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Meeting Highlights

127th AAPT National Meeting — Madison, WI
Aug. 2–6, 2003

A Capital City — Madison, WI — welcomed more than 1200 participants to the 127th AAPT National Meeting. The weather was excellent during the entire meeting, with daytime temperatures in the mid-80s and low humidity. The meeting format departed from the usual campus setting and was held in the Monona Terrace Convention Center on the shores of Lake Monona, only two blocks from the capitol. The convention center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, provided a convenient place for attendees to meet with friends and establish connections that are an important part of AAPT meetings. AAPT staff received many favorable comments about this format and the excellent facilities from those in attendance.

In the week preceding the AAPT meeting, the Summer Institute of the Rural PTRA Initiative was held on the campus of Edgewood College. This year 80 Physics Teaching Resource Agents (PTRA) were joined by physics teachers from the top scoring schools in the AAPT Physics Bowl. Michael Thompson of Wootton High School, Rockville, MD, and Glen Malin of University High School, Irvine, CA, received all expense paid trips courtesy of Texas Instruments. The PTRAs, Thompson, and Malin attended an intensive week of workshops presented by their fellow PTRA and other professional educators.

The PTRA program is extending into more rural areas by establishing Rural Centers at colleges and universities throughout the United States with funding by the current NSF grant. By the end of the grant, 30 centers will be established, and many teachers from predominantly rural areas will join with veteran PTRA in this very successful AAPT program. More than 500 teachers have participated in one or more of the PTRA Summer Institutes. Additional information about the PTRA program, including pictures from this year’s institute, can be found at PTRA website (http://www.aapt.org/PTRA/index.cfm).

About 200 graduate students and faculty attended the 2003 Physics Education Research Conference at the end of the AAPT meeting to share information and discuss a variety of physics education research issues. Poster sessions and breakout groups were utilized to encourage participation and aid in the exchange of ideas. The conference organizers are publishing proceedings from the conference, and additional information is available on the conference website (http://perlnet.umephy.maine.edu/perc2003/). A similar meeting is being planned in conjunction with the 2004 AAPT Summer Meeting in Sacramento, CA.

Workshop and Continuing Education Opportunities There were more than 1000 registrants for the 54 workshops and tutorial sessions that were offered during the two days prior to the paper presentations. Workshops were held on the campuses of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Edgewood College, in addition to those held in the meeting rooms of the Monona Terrace Convention Center. William Grogan from the university and Karen Stremikis from Edgewood College were especially helpful in making arrangements for the off-site workshops. Workshops presenting ways in which students can be actively engaged in their learning and workshops using computer-related technologies to teach physics concepts were very popular and included the following: Video-Based Motion Analysis for Homework and Classroom Use; Using RTOP to Improve Physics and Physical Science Teaching; VPython: 3D Programming for Ordinary Mortals; The Haunted Physics Lab; Preparing Pre-College Teachers to Teach Physics by Inquiry; Physics on the Road; and What Every Physics Teacher Should Know About Cognitive Research.

Members of the Physics Instructional Research Association (PIRA) again presented a two-day lecture demonstration workshop that was very popular, and two workshops on introductory and intermediate educational laboratories attracted many participants. Thirteen first-time meeting attendees received Bauder Fund stipends to participate in these workshops. Twelve commercial workshops added additional educational opportunities for meeting attendees.

The Paper Sessions
The meeting offered 93 invited papers, 258 contributed papers, 94 poster papers, and 13 crackerbarrels organized into 83 sessions. Many of the sessions had papers that involved the use of the web or computer applications in the classroom and laboratory. Popular sessions of this type included: PER-Driven Web-Based Curriculum; Physics in the National Science Digital Library; Uses of Open Source in Teaching; New Technologies for Authoring Curricular Materials; and Spreadsheets in Lab and Lecture.

Sessions devoted to pedagogical issues included PER: Student Characteristics and Behavior; PER: Modern Physics and Quantum Mechanics; Using Real, Recent Astronomy Data for Education I and II; PER: Curriculum Assessment and Student Difficulties; Bridging the Worlds of Student and Expert: A Celebratory Session; and PER: E&M and Labs.

Sessions that addressed recent developments in physics were well attended as were sessions of general interest such as Neutrinos and the Cosmos; Family Physics; Extremal Physics: The Principle of Least Action in Undergraduate Education; Hot Topics in Physics; Physics Meets Physiology in the Undergraduate Curriculum; and Physics and Society Education: The Environment and Other Societal Issues.

Several sessions provided information on programs for teacher preparation and support for novice teachers, including Innovative Teaching; Student Participation Activities in Physics; High School Topics; PER: Teacher Preparation Curriculum Development and Evaluation; Teaching Physics to Middle School Teachers; and Introductory Courses for Pre-Service Science Teachers. The meeting also provided an opportunity for undergraduate students to showcase their research in a session titled SPS Undergraduate Research.

The abstracts for all papers presented at the 2003 Summer Meeting (as well as all previous AAPT meetings since 1997) are available at http://www.aapt.org/AbstractSearch.

Award and Plenary Sessions
At Monday’s Ceremonial Session, John Roeder, recipient of the Excellence in Pre-College Physics Teaching Award, discussed how energy can be used as the underlying theme in a physics course in his talk Energy — A Basic Physics Concept and a Social Value. Roeder first started teaching students about the importance of energy and emphasizing the physics underlying it after the Arab oil embargo in 1973. He has been a Physics Teaching Resource Agent (PTRA) since 1985 and recently developed a PTRA manual on the topic of energy. He donated his monetary award to the PTRA program. Roeder currently teaches at The Calhoun School in New York City.

