2009 APS Meeting in Denver

DenverThe FEd sponsored or co-sponsored with other APS units 19 invited talks at the Denver meeting. These talks were exciting, informative, and challenging to hear but only reached a fraction of our FEd members and the APS membership as a whole. Yet there is much to learn from these talks. In order that they do not disappear into a “black hole” they are being archived on an APS server. Below are summaries of the sessions with links to the talks you can follow to those that whet your curiosity. I hope these will be useful to those who did not attend the meeting, missed a particular talk or session, or heard the talk and want a reminder of key points presented. The 4-day meeting on May 2–5 was held in the Denver Sheraton Hotel

Session C7. Teaching the Physics of Energy
Jointly sponsored by the FEd and DNP
Session Chair and Summary: Lawrence Cardman, Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

The physics of energy is of great relevance to a broad variety of issues facing society today. As a consequence, teaching the physics of energy is an increasingly popular topic for physics courses aimed at non-majors at the undergraduate level; it has also proved useful to excite students in K–12 education about science in general. This session included presentations on three aspects of the teaching of energy: a highly technical course recently developed at MIT for a sophisticated audience; a course that utilizes the Second Life simulation capabilities available on the web to provide interactive learning of nuclear energy and nuclear physics; and a discussion of the experiences of a group of scientists and engineers in Santa Fe working to enhance K–12 education both locally and at the state level, including lessons to be learned from that effort to date.

Teaching the Physics of Energy at MIT, Robert Jaffe, MIT
Course web page: http://physicsofenergy.mit.edu/about.php

Robert Jaffe and Washington Taylor have developed a unique new course at MIT on the "Physics of Energy." It is unusual in its high technical level, and is open to all MIT students who have taken MIT's common core of university-level calculus, physics, and chemistry but avoids higher level prerequisites in order to make the subject relevant to students in the life sciences, economics, etc. as well as physical scientists and engineers. The course interweaves the teaching of fundamental physics principles on the foundations of energy science with the applications of those principles to energy systems, and presents the basics of statistical, quantum, and fluid mechanics at a fairly sophisticated level while applying those concepts to the study of energy sources, conversion, transport, losses, storage, conservation, and end use. Almost all of the material for the course was developed from scratch. The course debuted this past fall. The talk describes the course and presents what the authors learned from the experience of teaching it for the first time, providing information for others contemplating a course aimed at teaching energy physics to a technically sophisticated audience.

Use of Second Life for Interactive Instruction and Distance Learning in Nuclear Physics and Technology, Robert C. Amme, University of Denver

The developing nuclear power renaissance, coupled with related environmental consequences, the stagnant growth of nuclear physics and nuclear technology instruction for the past 20 years, and the broad public ignorance of the relevant issues, has resulted in a need for new approaches to the teaching in these areas. In particular, it is essential that students be prepared to deal with the regulatory environment and safety standards that must be addressed prior to new plant certification. Regrettably, too few individuals who are trained in environmental science are adequately prepared in the basic concepts of nuclear physics to deal with such issues as radioactive waste storage and transportation, biological effects of ionizing radiation, geological repositories, nuclear fuel reprocessing, etc. which are of great concern to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

To address these needs, the author and his colleagues are developing a master's degree, to be taught online, in the area of environmental impact assessment as it relates to these and other issues. The associated laboratory exercises have been developed within the virtual world developed by Linden Laboratory entitled Second Life; it is here that the student, as an avatar, will gain knowledge of the nature of ionizing radiation, radioactive half-lives, gamma and beta ray spectroscopy, neutron activation, and radiation shielding, using virtual apparatus and virtual radiation sources. Additionally, a virtual Generation III+ power reactor has been constructed on an adjoining Second Life island (entitled Science School II), which provides the visitor with a realistic impression of its inner workings. This presentation provides the details of this construct and how it is incorporated into the distance-learning curriculum. The presentation included a YouTube clip of the Virtual Area Nuclear Power Plant in Second Life.

