AAPT.org - American Association of Physics Teachers

STEM Classroom to Career: Opportunities to Close the Gap

by Rebecca Vieyra, with Michael Conn, 13 April 2017

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#13April2017

REGISTER HERE for an AAPT-hosted webinar on Thursday, 20 April, at 8PM ET, to learn what we currently know about persistence of students as they advance from the K-12 STEM classroom to a STEM career. As teachers, we frequently wonder about the impact of our teaching and the experiences we provide to students on their selection of careers in STEM.

During this webinar, join Michael Conn of the Student Research Foundation (SRF) to look at findings from a nationwide survey of high school students about their aspirations toward STEM career and educational paths. Learn as well about ways to encourage students to pursue STEM in general, and physics in particular. Data from student respondents, and from related research, suggests that equity efforts can strategically increase the STEM workforce and help students realize their full potential.

Interestingly, almost equal percentages of female and male high school students, and of historically under- and over-represented groups (in the STEM workforce), said that their current STEm studies will be important to their future careers. However, noteworthy differences emerge when we probe more deeply, suggesting points of potential intervention.

Other patterns emerge as we look specifically at high school physics-taking, and student persistence in physics, astronomy, and other physical science careers through undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral experiences. To supplement the research on the aspiration of K-12 students, Senior researcher, Patrick Mulvey, of the American Institute of Physics' Statistical Research Center will also provide information about key findings specific to physics.

Collectively, the Student Research Foundation collects data to further understand student career pathways in STEM. Michael Conn shares that this work is highly collaborative: "Destination Imagination, National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, National Girls Collaborative, and the Educational Reserach Center of America formed the Research Consortium on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Career Pathways to help spark a dialogue among students, parents, and educators about students' career paths. The Student Research Foundation serves as the overall facilitator of the research efforts, and is very excited to announce that the American Association of Physics Teachers has joined the Consortium for the next round of high-school surveys (back-to-school season 2017 onward)!"

Learn more about this research and how you can take part in helping to open the doors to STEM careers for your students by joining the conversation in this upcoming webinar.

Infographic Student Research Foundation

Too Much Green this St. Patrick's Day? Trying Looking through "Rose"(Red)-Colored Glasses

by Rebecca Vieyra, 16 March 2017

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#16March2017

St. Patrick's Day is inevitably as much a celebration of the color green as of St. Patrick himself. It is also an opportunity to take a close look at how green pigments and green light come about in our world, and how we perceive them. Pigments have been used throughout the ages to show status, wealth, and to decorate. The picture ot the right demonstrates a replica of what would have been arsenic-laden green pigment used in the Victorian era. Today, color selection is extremely important to the psychology of design, marketing, and much more.

The importance of light and color is thread across all of the science disciplines, from chemical mineralogy to biological optics to transmission, absorption, and reflection of light, as it is often studied in physics. Newton and Hooke were both key players in developing a color theory of light, a topic that between them resulted in significant public controversy. The pinnacle of Newton's experiments, however, were than sunlight is made of many colors of light, which can be separated by a prism. Placing a filter in the path of light doesn't "apply color to it," but rather serves as something of a "sieve" that only certain colors can go through (literally, serving as a "filter.")

Students today often struggle with Newton's findings on that matter. While many students have had experiences with diffraction gratings or "rainbow glasses" and can appreciate that white light is actually composed of many colors, they are more hesitant to understand the role of filters. Although teachers frequently use "theater gels" (i.e. thick pigmented plastic) to filter light, filters can be even more easily made from gelatin. Jell-O brand gelatin in the flavors of Cheery, Blue Raspberry, and Lime serve as excellent filters for the primary colors of light.

Thanks to an idea I borrowed from AAPT member Diane Riendeau in my own teaching, I regularly used Jell-O in my teaching about light. One of the most effective activities of Diane's that I used was to project three dots of primary colors of light (via an LCD projector and a PPT slide) onto a screen. I asked students to predict which colored dots would be visible through the gelatin, and to explain why, in detail. There was always a notable "whoah...!" from the class as the lights were turned out and the gelatin held up to students' eyes. To the delight of my students, the Cherry Jell-O only permitted the red spot of light to be seen, but not the blue or St. Patrick's green. This was not what they had predicted! Curious to know why? Try observing green light through a red filter using the PhET Color Vision simulation.

Curious to learn more about this lab idea? Check out Jelly Filter Science from the AAPT's Optics Collection, created in coordination with the Optical Society of America.

On St. Patrick's Day, you might try puzzling your students with yet another question that has implications for astrophysics and evolutionary biology: Why are most of Earth's plants green? (Why is chlorophyll green?) Start that conversation by learning more about our sun, a "white" star. To do so, AAPT members can check out the recently-released Star Spectra Science by logging in with their membership ID at the Lesson Page.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Green Wall

Colored Jello

Jello Color Slide

Red Filter Jello

Green Lotus

PAEMST: the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching

by Rebecca Vieyra, 9 March 2017

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#9March2017

REGISTER HERE for an AAPT-hosted webinar on Thursday, 23 March, at 8PM ET featuring the experiences of AAPT members who have received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). PAEMST is the highest award that can be bestowed upon a U.S. teacher. Recipients receive recognition from the White House and the National Science Foundation on a multi-day visit to Washington, DC, and includes a $10,000 cash prize.

During this webinar, learn about PAEMST as an opportunity for teacher professional development and leadership. The award process includes  the creation of a classroom video recording and a portfolio featuring the teachers' classroom, community, and wider educational leadership. Dozens of AAPT members have been recognized for their excellence through this program. Join this virtual gathering to learn more from the perspective of a number of AAPT awardees.

Physics teacher Juan Botella of Monona, WI, was named a recipient of PAEMST on 22 August 2016, and was one of AAPT's seven prestigious members to have received it last year. As is the case for many teachers, the PAEMST application process is often a turning point for teachers in their instructional practice, and teachers find that they build an incredible professional network when they have the opportunity to meet their fellow awardees.

Juan shared some insight with AAPT about what the PAEMST experience meant to him: "The excitement of winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) has subsided. Great memories and the contacts of fantastic colleagues is all that remains from the trip to DC and all the award festivities. When I look back to the period of time that began when I decided to apply for the PAEMST, already a couple of years ago, I realize that the most important PAEMST legacy is the extensive reflection about my teaching that I was asked to perform during the application process. I am a better Physics teacher not because I have an award signed by the President of the United States, but because I analyzed my approach to education, I reviewed videos of my teaching, and I assessed what is helping my students enjoy while discovering the rules of the Universe through Physics. Applying to PAEMST has been an amazing professional development, one that has truly helped me improve my teaching and view of education."

Although PAEMST recognizes excellence, most PAEMST awardees will readily admit that they are not perfect! The application process itself is a step that a good teacher can take toward becoming excellent - apply for this award isn't just something that good for personal growth, but for the improvement of physics education for all the teacher's students.

 If you are not a teacher, but know one, please consider nominating him or her for this award. The nomination process takes only a few minutes, but the impact of winning this award can last a lifetime. During the webinar, any PAEMST applicants, finalists, and/or awardees who are in attendance are encouraged to share photographs and personal stories about their journeys.