Michael Zeilik, recipient of the Excellence in Undergraduate Physics Teaching Award, discussed how continual improvements in learning outcomes requires formative and summative assessment in his talk Assessment as the “Hidden Variable” in Conceptual Physics Achievement. Zeilik shared with the audience how he has used various forms of assessment and the results of physics and astronomy education research in the development of a new introductory conceptual physics course “From Quarks to the Cosmos.” He presented field-tested classroom assessment techniques that enhanced achievement in this introductory physics, active-learning context. Zeilik is the author of a popular introductory astronomy textbook and currently teaches at the University of New Mexico.

Jack Hehn, AIP Director of Education, presented Ron Miller with the 2003 AIP Children’s Science Writing Award. Miller received the award for his Worlds Beyond series of books that visit suns, planets, and other wondrous bodies in space, from their formation billions of years ago to the present day.

At Tuesday’s Ceremonial Session, Sylvester James Gates, University of Maryland, delivered the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture, Why Einstein Would Love Spaghetti in Fundamental Physics. Gates discussed some fundamental questions of physics that cannot be answered without having a model in which the gravitational force is consistent with the principles of quantum theory. He then discussed how the “superstring theory” model might be uniquely capable of answering these fundamental questions. This award is given in memory of Paul Klopsteg, a principal founder, a former President, and a longtime active member of AAPT. Recipients are chosen to give a major lecture at the AAPT Summer Meeting on a topic of current significance suitable for nonspecialists.

Fred M. Goldberg, San Diego State University, gave the Robert A. Millikan Award Lecture, Research and Development in Physics Education: Focusing on Students’ Thinking. Goldberg reviewed methods that physics education researchers have used to gather data on student learning, and how these data can be used to make claims about student learning and develop new instructional materials. He then shared some video snippets from his current projects that showed elementary, middle school, and college students engaged in making sense of physics tasks. The Millikan Award recognizes teachers who have made notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics.

Three plenary sessions highlighted the diverse nature of physics. Luis Prieto-Portar, Florida International University, showed slides and discussed the building of the World Trade Center in his talk Building the World Trade Center. Prieto-Portar worked as civil engineer during the design and building of the WTC and shared with the audience the many problems that were encountered in the construction and the unique solutions that were employed to solve those problems. The lessons learned and designs employed in building the WTC have contributed significantly to the building of modern skyscrapers.

John H. Marburger III, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, gave the Max Dresden Memorial Lecture. Marburger was the president of State University of New York–Stony Brook when Max Dresden was on the faculty at that institution. In his remarks, Marburger commented on how the content in introductory physics courses has not changed significantly in more than 50 years, even though there have been many advances and discoveries that might make physics a more interesting subject to study for most students. He urged the educators in the audience to consider incorporating more modern physics topics into their introductory courses. Prior to Marburger’s talk, Harvey Leff, California State Polytech University, shared personal reflections on Max Dresden. Dresden served as Leff’s thesis advisor while at the University of Iowa.

Gelsomina “Pupa” De Stasio, University of Wisconsin–Madison, discussed the use of cutting edge technology to determine the microscopic distribution of elements in her talk Knights of the Periodic Table. De Stasio uses “soft” x-rays produced by the Synchrotron Radiation Center at Stoughton, WI, to study materials ranging from bacteria to geologic specimens in the nanometer region. The instrument used for these investigations is called the Spectromicroscope for the PHotoelctric Imaging of Nanostructures with X-rays (SPHINX) and uses X rays to illuminate the sample surface and stimulate the emission of electrons by the photoelectric effect.

Exhibits and Contests
The High School Physics Photo and Video Contests attracted a great deal of attention and many favorable comments. Vernier Software & Technology provides prizes for the winners. The photos were conveniently located near the exhibit hall where vendors displayed their products in more than 40 exhibit spaces. The exhibit area, with available refreshments, provided a good central location to meet colleagues and talk about teaching physics during morning and afternoon breaks in the concurrent sessions. The three poster sessions also took place in the exhibit area, with one third of the posters being displayed each day of the meeting.

The AAPT Committee on Apparatus conducted the annual Apparatus Competition. PASCO scientific provides prizes for the Apparatus Competition. The entries were on display in the PIRA Resource Room near the exhibit area. See p. 26 for information on the contest winners.

In Conclusion
More than 400 meeting participants attended the picnic on Tuesday evening, which had to be moved inside due to threatening weather. Following the picnic, Clint Sprott from the University of Wisconsin–Madison Physics Department presented The Wonders of Physics demo show to a standing room only crowd of more than 600 people. The professional presentation of the favorite demonstrations of many physics educators delighted everyone in the audience. Other opportunities available to meeting attendees included tours of Yerkes Observatory, the Synchrotron Radiation Center, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin.

The Madison community was very welcoming to participants, and there were many hotels and eating places within easy walking distance of the convention center. The meeting was well organized by AAPT staff with assistance from the convention center staff. The 2004 Winter Meeting will be held Jan. 24–28 in Miami Beach, FL. The 2004 Summer Meeting will be held July 31–Aug. 4 in Sacramento, CA. The full program of workshops, invited and contributed papers, and plenary sessions will appear in the winter issue of the Announcer and at http://www.aapt.org. I look forward to seeing many of you in January.

Warren W. Hein, Associate Executive Officer