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Hello and Welcome to the Spring APS Forum on Education Newsletter! I’d like to introduce myself to you (and in the process invite submissions for future Newsletters).
I am a Professor at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in Chicago. At a recent FEd meeting, I raised my hand to say “I’ll help” (perhaps having been lulled into comfort by both the refreshments and the friendly collegial atmosphere), and the new FEd chair Larry Woolf heard me (and made note of my offer), so here I am.
NEIU is an urban, commuter, state supported school of about 10,000 students, with major programs in all the sciences, (and a few graduate programs – regrettably not currently in physics). NEIU began as a teachers college, and we retain our strong programs in education. My own background is in Low Temperature Physics, and my current research interests are superconductivity (point contacts between superconductors and ferromagnets), and granular materials (which is closely linked to fluid dynamics). My teaching interests include education of pre-service middle-school math/science teachers (which is how I also happen to be on the AAPT Committee on Pre-High School Education) and the “Advanced Labs” (which includes participation in ALPhA, the Advanced Labs Physics Association, www.advlab.org, -- see more information of ALPhA and its activities below). You are likely to find me at an APS March Meeting, at an AAPT Summer or Winter Meeting, or at one of the many Chicago area section and local ‘alliance’ meetings. You may also have met me at the Topical Conference on Advanced Labs in Ann Arbor.
I think I knew quite early that my passion would be teaching (once I had decided to not follow my dad into the practice of Law), but as I proceeded through graduate school, I knew that a research component would also be essential to keeping me from stagnating as an educator.
That has proven to be true. My time spent doing research, and in particular regular attendance at research conferences, invigorates and enhances my classroom time, as much as attendance at more educationally-focused meetings like AAPT or NSTA.
I’m sure that this is true for many (probably most) of us, so I will try to not preach to the choir. However, there is all too often a delay and disconnect between ‘researchers’ and ‘educators’, especially involving pre-graduate education. I strive quite hard to ‘reconnect’. Upon returning from a research meeting, I will scan my notes to find what I can share that is “new and neat” at the “frontiers of research” with my class, be it an upper level class, an introductory class, a general education class, or my future-teachers class. This is not just a question of assuaging my guilt from possibly missing a class period, or for scheduling an exam or activity that does not need my presence. I make a point of bringing ideas from the “frontiers” to not only student research projects, but to new/modified lab experiences (at all levels), and to class demonstrations. I have even co-taught a class on High-Temperature Superconductivity (including making and testing the “1-2-3” Yttrium Barium Copper Oxide (YBCO) compound) for local high school students. If you are not already consciously doing this, I strongly invite you to do so- you likely will find that not only you but your students becoming reinvigorated. Maybe you will even find a few new physics majors!
I also invite you to share your ideas and insights. (Most of) my time this current year is being devoted to putting my thoughts/ideas/demonstrations to paper, to share in suitable venues – something I have put off for quite some time. I am finding this particular experience also invigorating. The FEd is here to help you, and we need you to help us (and the physics community) with your submissions to a future FEd newsletter.
Along with this invitation, let me also issue a Challenge to the Readers: As you attend your various research meetings this year, be thinking about what new techniques and phenomena can be incorporated into physics education. Not things you’d like your graduate students to try, but new demonstrations, new labs, improvements to existing labs – at any level. If you have not thought this way before, it may be easiest to consider this as additions to ‘advanced labs’, but you may be surprised where else something “current” could fit in. This could be as dramatic as an entirely new experiment, or as simple as an improved method for sample preparation, or perhaps a new application for an existing (possibly considered outdated) apparatus. Send me what you find, with a couple of sentences of explanation, (and a reference, if you have one), and we will plan to publish a list of these ideas in a future FEd newsletter. Let’s shorten the time from the “frontiers of research” to the physics lab and classroom.