Self-nominations are strongly encouraged. If you are a teacher or know someone who might be interested in applying, submit a nomination by April 1. Applications are due on May 1.



Juan Botella PAEMST 2

Juan Botella Teaching

Juan Botella with Students

Juan Botella PAEMST 1

Celebrate International Women's Day by Teaching About Great Female Scientists

by Rebecca Vieyra, 8 March 2017

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#8March2017

The role of a teacher should always be highly esteemed for the great ethical responsibility teachers have in ensuring and promoting equity, from their classroom to the wider community. How teachers speak about science and scientists matters, especially when it comes to how students learn to perceive females and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.

If you haven't yet had the opportunity this year to explicitly address equity issues in STEM professions with your students, this is the month to do it! Yesterday, a YouTube video about Rosalind Franklin came across my Facebook feed that I found to be quite touching. It features images of Rosalind as a child and a young girl with captions describing how she was discouraged from pursuing her science interests (and encouraged to consider something more "womanly").

Has the climate for women in science changed from then to now? Plenty of data are available on the numbers of women in physics and astronomy, and can be found through the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center. However, numbers don't always tell the full story. Considering that my own encounters with many scientists suggest that Rosalind Franklin is generally unrecognized or regarded merely as a footnote to the work of Watson and Crick, there is still lots of work to be done. A 2011 article by Gregory Braun, Dennis Tierney, and Heidrun Schmitzer in The Physics Teacher helped to draw international attention to Franklin's work by sharing multiple ideas for helping introductory physics students to model her work and the discovery of the structure of DNA through her Photo 51. Using only a pen spring, a laser, and a protractor, students can draw conclusions about DNA's structure from a replica Photo 51.

Inspired by the article, a DNA Digi Kit was assembled by AAPT digital content specialist Caroline Hall. In this Digi Kit, you will find both teacher and student guides for performing the laboratory activities described in the Braun, Tierney, and Heidrun article, in addition to a wealth of digital models, simulations, videos, animations, and content background for understanding both the physics and the biology of DNA X-ray diffraction. The kit also contains supports for teaching about the historical context of Franklin's discovery, even including a modern TedTalk featuring Watson as he describes his work with Crick and Franklin. (Find more Digi Kits at the AAPT K-12 Portal).

Looking for more resources to teach about women in physics? Check out the AAPT's HERStories video project, which includes four lesson plans appropriate for introductory science courses. AAPT members can check out an archived webinar on the HERStories project. The American Institute of Physics' historical library also provides online Teaching Guides on Women and Minorities.

Are you a woman in physics? Various supports are available through AAPT and its partners. Check out the new AAPT eAlliances peer mentoring program available for women physicists and astronomers. AAPT high school physics teacher members can always find help from the AAPT eMentoring program.

Rosalind Franklin YouTube

     Inspiring article from The Physics Teacher...
DNA Article

DNA Science Cover



Teaching About the 2017 Eclipse: Research-Based Resources from NASA HEC

by Rebecca Vieyra, 28 February 2017

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#28February2017

REGISTER HERE for webinar on Wednesday, 22 March, at 8PM ET to learn about new resources to teach about eclipses from the NASA Heliophysics Education Consortium (HEC).

Are you prepared for the Great American Eclipse? Whether or not you fall along the path of the eclipse, take advantage of this exciting cosmological event as an impetus to teach your students about fundamental astrophysics. Despite some students' great familiarity with the Sun and Moon in the sky, students often struggle to make sense of their motion and interactions.

During our March webinar, hear from the AAPT/Temple University team that has been working with NASA as a part of the Heliophysics Education Consortium to develop research-based teaching resources for eclipse education. The team participants will share some initial research findings about what their own college students know and struggle to understand, as well as describe many of the hands-on activities, tutorials, concept questions, and homework activities they have developed for this project. All of the activities developed build upon research-based teaching methods from physics and astronomy education research, including Peer Instruction, Physics by Inquiry, and Lecture Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy. Many of these resources and methods can be easily adapted to high school courses as well, and can be used to supplement many well-known digital resources for simulating eclipses, such as the UNL Eclipse Shadow Simulator and this Eclipse Interactive.

At the webinar, we also encourage participants to share some of their own resources and tips for teaching about eclipses in the context of astronomy, physics, or Earth and space science courses. Please join us!


Eclipse 2017 Banner

Eclipse Janelle

Physics First Modeling: A 3-Week Computational Modeling Development Opportunity

by Rebecca Vieyra, 1 February 2017  

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#24January2016

Are you a physics teacher who uses Modeling Instruction?
Join the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), STEMteachersNYC, and Bootstrap's Pyret team for a 3-week development project at Teacher's College, Columbia, in New York City from July 31 - August 18, 2017, to integrate computational modeling using Bootstrap's Pyret language in Modeling Physics First. For this project, a total of 21 teachers from around the nation and the state of New York will be joined by the 9 teachers who participated in a preliminary development workshop last year, funded by 100Kin10.

Last year's participants used the capabilities of Pyret to help students more deeply develop conceptual models about mechanics topics, and included the creation of modules intended to be used in the Modeling cycle as an additional representation for student thinking. For example, sample activities include using computational definitions of elements of state to more precisely define physical systems, and helping students to write, modify, and debug programs that demonstrate accurate or inaccurate motions of objects in frictionless environments. In this preliminary workshop, participants developed computational modeling resources to support students' understandings of (1) qualitative energy, (2) constant velocity, (3) uniform acceleration, (4) inertia and force pairs, and (5) Newton's 2nd law. Development this summer will include both revision and refinement of existing modules as well as development of additional modules.

These efforts are now supported by both 100Kin10 and the National Science Foundation, and the preliminary efforts were recognized during CS Ed Week by the White House in December 2016.

We are seeking teachers from around the nation who have the following characteristics:
  • Experience teaching physics (8th/9th grade Physics First is preferred)
  • Completed at least one Modeling Instruction in Physics workshop
  • Implemented Modeling Instruction successfully in their physics classrooms
  • Interest in integrating computer science and physics (No prior computer science experience is necessary.)
  • Evidence of being an innovative teacher in their instructional approach, curriculum development, and/or educational technology
Workshop participants who successfully complete their development project will receive:
  • $3,000 stipend for 3-week workshop
  • $500 stipend for academic year involvement
  • Travel, lodging, and meals (for non-local participants)

Learn More About this Project.
See this blog entry from last September that describes both the outcomes of the preliminary 100Kin10-funded workshop last summer as well as the award of the NSF grant.

Apply for This Opportunity: COMPLETE THIS FORM
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. For further information or to ask questions about this opportunity, please contact AAPT K-12 Program Manager Rebecca Vieyra at rvieyra@aapt.org.

Computational Modeling Physics Group 2016

Pyret Workshop 1

Pyret Workshop 2

Pyret Workshop 4

Pyret Workshop 3

AAPT Seeks Undergraduate Intern for K-12 Physics Education

by Rebecca Vieyra, 20 December 2016   

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#20December2016  


APPLY HERE by January 15th.

