Greetings from the Chair!
The Forum on Education continues to play an important role in the APS, and we thank our members who provide leadership in all aspects of education. The APS and the Forum have recently created an award to recognize contributions to Physics Education, and we are currently raising funds to endow the award. Any contribution of $100 or more entitles you to honor a teacher who has been influential in your life. A letter will be sent to the teacher and their family from the APS informing them of this distinction. What is more, the Forum has allocated $30,000 in matching funds, so your contribution will be doubled!
I can think of no better way to commemorate this important year in the history of physics than to honor a teacher. And what a momentous year it is. The 100th anniversary of Einstein’s “Miracle Year” of 1905 is being celebrated worldwide as the World Year of Physics. I recommend that FEd members visit the World Year of Physics site (http://www.physics2005.org/). There you can submit events of all kinds that will be registered as World Year of Physics events, from special lectures on 1905 for physics students to popular presentations for a public that is fascinated by Einstein.
The FEd has been doing its part to celebrate the World Year of Physics with this issue of the newsletter, and special sessions at the APS meetings, like the very well attended “Teaching Special and General Relativity (I & II)” at the April meeting in Tampa. Other sessions highlighting recent developments in physics included “Education and Exploration of the Universe” (April) and “Teaching Classical Mechanics and Non-Linear Dynamics: Highlights from a Gordon Conference” (March). We are also co-sponsoring (with DAMOP) a special session at the summer AAPT meeting.
In total we sponsored or co-sponsored 14 sessions at the March and April meetings, of which 6 were Physics Education Research sessions. The field of Physics Education Research has grown rapidly in the past few years and has been recognized by an APS Council resolution as a field of physics that has a place in physics departments, and practitioners should be evaluated as professionals in other fields of physics are evaluated. Grants, mentoring of students, presentations, and peer-reviewed publications are the means by which we judge the scholarship of all physics faculty.
Given that Physics Education Research (PER) is a growing branch of physics, it was only a matter of time before the APS would provide a venue for publication of research results. This year, a new journal, Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research was launched with the endorsement and support of the Forum. This all-electronic journal will provide a vehicle for the publication of high quality papers that will be held to the standard we expect of the Physical Review. The journal will be open to all who want to read it, and I hope that physics faculty will use this research to improve physics education at all levels, but especially at the undergraduate level.
A particular focus of mine is undergraduate education. Physics is in many ways a leader in undergraduate education, and I see the Forum as an important vehicle for effecting change. Over the coming year the Forum will help disseminate information about effective pedagogy that departments can implement as they improve their programs. As physicists we know the value of building on the research of others. Why should it be any different in education? Those physics faculty who are not physics education researchers (the vast majority) can and should use the results of PER to improve the quality of the education they deliver. And by improving undergraduate physics education we may retain a larger fraction of students as graduate students. In 2000 and 2001 the AIP statistics show a significant increase in Physics undergraduate degrees, but a decrease in Ph.D. degrees. The number of Ph.D. degrees is expected to rise in 2005, but unless we continue to recruit and retain outstanding undergraduate students, the increase in degrees could be ephemeral.
Beyond the academic concerns of physics departments, which is and should be a focus of the APS, there is a need for the involvement of physicists in broader debates about science education. We bring a perspective, and a public esteem, that should be brought to bear to ensure that science education in schools is of high quality and free of the intrusions of pseudoscience, like “Intelligent Design.” So get involved. Find out how you can contribute to science education and let the Forum be your partner. If you have an issue, bring it to the attention of a member of the Executive Committee. If you have an idea for an education session at an APS meeting, send an email. For our part, we will continue to raise the profile of education with sessions at APS meetings, publications like this newsletter, and the nomination of outstanding Fellows of the APS. I hope all of you reading this take a moment to consider nominating a colleague who has made contributions to education at the national or international level. And I especially hope that some of you reading this will want to run for office to help maintain the Forum on Education as a lively and member-driven organization.
Ramon E. Lopez is Professor in the Department of Physics and Space Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida and Chair of the Forum on Education.