K-12 Math and Science Education: A Physicist Meets Reality, Robert Eisenstein, Santa Fe Alliance for Science

Can professional engineers, mathematicians, and scientists have a positive impact on K–12 math and science education? The experience of the Santa Fe Alliance for Science, and several other like-minded organizations, indicates that they can indeed. But success is by no means assured. Good scientists are not automatically good educators, but they can learn enough about pedagogy, classroom, and community to do well. For example, their experiences working on research topics of great societal interest (e.g., the energy supply or global warming) can be a great attraction to young people. Robert Eisenstein's talk reviewed three major points: lessons learned, prospects for the future, and how our effort fits into state-wide plans for re-inventing K-12 math and science education in New Mexico.

Session D7 Teaching the Physics of Energy
Jointly sponsored by the FEd and DPB
Session Chair: Thomas Rossing, Stanford University

A Conspectus on US Energy, Howard Hayden, Editor and Publisher of The Energy Advocate

Hayden summarized US energy use beginning in 1850. Compared to our ancestors in 1850, we use over 40 times as much energy. Hayden discussed prospects for various alternative sources, including nuclear fission and T. Boone Pickens’ plan to displace imported petroleum indirectly by substituting wind for natural gas.

Teaching Photovoltaics: From Grammar School to Graduate School, Richard Ahrenkiel, Colorado School of Mines

Photovoltaics (PV) have certainly become the topic of the times in economic and political circles. In his talk Ahrenkiel described and illustrated various presentations on the topic to audiences ranging from grammar school to high school. Each audience presents a different set of challenges and requires a different type of presentation.

Session G6: Physics on the Road Conference: A Follow-Up to the World Year of Physics 2005
Session Chair: Ernest Malamud, University of Nevada, Reno
Session Summary: David Bennum, University of Nevada, Reno

If you were not able to attend the "Taking Physics on the Road" session (G6) sponsored by the FED at the APS April meeting in Denver this year, you missed some fun. The three invited talks were follow-ups to the "Taking Physics on the Road" workshop held at Colorado State University in 2003 in preparation for the World Year of Physics (2005). The first speaker, Brian Jones, was the CSU host of the 2003 event, Steve Shropshire from Idaho State University was the second speaker, and myself, David Bennum from University of Nevada-Reno, was the third. Each brought different programs to showcase and all three brought fun demonstrations or movie clips and pictures. The CSU program is one of the "grandfathers" of the genre, the ISU program is mature and diverse, and the UNR program is fairly new and diversifying into "Physics and Stars on the Road" in response to the Year of Astronomy interests. To view the presentations of each, connect to the links below. Soon to follow will be some movie links to demonstrations on YouTube from UNR, which are currently in production.

Half a Million Hands: On the Road with the Little Shop of Physics, Brian Jones, University of Colorado

Idaho State University Physics Road Show, Steve Shropshire, Idaho State University

Taking Physics and Now the Stars on the Road With the Magic Physics Bus, David Bennum, University of Nevada, Reno
University of Nevada, Reno Physics on the Road web page

Session H13: Focus Session: Professional Preparation of Teachers of Physics
Session Chair: David Haase, North Carolina State University

Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics: Preliminary Results, Stamatis Vokos, Seattle Pacific University

The nation currently produces a significantly smaller number of well-prepared teachers of physics than it needs. The AAPT, APS and AIP have instituted the Task Force on Teacher Education in Physics, which seeks to study exemplary teacher preparation programs and identify generalizable characteristics of them. The Task Force will author a report of its findings, which will be distributed to all physics departments and schools of education in the US. In addition, the Task Force will disseminate its findings through presentations, workshops, and other mechanisms, under the auspices of the sponsoring professional organizations. In this talk, preliminary results from site visits and other data collection means will be presented.

Vokos' introductory invited talk was followed by 6 contributed papers.

Session L8: Excellence in Physics Education Award
Session Chair: Arthur Bienenstock, Stanford University
Session Summary: Peter Collings, Swarthmore College

The 2009 Excellence in Physics Education Award was given to the Two-Year College Workshop Team "for leadership in introducing physicists in two-year colleges to new instructional methods, in developing new materials based on physics education research, and in fostering faculty networking, particularly in two-year colleges." This session was a summary and celebration of the work of the group and included presentations by Curtis Hieggelke, Thomas O'Kuma, and David Maloney, who represented the group.