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) seeks an undergraduate physics or physics education Society of Physics Students intern to help design and revise resources for AAPT's K-12 teacher professional development programs, including face-to-face and digital resources for the summer of 2017.
Program dates run from May 30 - August 4, and includes:
  • Travel to and from Washington, DC
  • On-site housing in Washington, DC
  • Stipend: $5,000
The intern will have the opportunity to develop a suite of curricular resources, develop and moderate monthly webinars, craft blogs, learn about and contribute to federal education policy, and engage in various grant programs related to heliophysics, the integration of physics and computation, and more. The intern will have the opportunity to attend the AAPT Summer Meeting and provide hands-on programming to high school teacher attendees. The intern will also support eMentoring and online learning by assisting with pairings of mentors and mentees, program evaluation, arranging for a webinar series, and streamlining online resources.

Summer interns get to experience physics education from a 1,000-foot height at the federal level, while also interacting directly with teachers and students. Special activities are also coordinated between all Society of Physics interns placed at various societies and on Capitol Hill to learn about each others' work. Last year's intern worked closely with AAPT's K-12 program to do the following:

  • Visit the Department of Education to provide guidance on the implementation of ESSA's provisions for STEM teacher leadership
  • Do outreach to the general public at the National Astronomy Night on the Mall
  • Support Physics First teachers who are in the process of integrating computational modeling into their courses in New York, NY
  • Develop a suite of 9 lesson plans in coordination with the Optical Society of America
  • Present lessons to K-5 educators as part of the Maryland Master Teacher program
  • Attend the AAPT summer meeting in Sacramento, CA
  • Design and co-teach a workshop to K-8 teachers at the AAPT summer meeting
  • Work with high school teachers at the High School Teachers Lounge at the AAPT summer meeting

Curious to know more? Reach out to Rebecca Vieyra at rvieyra@aapt.org. Learn more about last year's summer intern, physics undergraduate Simon Wright by reading his biography and blog.

APPLY HERE by January 15th.

Simon Wright 6

Simon Wright 5

Simon Wright 3

Simon Wright 1

Smartphone Physics for Sensor-Based Labs

by Rebecca Vieyra, 1 December 2016 

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#1December2016    


REGISTER HERE for discussion-based webinar on 10 December at 10AM ET (U.S.), 4PM CET (Central European Time), and get to know a number of fellow smartphone physics users and app developers from around the world!

Smartphones have become increasingly popular as tools of choice for data collection in secondary and university-level physics. With so many students who have access to a smartphone or tablet, it has become increasingly easy to collect lab or field data both in and outside of class. Nearly all modern mobile devices include accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, and sound meters, and many also include barometers, light meters, and much more.

Because commercial science probeware might not always be available or at the appropriate student-sensor ratio, it is worth considering the role of personal mobile tools. There has been such interest in the use of these tools that the AAPT has dedicated a monthly column to "iPhysicsLabs" topics in The Physics Teacher publication. Check out some of these clever, easy to replicate ideas in recent editions:

Perhaps the element that is most interesting about smartphone physics is that this approach has a uniquely international appeal. (Indeed, the publications listed above were authored by individuals from as far-reaching placing as England, France, Germany, Italy, and Uruguay, in addition to the United States). During a webinar on December 10, engage in discussion with individuals such as Ann-Marie Pendrill, a K-college physics teacher educator in Sweden who uses smartphones in amusement park field trip experiences. Learn more about the efforts of smartphone user and app developer Joel Chevrier of France, who ealier this year ran a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach physics using smartphones, and Jean Luc Richter, co-author of "Smartphones in Science Teaching." Additionally, learn about Italy's massive efforts to bring digital learning into the physics classroom through teacher leaders such as Alfonso D'Ambrosio and Stefano Macchia. See Alfonso's blog statement (use Google Translate option, if necessary) on "why smartphones in science" and one example of classroom innovation to teach about Bernoulli's principle from Stefano.

If you are interested in a deeper learning experience, make sure to attend the AAPT Winter Meeting and register for the workshop "Everything You Wanted to Know about Using Smartphones in Your Classroom: 10+ Engaging Labs to Teach Mechanics, Sound, Light, E&M, and Modern Physics" with Martin Monteiro and Arturo Marti of Uruguay. Check out some of their publications at Martin's blog.

Curious about how some of these sensors work? Check out AAPT member Wolfgang Christian's Mobile Device Models, hosted on the AAPT's comPADRE.org digital library to investigate a model about how smartphone acceleromters work. Want to know more about the actual physical components, the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), that make up the various other sensors as well? Check out my own personal blog (unaffiliated with AAPT), here.

Join a "round-table" discussion during a webinar on December 10th to learn more about how you can use smartphones in your classroom, to share an interesting idea or experiment, and to get to know like-minded fellow educators. Register here.

Image credits from top to bottom: (1) University student performing centripetal motion experiment in Brazil; (2) High school students using magnetic field sensors to find metal in the field; (3) AAPT member Bree Barnett Dreyfus showing a colleague sound intensity measurements during a school rally

Girl with smartphone

Magnetometer students

Bree Barnett Dreyfus

Bernoulli physics

Revealing the Nation's Report Card in Science

by guest blogger Stefanie Wills, AAPT Marketing Coordinator, 27 October 2016  

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#27October2016    


What was the moment you knew you wanted to start teaching? I bet you can think back to the time you became interested in physics or science, and were inspired to become a teacher. Whether it was your science teacher, the Sputnik launch, or even a class debate, we are thankful to whatever inspired you to choose the path to empower the minds of young adults. While listening to the results of the 2015 Nation's Report Card at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, one thing was clear - the nation needs your help engaging students and inspiring them to study science in new and creative ways.

This week, the nation has turned its attention to "active learning" as one way to motivate and engage students. One panelist, Susan German, eighth grade science teacher from Missouri, allows for active learning in her classroom, stating that "Teaching can happen when students learn something new." To balance the underperforming students with the above average students in her classroom, Susan utilizes a process called instructional scaffolding. She uses simulations and computers in her class, but teachers can't always rely on these tools due to a lack of funding. Susan encountered funding issues and managed to write grants to fund some of her computer activities. "It's hard, but I search long and hard for these grants."

Marty Kelsey, Education Specialist for Digital Learning at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) mentioned that if you cannot get your students out to a museum due to lack of funds, that the NASM's video series "STEM in 30" can bring the Smithsonian to teachers use quick videos with teachers in mind.

According to the results of the Report Card, based upon assessments taken across the United States, there has been no change in average students scores, or between student groups in twelfth-grade science since 2009. (These student groups are categorized by race, gender, geography, disabilities, and highest level of parental education). Panelist Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation, was very clear in her message: "I find it very troubling that only 22% of twelfth-graders perform at above proficient levels." Considering there will be over two million STEM jobs over the next decade, how can we improve their proficiency? "We know that young people prefer active learning, Linda explained.

Yet, the new report wasn't all negative. In 2015, a higher percentage of twelfth-graders reported taking courses in biology, chemistry, and physics as compared to previous years. As Peggy G. Carr, Active Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics, concluded, "There's some good news from the report; the gap is narrowing for girls and minorities. However, there is still a lot of work to be done."

Getting students engaged and inspired to learn science is crucial in moving these numbers forward. Being "hands on" is a tip from twelfth-grade Anacostia student Dejah Wright, who is currently analyzing a cadaver in her class. She's currently testing the blood type, finding out the cause of death, and more. She says "Everything I do in science is hands-on, and that's why I like it." We totally agree.

