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By Abigail Dove
The Forum on Education (FEd) is a home for APS members interested in all dimensions of physics education—from physics pedagogy at the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels to the mentoring of early career scientists to expanding appreciation of physics in other scientific disciplines.
Formed in 1992, FEd helps members gain awareness of the many ways APS is involved in education. Additionally, three of FEd’s four chair-line members (chair, chair-elect, and past chair) sit on the APS Committee on Education.
Some of the many educational initiatives within APS include PhysTEC (phystec.org), a project to improve and promote the education of physics teachers, STEP UP, a high-school level program that encourages high school girls to pursue physics in their undergraduate years, and the Bridge Program, which offers mentorship and transition programs to increase the number of students from under-represented minorities who pursue physics PhDs. More information about the full range of APS programs can be found on the Education webpage.
Of particular note is the Effective Practices for Physics Programs (EP3) Project, a collaboration between APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) to document evidence-based recommendations and best practices for undergraduate physics education. Recognizing that what makes for a thriving physics program at a private university is not necessarily the same as that for a liberal arts college, a large state school, or a community college, EP3 is developing a resource that will help a wide variety of physics programs strive for excellence given their particular opportunities and constraints.
At a time when a scientifically literate population is so crucial, many APS members have a greater stake in education than first meets the eye.
“Physicists who aren’t teaching undergraduates are still mentoring and training graduate students and post-docs, or new hires in industry,” explained FEd chair-elect Catherine Crouch (Swarthmore College). “Also, maybe as a taxpayer in a school district, or as the parent of school-age children, you would like to know what APS is doing to support the development of excellent high school physics teachers. There are many reasons for APS members to care about education even if they aren’t directly involved in instruction.”
Furthermore, in the age of coronavirus many APS members may be thinking especially deeply about physics education–particularly the urgent issue of how to optimize pedagogy for the remote online circumstances so many now find themselves in. “Human interaction is a very important part of learning,” noted Crouch. “What we’ve learned about physics education in general is that student/faculty interaction is a precious resource. We need to know how to most effectively maintain as much as we can of the quality of in-person instruction over video conference.”
FEd has a strong presence at the annual APS March and April Meetings, where it sponsors sessions to update the community on the many APS education initiatives, as well as a range of timely issues in the education arena. For example, recent FEd-sponsored sessions have addressed challenges and best practices for preparing future physics teachers, computation in the physics curriculum, and teaching physics to biologists. Several FEd-sponsored sessions from last month’s social-distancing-friendly APS April Virtual Meeting are still available to registered attendees to watch at the meeting website, featuring topics such as data science in physics education and the necessity of supporting equity and inclusion in physics.
Beyond stimulating content at APS meetings, FEd publishes a regular newsletter detailing a variety of topics in physics education, including resources for physics teachers and professors, reports from recent conferences and working groups on physics pedagogy, and perspectives on engaging more women and under-represented minorities in the field. FEd chair Gerald Feldman (George Washington University) pointed out that the forum also sponsors two education-related awards: the Excellence in Physics Education Award, for a “sustained commitment to excellence in physics education,” and the Reichert Award for Excellence in Advanced Laboratory Instruction, for “outstanding achievement in teaching, sustaining, and enhancing an advanced undergraduate laboratory course.”
Looking forward, the FEd Executive Committee hopes the future holds continued membership growth and opportunities for even greater engagement with the APS community as a whole on education-related issues. The forum’s large membership base of 4,000 still represents only seven percent of all APS members–a “surprising” statistic, according to Feldman, given the number of APS members who have a stake in education as university faculty, advisors to graduate students, post-docs, and early-career scientists, and as products of education themselves. “APS has an impressive array of educational activities that maybe members aren’t aware of,” he noted. “People should want to know about what’s happening in education, and we want to hear from them!”
Joining FEd, like all APS forums, is free of charge. “What I would love to see is for FEd to be an opportunity for all APS membership to recognize the many different dimensions of physics education, broadly speaking, and find their spot within it,” noted Crouch. “What is the dimension of education they’re involved in, that they care about, and how can they leverage what APS offers to be part of it?”
Overall, FEd stands out as an important opportunity for physicists to share ideas and resources about education, and a valuable conduit for APS members to learn about and contribute to the work of APS in the educational domain. More information on this unit can be found here.
The author is a freelance writer in Stockholm, Sweden.
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