Physics at the Community College, Thomas L. O'Kuma, Lee College

After describing community colleges in general and physics programs at community colleges specifically, the presentation outlined two projects of the Two-Year College Workshop Team. These included the microcomputer-based laboratory (MBL) project and the conceptual survey of electricity and magnetism (CSEM) project.

Revitalizing Introductory Physics at Community Colleges and More, Curtis J. Hieggelke, Joliet Junior College

The main activities of the Two Year Community College Workshop were described, including (1) new microcomputer-based materials in rotation, work-energy, sound, and magnetism (MBL), (2) the conceptual survey of electricity and magnetism (CSEM), (3) tasks inspired by physics education research (TIPERs), and (4) the physics workshop project (PWP).

Promoting Incremental Research-Based Instructional Innovation, David P. Maloney, Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne

Three areas in which physics education research can provide insight are students' initial knowledge state, student epistemologies, and problem solving. Interactive engagement is a technique that grew out of some of these insights, and workshops were designed to provide instructors with the resources and experiences to implement some interactive engagement techniques. Also, among the many tasks inspired by physics education research (TIPERs) are conflicting contentions tasks, qualitative reasoning tasks, working backwards tasks, and troubleshooting tasks.

Session Q6: Introductory Physics for Pre-Health and Biological Science Students
Session Chair: Robert Hilborn, University of Texas at Dallas
Session Summary: Ken Heller, University of Minnesota

This session sponsored by the FEd featured three speakers addressing the teaching of introductory physics to pre-medical and biological science students. Both biology and medicine are rapidly progressing fields, which have engendered a great deal of discussion about the need to modernize the academic preparation of these students. Robert Hilborn is the physicist in the group formed by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to propose major revisions to the entry requirements for medical school. Students majoring in biological science represent one of the fastest growing populations at many universities and thus directly impact physics departments. Although the number of pre-medical students has not grown as rapidly, there is a great deal of overlap in the populations since most pre-med students have a biological science major.

Pre-Medical Education in the Physical Sciences for Tomorrow's Physicians, Sharon Long, Stanford University

Sharon Long, professor of biological sciences and former dean at Stanford, gave a preview of the soon-to-be-released study dramatically revising the science requirements for entry into medical school. Professor Long is currently co-chair of this study, the Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians (SFFP) project sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Professor Long was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences study, BIO2010, that outlined the needs of students majoring in the biological sciences, and her talk reflected that study. Her message was that medical schools will eliminate course requirements, such as one year of physics, and change to competency based requirements, such as "apply quantitative reasoning and appropriate mathematics to describe or explain phenomena in the natural world." This is similar to the changes instituted several years ago by engineering, ABET accreditation requirements that also eliminated course requirements in favor of specified competencies. It is not yet clear how students will demonstrate that they have acquired the necessary competencies since there is no pre-medical school accrediting body such as ABET for undergraduate programs. One direct consequence of this report will be substantial changes in the exam that students take for medical school entry, the MCAT. It is clear that if physics departments are to retain their population of pre-medical students in the future, they will need to be aware of these competencies and make sure they are addressed in their courses.

Designing an Introductory Physics Course for Biological Science Students, Kenneth Heller, University of Minnesota

Ken Heller, professor of physics at the University of Minnesota, gave a review of the process and results of an ongoing effort to revise the introductory physics course taught to biology and pre-medical students. The course is based on the recommendations of the BIO2010 study, a survey of biological sciences faculty, and the input of physics faculty teaching the course. It seems to conform to the SFFP competencies reported by Professor Long. This course emphasizes the fundamental principles of physics and analytical problem solving in the context of biology. It is taught with the standard pedagogy of Cognitive Apprenticeship, used throughout the University of Minnesota physics curriculum. The course uses much of the traditional framework of an introductory physics course but emphasizes addressing complex systems using fundamental physics. This requires more emphasis on topics such as conservation of energy, thermodynamics (including a statistical treatment of entropy), fluids, optics, and circuits with the consequent reduction of emphasis on constant-acceleration kinematics, rotational motion, and electrostatics. Some important topics such as momentum, angular momentum, and Gauss' law have been eliminated. Although the course emphasizes analytical problem solving, the students show very good conceptual gains on standard tests such as the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) and Brief Electro-Magnetism Assessment (BEMA).