Learn more about the AAPT and how to join as a member in our mission to promote active learning at aapt.org.


NAEP Speaker 2


Linda Rosen NAEP

Celebrate Active Learning Day 2016

by Rebecca Vieyra, 25 October 2016  

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#25October2016    


The AAPT is proud to join the White House in celebrating Active Learning Day 2016! See our letter to President Obama, with excerpts below:

"The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) has been a long-time supporter of active learning and a leader in promoting research-based active learning methods for K-12 education. Our activities support both in-service and pre-service teachers.

AAPT Promotes Physics Education Research Providing Evidence for Active Learning
For more than 40 years, AAPT has fostered the development of Physics Education Research that has provided the evidence of the effectiveness of active learning in physics education at all levels.  A synthesis of that research can be found in Jennifer L. Docktor and José P. Mestre, “Synthesis of discipline-based education research in physics,” Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research 10, 020119 (2014).

AAPT Provides Extensive Resources for Active Learning
To make active learning strategies more accessible to faculty, AAPT, with support from the National Science Foundation developed the web site PhysPort.org, which provides curated guides to more than 50 active learning strategies (with summaries of the evidence of their effectiveness) and more than 80 research-based assessment tools to test for the effective implementation of those strategies.

AAPT Provides Active Learning Professional Development for K-12 Teachers
At the K-12 level, AAPT has provided peer-led professional development for teachers of physics through its Physics Teaching Resource Agents for more than 30 years.  That program has emphasized the importance of active learning and provides teachers of physics with the content knowledge and the pedagogical knowledge needed to implement active learning effectively for all students.

AAPT Promotes Integrating Computational Thinking and Physics to Aid Active Learning
Recognizing the importance of computational thinking in all STEM careers, the AAPT leads an NSF-funded STEM+C project and co-leads a 100Kin10-funded project to integrate Modeling Instruction (an active learning strategy developed for physics) and Bootstrap (an active learning approach to learning algebra through computer science). These efforts are focused on “physics first” courses in schools where all students take physics, thus making computational thinking work accessible to a much wider range of students compared to those served by the typical stand-alone computer science courses in secondary schools.

AAPT Increases the Number of Highly Qualified Physics Teachers Using Active Learning
AAPT and APS, with support from NSF, have developed the Physics Teacher Education Coalition to enhance the engagement of physics departments in the education of future K-12 teachers of physics.  As a result of that program, the number of highly qualified physics teachers has almost doubled in the past ten years.  In addition, the diversity of these new physics teachers is significantly greater than that of physics majors overall and that of the current cohort of teachers of physics nationwide.

AAPT Engages Physics Master Teacher Leaders to Promote Active Learning
AAPT has recently established the Physics Master Teacher Leader Corps to provide the Association with guidelines and recommendations for enhancing its professional development programs for K-12 teachers of physics.  Many teachers in the Corps will become leaders in those professional development programs, which then provide a platform for them to enhance the teaching of physics across the country.

AAPT Foster the Development and Dissemination of Active Learning Strategies through Meetings and Publications
AAPT’s national meetings and its annual Physics Education Research Conference are the primary mechanisms for physics teachers and physics education researchers to meet, share the results of their work, and to develop new ideas to further enhance the adoption of active learning techniques at all levels of physics education. The AAPT’s journals, The Physics Teacher, The American Journal of Physics, and Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research support the dissemination from researcher to practitioner."

Learn more about the AAPT and how to join as a member in our mission to promote active learning at aapt.org.

Active Learning 3

Active Learning 1

Recognition Opportunities for Outstanding Physics Teachers

by Rebecca Vieyra, 18 October 2016 

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#18October2016     


The AAPT has long recognized excellence in K-higher education physics teaching. This month, the AAPT, in coordination with the American Physical Society, announce a new program: PhysTEC Teacher of the Year. This new program represents one of many ways that teachers can be recognized for their efforts.

PhysTEC Teacher of the Year: Applications due November 1.
The PhysTEC Teacher of the Year program aims to recognize exemplary high school physics teachers who are graduates of PhysTEC institutions. PhysTEC is a national coalition of over 300 universities that are committed to preparing highly qualified K-12 physics teachers by helping teaching candidates develop deep content knowledge through a physics degree while also earning a teaching certificate.

If you are a graduate of a PhysTEC institution, and have at least three years of high school physics teaching experience, please contact your physics department to seek nomination before applying. Departments may nominate only one candidate.

LEARN MORE ABOUT PhysTEC Teacher of the Year HERE.

The winner of PhysTEC Teacher of the Year will be receive a number of professional benefits, including funds to attend the PhysTEC Conference in February 2017, the AAPT 2017 Summer Meeting in July 2017, and a classroom materials grant of $1,000, in addition to press coverage.

Other AAPT Awards for K-12 Physics Teaching Excellence
If you aren't a graduate of a PhysTEC institution, please consider nominating yourself (or asking someone to noinate you) for other opportunities available through the AAPT to high school physics teaching members.

Barbara Lotze Scholarship: This award recognizes individuals planning to become teachers who are currently high school seniors accepted to a physics teaching program or undergraduates in a physics teaching program. Winners receive a $2,000 scholarship.

Paul W. Zitzewitz Award: This award recognizes K-12 teachers of physics. Winners receive a monetary award, funds to attend an AAPT national meeting, and are asked to deliver an address to the meeting attendees.

PhysTEC TotY Logo Color

PhysTEC Institutions Map


Conferences attendees

Building Professional Learning Networks for STEM Educators

by Rebecca Vieyra, 5 October 2016

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#5 October2016      


REGISTER HERE for an informational webinar on 12 October at 8PM ET.

Data from the American Institute of Physics show that over 80% of high school physics teachers are the only physics teacher in their building. It is no surprise, then, that physics teachers frequently come to the AAPT looking for a sense of community. Since its formation in the 1930s, the AAPT has its foundation built upon both large and small gatherings of physics teachers at sections and national meetings. Frequently, section and national meetings occur in a myriad of formats, from traditional presentation and poster sessions to topical discussions, workshops, "take-5" share-a-thons, and even "unconferences."

A New PD Model
Another format that merits consideration and adoption comes from the K-12 math education community: math teachers' circles. Math Teachers' Circles are "professional communities centered on mathematics...that connect teachers and professors through shared mathematical discovery. Groups, often consisting of fewer than ten teachers, meet regularly to work on rich mathematics problems, allowing teachers to enrich their knowledge and experience of math." This approach places an emphasis on teachers as practitioners of their discipline and invites creativity and differentiated learning.

The work of the Math Teachers' Circles (MTC) is typically organic in nature, with small groups and localized networks coordinated and supported by the national Math Teachers' Circle Network. The MTC Network provides logistical support to seed the small communities and to provide suggested content for gatherings. The MTC Network video series and MTC Network YouTube channel provides detailed suggestions for how to run gatherings, and provides insights into teachers' thinking throughout the problem-solving sessions.

