a little fin seeing some real creative ways of doing what we do was great.
In closing I was truly impressed meeting this set of colleagues in one place. It was fascinating to see programs that were totally run by students. It was great to meet people beyond the folks who generally only attend the AAPT meetings. I cannot say enough good things about this workshop and I truly hope we get to do it again. I would ask that the APS find ways at their future meetings to promote the importance of road show programs and the personnel involved in activities such as demonstrations and school outreach programs. Getting the information to research faculty members and department chairs, who will then hopefully pass along information and in that way we could get more individuals involved in instructional support and apparatus active on a national level
Department of Physics
University of Oregon
Eugene Oregon 97403-1274
541-346-4757 (Demonstration Room)