The Care and Feeding of Pre-Meds, Stephanie Magleby, Brigham Young University

Stephanie Magleby from Brigham Young University reviewed the characteristics of pre-medical students taking an introductory physics class and gave suggestions for reducing the friction caused by the mismatch of expectations between the student and the professor. She pointed out that these students have been brought up to have a positive self-image. They feel entitled to succeed and yet are desperately competitive. They do not recognize the contradiction between competition and the expectation that each student feels entitled to win. This leads to behavior that can be antithetical to the learning process. Every student expects to be the best, expects to be able to choose their own path, and regards requirements as not applying to them. To bridge the gap between student and instructor expectations, she recommends giving students as many choices as possible, making it obvious to students that you listen to them as individuals, giving students a lot of praise, having a thick skin to not take students' inappropriate comments personally, and constantly reminding the students that a class is not a democracy. Because they expect perfection from themselves and from the instructor, they will do any assignments required to get an A, but will hold the instructor responsible if they do not. This is a wired generation that expects immediate responses from the instructor. It is useful to post everything on the web, return grades for tests and assignments promptly, and answer email quickly. It is also important to have an airtight syllabus that clearly explains what is required of the student and exactly how their grade will be determined.

Focus Session R13: Adopting PER-Based Teaching Methods and Materials
Chair: Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado

Sustaining Educational Transformations: Evidence and Approaches at CU Boulder, Steven Pollock, University of Colorado

Research in educational innovations provides mechanisms to systematically improve education in large introductory physics classes. But what is involved in adopting, and than adapting, research-based transformations to suit local constraints? How do we assess the impact of the curricula, and how do we promote and sustain changes across time, with a broad variety of faculty? Pollock reported on local efforts to implement two well-studied PER-based innovations: Peer Instruction and Washington Tutorials. Our course transformations are facilitated through our local model of undergraduate Learning Assistants, promoting reforms while recruiting and supporting future K–12 teachers.

Pollock’s invited talk was followed by 6 contributed talks.

Session W7: Teaching Physics and the Arts
Session Chair: Thomas Rossing, Stanford University

Teaching Physics of Music, Thomas D. Rossing, Stanford University

Courses in musical acoustics (physics of music) are an especially appealing way to introduce physics to students who are interested in music and entertainment but do not think they are interested in science, as well as students who are preparing to be performing musicians. Musical acoustics includes: the study of sound production by musical instruments; the transmission of sound from performer to listener (via the concert hall or via recorded media); and the perception of sound and music by the listener (psychoacoustics).  Rossing reviewed some of the materials available for such courses, including textbooks, videotapes and DVDs, simple apparatus for demonstration experiments, and materials for laboratory experiments.

Communicating Science with the Arts, Christopher Chiaverina, New Trier High School

Chris Chiaverina followed with a discussion of the connections between the seemingly disparate disciplines of art and science. Three approaches to incorporating the arts in physics instruction were examined. Each approach was accompanied by concrete examples of interdisciplinary classroom activities.

Dance as a Road to Science, Kenneth Laws, Dickinson College

One of the challenges facing the science community is finding ways of demonstrating for non-scientists the logic and appeal of understanding how science applies to familiar phenomena. Dance movement involves many examples of physical principles that allow dancers and observers of dance to deepen their understanding of the natural world. To demonstrate the connection between science and art, we observed a ballet dancer performing several movements, which were then analyzed to illustrate why the movements are shaped the way they are and how dancers can improve their effectiveness through such analysis. This was a great show!

Some links:

Disclaimer - The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of APS.