How Does this Connect to Physics?
As described in the MTC Network's video series, "An Introduction to Problem Solving," the heart of MTC is "becoming comfortable with not knowing how to solve a problem," a challenge also present among both teachers and learners of physics. Many of the metacognitive strategies present in their approach can be applied to physics, such as demonstrated in this MTC video, "Grid Power," in which the lead instructor encourages divergent thinking and investigations about what initially seems to be a mundane topic: grid paper. In the problem series "Bicycle Math," more direct connections between math and applied physics are drawn into a detailed investigation of force vectors, linear and rotational motion, and bicycle tracks.

Learn about both the MTC approach, try an MTC problems, and more with Brianna Donaldson, Director of Special Projects from the American Institute of Mathematics at an upcoming webinar on 12 October 2016.

Divergent Thinking

St. Louis Section Meeting

Math Teachers Circles

Bicycle Math

PhysPort - Improve Your Physics Instruction with Research-Based Teaching Resources

by Rebecca Vieyra, 21 September 2016 

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#21September2016    


REGISTER HERE for an informational webinar on 29 September at 8PM ET.

Physics education arguably has one of the strongest educational research bases of any discipline, and more and more non-researcher physics educators are taking note. From approaches that use Peer InstructionPhET Simulations, or Ranking Tasks, to assessment tools that include the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) and Test of Understanding Graphs in Kinematics (TUG-K), the language and tools of physics education research are becoming commonplace among high school teachers, college, and university faculty. Research-based and data-driven practices are increasingly important in higher education and especially in K-12 education. 

What teachers and physics educators might not know, however, is that physics education research (PER) has resulted in the development of dozens of research-based teaching methods and assessment tools. Since 2008, Sarah (Sam) McKagan has committed much of her career to synthesizing this work and bringing it to practitioners who can improve their own teaching and their students' learning. 

Originally called the PER User's Guide, the project has evolved into PhysPort, a user-friendly resource developed for faculty in higher education, but entirely appropriate for interested secondary teachers as well. Teachers who see PhysPort for the first time are often amazed to find the quantity and quality of resources that are available to teachers. 

The 55 Research-Based Teaching Methods listed on PhysPort alone can be sorted into targeted categories based upon the needs of the teacher and students:
  • Subject (i.e. mechanics, thermodynamics, E&M, astronomy)
  • Level (i.e. teacher education, middle school, high school, intro/advanced college)
  • Setting (i.e. lab, lecture, homework)
  • Student Skill Development (i.e. conceptual understanding, multiple representations, metacognition)
  • Instructor Effort to Implement
  • Research Validation
  • Resources Required

The 80 Assessments go far beyond the scope of the FCI, which has been the anchor for so much PER. These tools are useful for faculty interested in seeing the growth of students across a unit, a semester, school year, or even from year to year. K-12 educators might find some of these assessments as particularly useful for demonstrating teacher effectiveness to administrators and in various professional development programs (such as National Board Teacher Certification and the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching). These resources can also be sorted and ranked by:
  • Subject
  • Level
  • Assessment Focus (i.e. content, problem-solving, beliefs)
  • Format (i.e. pre/post, multiple choice, rubric, observation protocol)
  • Research Validation
  • Available Foreign Languages

Three additional elements to PhysPort make all of these resources particularly useful for implementation. The Expert Recommendations page provides case studies and advice from leaders in PER and physics education about how to use the tools in specific situations. The online Workshops provide video-based guidance for improving lab teaching skills for Learning Assistants, as well as recordings of the New Faculty Workshop. The most recent addition to PhysPort is the Data Explorer, a tool that accepts collected student performance on various assessments and generates feedback for instructors who are interested in comparative analysis of their classes' performance.

Learn about this and more with PhysPort Director Sam McKagan at an upcoming webinar on 29 September 2016.

PhysPort Front Page

Sam McKagan

PhysPort Assessments

Data Explorer

Build Your Career During Peer Review Week

by Rebecca Vieyra, 20 September 2016 

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#20September2016    


Great teachers know that the best ideas are often those that are "borrowed" or modified from their colleagues. Where do you get your teaching ideas? In many cases, new lessons are gleaned from publications, conference presentations, workshops, or even from visiting a colleague's classroom. All of these forms benefit at some level from peer review, a process that involves colleagues providing feedback to each other to vet and improve their work. In this international Peer Review Week, consider some of the following ways that you might expand your career goals as a teacher leader:

Share an Idea, Start a Movement: Publish!
You have valuable ideas to communicate to the world - ideas that could improve your colleague's curriculum and instructional practice and improve science education. Recognizing the profound impact that teachers can have upon one another and on their students, a number of K-12 teachers have created professional blogs and professional learning networks. The professional, peer-reviewed journal publication is yet another way that you can share highly vetted ideas with a very different community.

While you might have included attending professional conferences and giving presentations or workshops in your annual or career goals, have you considered formally publishing your ideas? With over 25,000 readers, middle school and high school teachers are encouraged to publish in The Physics Teacher (TPT), AAPT's journal that serves the interests of introductory physics educators around the globe. Many contributors to the journal find that their articles are high-impact, and often start a domino-effect that results in the development of thematic communities of colleagues with the same interests.

In my own experience, teachers are often so humble that they discredit their excellent teaching ideas. Others are eager for a helping hand and a friendly colleague to lead them through the editing process. Interested contributors can learn more about the publication process here, reach out directly to the editors of TPT at tpt@appstate.edu to share a publication idea, or contact me at rvieyra@aapt.org if you would like to be put in touch with another teacher to help you through the publication process.

Pay it Forward - Serve as a Peer Reviewer

To improve your own publication skills, a valuable practice is to volunteer as a peer reviewer for other contributing authors. Generally, this process occurs over the period of a number of weeks, and entails receiving an invitation from the editor to review an article, a multi-week period in which you are asked to read a raw manuscript and to provide feedback on the accuracy, relevance, and style of the article, and - in some cases - the opportunity to again review any major edits that might have been made by the contributing author. Generally, both the peer reviewer and the contributing author find this process to be a wonderful learning opportunity to improve both their article and their communication skills.

TPT Reviewer Button

TPT Journals

Photo contest banner

"Explore Optics" to Celebrate the OSA Centennial with New Resources

by Rebecca Vieyra, 16 September 2016      

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#16 September2016

Join The Optical Society (OSA) in celebrating its centennial with a number of resources to help bring the wonder of light and color to students of all ages. Their new Explore Optics OSA100 kit, currently available at an over 50% discount to educators, provides a unique collection of resources to help students investigate geometric optics through a Pepper's Ghost apparatus for use with a mobile device, a Reflect View semi-transparent plastic screen for integrating science and art, and an Invisibility Kit to demonstrate cloaking with lenses. The kit also includes colored LED lamps, a red laser pointer, diffraction gratings, a protractor, and gummy bears for studying absorption. The full Activity Guide is filled with activities and student worksheets and is freely available online.

The AAPT is pleased to be a partner in co-sponsoring a number of events to promote optics education. At the AAPTSM16 in Sacramento, CA, over a dozen local K-8 educators attended a one-day optics workshop. A full unit-worth of lessons were developed by the AAPT for the event, and can be found in our Optics Collection. The resources focus on fundamental concepts with properties of color and geometric optics, and were developed using low-cost, easily-accessible materials. Click below to see the lessons.

Optics Collection Cover

Want to Know More about Optics?

The OSA provides a wealth of resources for K-12 and informal education. Visit their Youth Education page to access additional lesson ideas and kits, including the Optics Suitcase Demonstration Kit developed by the OSA Rochester Section and used with children around the world. Look to connect with graduate students and professionals in optics careers on the same page to get in contact with OSA Student Chapters and Local Sections.

Additionally, the AAPT will be co-sponsoring OSA Educator Days (E-Days) at a number of upcoming OSA FiO conferences. If you are a K-12 teacher or educator in the Rochester, NY area, please join us on October 16th for a free workshop and luncheon. Register by completing this form. For additional information, please contact AAPT K-12 Program Manager Rebecca Vieyra at rvieyra@aapt.org.

OSA Explore Optics Kit

OSA Cloaking

OSA View

OSA Workshop 2

AAPT and Partners AMTA, STEMteachersNYC, and Bootstrap Awarded $1.247M STEM+C Grant

by Rebecca Vieyra, 15 September 2016      

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#15September2016

Today the National Science Foundation announced that it has awarded the American Association of Physics Teachers a nearly $1.25 million grant. This grant will engage teachers in professional development to plan and implement classroom instruction in algebra-based Physics First courses that integrates computational thinking through two existing, widely used approaches - Modeling Instruction for physics and Bootstrap for computational modeling. (Read more about "Why Computational Modeling in Physics"). This program is especially focused on combating many equity concerns associated with student access to physics and computer science (CS). Working with Physics First teachers will allow this project to impact student populations which will be demographically more diverse than students historically enrolled in standalone computer science courses or upper-grade physics courses.

This grant will support collaborative efforts between the AAPT, American Modeling Teachers Association, STEMteachersNYC, and Bootstrap. Read the full description of award NSF #1640791. The NSF award was made just after the first three-week summer workshop of a two year parallel project funded by 100Kin10. In August 2016, this project brought together 12 New York area middle school and high school Modeling physics teachers to learn programming using the Pyret language from the team that developed the nationally-recognized Bootstrap project to teach algebra to students through computer science. During the workshop, participants developed curricular resources - compatible with Modeling Physics First courses - that they will implement throughout the remainder of the school year. Next summer, these teachers will again participate in a summer workshop to revise and improve their resources, to involved additional teachers. Read the press release of this New York-based pilot effort.

High school physics teacher and AAPT Physics Master Teacher Leader Zhanna Glazenburg has already begun to implement some aspects of the developed materials in her classroom. "They are loving it," she said about her students' initial exposure to the Pyret programming environment. She shared that the addition of computational modeling tools to her classroom has encouraged her students to ask questions that otherwise students wouldn't typically ask. Although her students have used data analysis tools to create regression lines for data, she was confronted with students asking, "We want to know how it [graphical analysis] works!" for the first time.

Expanding upon Existing Efforts
The recent NSF award will expand the New York-based efforts to include teachers nation-wide and to develop additional modules beyond the integrated modules already developed this summer (Qualitative Energy, Constant Velocity, Uniform Acceleration, Force-Particle Model, and Constant Force Model). An additional component of the NSF grant is the inclusion of a significant research effort. The project investigators aim to learn more about what types of computational thinking content and skills students and teacher can learn in the context of Physics First, how integration impacts an understanding of physics, what types of resources teachers build and how they fit into the Modeling Instruction learning cycle, and how student and teacher attitudes about CS change throughout an integrated course.

Why Computer Science in Physics?
At the core of both of these projects is the hypothesis that the use of computational modeling in the context of lower-grade, algebra-based Physics First courses might improve underrepresented students' access to opportunities to learn and apply computational thinking practices in service of learning physics and solving physics problems.

In particular, participants in the summer workshops noted the parallelisms between thinking about motion maps (vector diagrams) and iterative thinking about functions in computational modeling. In supplement to instructional approaches in science that emphasize holistic analysis of data through the derivation and application of curves to represent functions, iterative thinking using programming techniques is perhaps a more natural approach for novice physics students to tackle physical phenomena both conceptually and algebraically.

As an effective tool for assessment of student understanding, students explicitly attempt to communicate their thinking to computers through programming and an objective interpretation by the computer. A common thread throughout the modules developed by the teachers this past summer included the student-development of a program that accurately simulated the application of a net force to a sliding ball. As computers have no raw concept of force, students are challenged to use an understanding of Newton's laws to visually display the effect of net force on an object by allowing a user-created event (such as a mouse click or keystroke) to result in a change in velocity of the object.

Such skills associated with fundamental physics concepts, data analysis, computational thinking, and modeling, are strongly emphasized in the Next Generation Science Standards in the Science and Engineering Practices. Without courses that integrate computational thinking, it is unlikely that students will get much CS exposure at all. Demographic analysis of computer science in U.S. high schools show significant disparities in CS exposure for women and underrepresented minorities. Exposure and success in CS can build toward a longer career pathway in STEM. In physics alone, the AIP's Statistical Research Center research on physics careers has identified that, in addition to physics and astronomy careers that necessitate CS skills, a significant portion of physics majors enter careers in fields associated with engineering, computer science, and technical research, all of which require some element of programming.

Interested in Learning More?
To express interest in learning more about this project and to get notifications about the summer 2017 opportunities for involvement as a workshop participant, please contact AAPT K-12 Program Manager Rebecca Vieyra at rvieyra@aapt.org.

CS Whiteboard Discussion

CS Table Discussion

CS Leaders

CS Whiteboard Program

CS Computer

CS Whiteboard Discussion 2

Team America Rocketry Challenge - Bring Engineering to the Physics Classroom

by Rebecca Vieyra, 2 September 2016

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#2September2016


REGISTER HERE for an informational webinar on 8 September at 8PM ET.

The AAPT has been a proud promoter of the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) for over a decade. We welcome you to attend an informational webinar on September 8th learn from program manager Miles Lifson about what it takes to become a volunteer coach or to engage your own grades 7-12 students in the annual competition. Although many groups choose to engage in TARC as an after-school activity, there are many elements of the program that can be directly incorporated into the formal classroom environment.

The physical sciences have long been synonymous with "rocket science" for many people. In a very literal sense, the teaching of rocket science is one effective way to engage students in applying fundamental physical principles to project-based and engineering activities. Recently, the AAPT released a series resources to support the teaching of physics through rocketry. Inspired by a number of articles from The Physics Teacher, including Measuring Model Rocket Engine Curves and This Is Rocket Science!

Titled simply "Rocket Science," the Student Worksheet and Teacher Guide suggest a lesson progression that takes students from measuring impulse of a rocket engine to using principles of conservation of energy and understandings about kinematics to predict the maximum height of the rocket. Later this year, the AAPT will release a "Digi-Kit," a curated collection of vetted online resources, to support the teaching of rocket science. You can find additional TPT-inspired lesson templates here.

Additionally, TARC and the AAPT are excited to identify additional resources for teaching rocket science in the formal classroom context. Do you have ideas to share? If you would like us to feature your teaching idea, or if you would like to express interest in possible future curriculum development project opportunities, please contact AAPT K-12 Program Manager Rebecca Vieyra at rvieyra@aapt.org.

Rocket Workshop

Rocket Science Cover

Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Informational Session for K-12 STEM Educators

by Rebecca Vieyra, 3 August 2016  

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#3August2016


REGISTER HERE for this upcoming webinar on 18 August 2016 at 8PM ET.

AEF Banner 

Join the AAPT as it hosts an informational session about the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, an 11-month program that places excellent K-12 STEM educators on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies (such as NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy) to impact nation-wide STEM education. Multiple AAPT members have been honored as fellows since the program's inception. Ask questions about the selection process and learn about the fellowship experience from prior fellows before applications open in August by registering for this webinar, at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/5aafcce34ac214a87510d14dfea9e911

Two members of the AAPT's Physics Master Teacher Leadership Taskforce have served as Albert Einstein Fellows: Jeff Milbourne of California, and Florentia Spires of Virginia. In his own words, Milbourne describes the benefits of the fellowship to his career in education:

"I’ve been fortunate to participate in some excellent PD opportunities in my career, but the Einstein Fellowship was, hands down, the most powerful experience I’ve ever had. I was a Hill Fellow when Congress was rewriting No Child Left Behind, and had the opportunity to help shape the new law. As a classroom teacher, that was incredibly powerful: I went from having little to no voice in policy circles to helping write sections of the most important federal law for K-12 education.

The fellowship taught me how Congress works (or doesn’t), taught me how to think and talk like a policy maker, and gave me an insider’s perspective that makes me a better advocate for educational issues. I also developed a powerful network of colleagues in Washington, folks with whom I still keep in touch. Those contacts have led to even more opportunities to participate in national STEM policy: I’ve been an advisor to the US Department of Education, as well as national groups likes 100kin10. As is often the case with PD, one opportunity leads to another, and then another, creating a domino effect of amazing opportunities. This would have never happened had I not applied for the Einstein Fellowship.

Advice to those who are applying: keep an open mind about which type of fellowship you want to pursue, and trust that the application process will put you in the right position. When I applied, I wasn’t particularly interested in a Hill fellowship, but I kept my options open. As I learned more, and got further into the process, I realized that the Hill Fellowship was a perfect fit for my interests and skill set."

Learn more about the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship first-hand from a number of previous fellows, program staff, and your K-12 colleagues by joining this webinar.

Physics Master Teacher Leader Taskforce Unveiled!

by Rebecca Vieyra, 14 July 2016 

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#14July2016


Taskforce Image 

The AAPT and two collaborating organizations selected 17 outstanding leaders in K-12 physics education for the Physics Master Teacher Leader Taskforce. The selection committee included representatives from the AAPT Physics Teaching Resource Agents (PTRA), American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA), and the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC).

This taskforce is meant to be a response to the growing national need for teacher leadership at the K-12 level. When educators are so frequently challenged by new initiatives, changing standards, and a diversifying student population, it is important that educators feel fully able to advocate for themselves and their students - along with their network of colleagues - at the classroom, school, district, state, and national level. This taskforce will look at ways that the AAPT can support this elevation of the teaching profession through ongoing professional development and leadership programs.

Collectively, these physics master teacher leaders will work with AAPT HQ to prepare a report to be presented to the AAPT Board of Directors that details a new set of aspirational and coherent professional development and leadership models for K-12 physics education, with an emphasis on engaging teachers as advocates for change. Their strategic planning will provide guidance to the AAPT as it endeavors to recruit, prepare, and retain excellent science educators in the U.S. This work will be based on the existing collaborative efforts of the AAPT with PTRA, AMTA, and PhysTEC supported by a 100Kin10 Microchip Grant.

The taskforce members have demonstrated significant teacher leadership and comprise a diverse set of personal and professional backgrounds from around the nation:

  • Katya Denisova (Maryland, In-Service Teacher PD)
  • Kelli Gamez-Warble (Arizona, Pre-Service Teacher Prep)
  • Zhanna Glazenburg (New York, Middle/High School)
  • Steve Henning (Massachussets, High School)
  • Bradford Hill (Oregon, High School)
  • Scot Hovan (Minnesota, High School)
  • Martha Lietz (Illinois, High School)
  • Mike Mangiaracina (Washington, DC, Kindergarten/Elementary)
  • Duane Merrell (Utah, Pre-Service Teacher Prep)
  • Jeff Milbourne (California, High School)
  • Don Pata (Michigan, High School)
  • George Louis Ramirez (Texas, High School)
  • Bill Reitz (Ohio, High School)
  • Rex Rice (Missouri, High School)
  • Ann Robinson (Georgia, High School)
  • Florentia Spires (Virginia, Kindergarten/Elementary/Middle School)
  • Josh Underwood (Kentucky, High School)

In addition, 13 teachers were selected to serve on a Teacher Advisory group, to provide vital feedback to the taskforce as they prepare their report: Patti Ego, John (Trey) Smith, Leah DeWeez, Kelly O'Shea, Alma Robinson, Jeff Steele, Kenric Davies, Michael Strange, Alice Flarend, Larry Cook, Zeke Kossover, Dan Crowe, and Fran Poodry.

The Physics Master Teacher Leader Taskforce will be supported by a Leadership Advisory group, including AAPT Board Members Karen Jo Matsler, Jan Mader, and Elaine Gwinn, in addition to Pat Callahan (PTRA), Colleen Megowan (AMTA), and Jon Anderson (PhysTEC).

Physics Teaching for Social Justice

by Rebecca Vieyra, 16 June 2016

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#16June2016


REGISTER HERE for Moses' upcoming webinar on Tuesday, 28 June.

High school physics teacher and AAPT member Moses Rifkin recently reminded the teaching community that teaching social justice should have a place in the physics classroom. In his February article in The Physics Teacher, "Addressing Underrepresentation: Physics Teaching for All," he shares practical considerations for how to learn about stereotype threat and avoid implicit bias while teaching.

Changes made by a physics teacher can potentially have significant and long-lasting effects on their students and the physics profession. Rifkin quotes Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman and psychologists Lauren Aguilar and Gregory Walton: "By investing a small amount of class time in carefully designed and implemented interventions, physics teachers can promote greater success among students from diverse backgrounds. Ultimately, we hope such efforts will indeed improve diversity and health of the physics profession."

Rifkin has developed a five-day unit that is easily reproducible for physics teachers. Read about it and access his teaching materials in his four-part guest post on the Quantum Progress blog, "Teaching Social Justice in the Physics Classroom."

Although social justice and equity extend beyond issues of race or gender, decades of data from the American Institute of Physics demonstrate the need for open discussion about underrepresentation of racial/ethnic minorities (including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans) and women in physics and physics-related fields. Factors that influence a student's decision to pursue a career in the physical sciences start very early. Significant discrepancies exist even in high school physics enrollment (Underrepresented Minorities in High School Physics Physics, AIP, 2015), a issue which educators have been trying to resolve, in-part, through the Physics First movement.
Moses Rifkin getting measured


This summer, consider taking some time to learn about ways you can help to make your own classroom - and the physics profession at large - a community that welcomes embraces diversity. Here are three opportunities to learn more:


Webinar: "Physics Teaching for Social Justice"     REGISTER HERE

June 28, 2016   8:00 PM Eastern

Equity and social justice are themes in the news these days, and yet very few of us physics teachers have training or experience in how to connect them to our work. In this webinar, we will explore what it means to teach for social justice and why it is crucially important in our classrooms, before moving into a discussion of what it can and could look like in our different classrooms. Attendees will leave with a clearer sense of the relevance of social justice to physics teaching, some ideas to try next year, and a network of physics teachers with whom to continue this work afterwards. Attendees of all experience and comfort levels are welcome!


Round-Table Discussion at the High School Teacher Lounge (AAPT Summer Meeting, Sacramento, CA)

July 18, 2016     2:30-3:30 PM Pacific

Meet with Moses for one-on-one discussions about social justice in the classroom.


Panel Presentation: "Physics Teaching for Social Justice" (AAPT Summer Meeting, Sacramento, CA)

July 19, 2016     1:30-2:00 PM Pacific

Only 4% of professional physicists identify as black or African American, a number far smaller than the 12% of Americans that do, and this underrepresentation is more dramatic in physics than it is in most scientific disciplines. I have developed a curriculum that uses these and other statistics as a jumping-off point for my high school students to explore issues of race, access, and culture in physics. I will share my experiences from a decade of using the curriculum, including how my students respond, how I address the challenges that have arisen, and how this curriculum has evolved. In doing so, I hope both to model the integration of physics teaching and social justice and to motivate attendees to take steps in their own classes.

Apply to the Physics Master Teacher Leader Taskforce

by Rebecca Vieyra, 6 June 2016

Reference this post: http://aapt.org/K12/K12-Blog.cfm#6June2016


This month, the AAPT announces plans to create a Physics Master Teacher Leader (PhysicsMTL) Taskforce. This one-year recognition and leadership opportunity is a call to bring together the "best of best" of K-12 teachers of physics to create a new set of aspirational and coherent professional development and leadership models for the K-12 physics education community.

Taskforce Description:

The PhysicsMTL Taskforce is a one-year opportunity for national teacher leaders to provide recommendations and strategic planning for AAPT's K-12 professional development and leadership programs for teachers. Together, this cohort will:
  • Meet virtually monthly from July-October, with an optional face-to-face gathering at AAPTSM16.
  • Tentatively come together for a face-to-face summit gathering in Washington, DC in late 2016 / early 2017.
  • Present an executive summary with recommendations to the AAPT Executive Board with an optional face-to-face gathering at AAPTWM17.
New PhysicsMTL Flyer

The PhysicsMTL Taskforce will be comprised of accomplished pre-service, in-service, and post-service teachers who have demonstrated or who have very high potential for national leadership.

Teachers selected as Physics Master Teacher Leaders will be honored for their work both for their prior accomplishments and their efforts on the taskforce through public press releases and national conferences. PhysMTLs have the potential to impact thousands of teachers through their work, and will have the opportunity to remain engaged with AAPT initiatives, including the creation and management of PD&L programs, the co-authoring of reports, guidelines, policy statements, curricular materials, and presentations, and the chance to serve as an AAPT ambassador to science education conferences and gatherings.

Eligible individuals for the PhysicsMTL taskforce include:
  • Grades preK-12 active classroom teachers of physics/science
  • Grades preK-12 teacher leaders (those who are retired or in non-teaching leadership positions, and can include administrators and informal educators)
  • Grades preK-12 pre-service and novice teachers with high potential for leadership
  • University physics teacher educators
  • Professional development providers


PhysicsMTL Taskforce members are expected to have strong national perspectives on physics education, and/or to have demonstrated evidence of commitment to the profession beyond the classroom. Highly qualified individuals might include the following, although all are encouraged to apply!

  • Leadership and engagement in the national AAPT (PTRAs, Committee Work, eMentors/eMentees, Awardees)
  • Leadership in AAPT sections
  • Leadereship in AAPT affiliate organizations and related professional organizations (AMTA, physics teaching alliances, NSTA, ACS/AACT, NABT, NESTA, ITEEA, etc.)
  • Leadership in local, state-wide, national, and/or international professional development programs
  • National recognition (Einstein Fellowship, PAEMST, NTOTY, Noyce, Knowles, etc.)

K-8 Workshop: "The Science of Light and Color"

by Rebecca Vieyra, 22 May 2016

Register HERE

This workshop, sponsored by The Optical Society's OSA Foundation, will expose educators of K-8 students to a variety of ideas and labs to teach children the science of color and light. 

This full-day event will include a focus on the perception of color and geometric optics, in ways accessible from the very young to accelerated middle school students. 

All participants will receive a Light Blox kit (a $49 value), and the chance to win an Optics Suitcase (a $350 value). 

Lunch is included. 

Optional: Bring an idea about teaching color and light to share with your colleagues during lunch (if you have one!)

Workshop activities will include:
  • Spectra with Rainbow Peephole
  • Glow stick color mixing and painting
  • Color by reflection with M&M's
  • Color-changing materials with Magic Patches
  • Color filters lab with Jell-O, water crystals, and plastic lenses
  • Flexible mirrors with Mylar
  • Camera dissections
  • Color and light storybook connections


OSA Workshop

Summer AAPT Opportunities for HS Physics Teachers

by Rebecca Vieyra, 17 May 2016

Most teachers find that it is vital to punctuate their career with invigorating professional development. Conferences, in particular, are an opportunity to showcase your work, receive professional support from colleagues, and take away novel ideas for implementation during the next school year.

This summer, if you live near Sacramento, or plan to attend the AAPT Summer Conference, don't overlook these diversified opportunities for getting involved!

If you are an active high school physics teacher with a desire to dig deeper into research-based methods for active learning, attend the H.S. Physics Teachers Camp. While we certainly encourage you to attend the full AAPT conference, it's not required in order to take part in this "unconference"-style event. This camp draws motivated physics teachers - novice through experienced - who care about pedagogy. Last year, discussion topics selected by the attendees at the start of day ranged from how to effectively moderate student-led whiteboarding sessions, to a deep analysis of how to appropriately incorporate Direct Measurement Videos. Near the end of  the day, take part in a "science fair-style" share-a-thon. For only $25, take part in this full-day workshop and get lunch!

High School Physics Teachers Day is jam-packed with high school-related presentations and poster sessions, the chance to join us at the H.S. Teacher Luncheon, and an evening rapid-fire share-a-thon. Regular conference attendees can enjoy the High School Physics Teachers Day in addition to all of the other conference offerings Monday through Wednesday, including the High School Teachers Lounge, which will be populated with interactive labs and small "make-and-takes." First-time attendees to the AAPT conference can attend High School Teacher Day for only $85.

Ready to take it to the next level? If you haven't yet had the chance to share your own work through a presentation or poster, please consider getting your name in the program at AAPT's winter meeting in Atlanta! Feel free to reach out to me at rvieyra@aapt.org to learn more.

High School Programs AAPTSM16

Advanced Science Reading Tools for Students

by Rebecca Vieyra with guest commentary from Melissa McCartney, 11 March 2016

A number of months ago, AAPT featured work by participants of the National Writing Project to encourage science teachers to help their students communicate through writing. This month, we are focusing on how to help students to read technical science journals from those published in Science.

Below, find an overview of Science in the Classroom, a website that helps students use a "learning lens" to make sense of highly technical publications from the physical and biological sciences. Melissa McCartney, director of the project, describes how this tool came to be.

Eager to learn about this resource? Join this month's webinar "Science in the Classroom" on Wednesday, March 16th, at 8PM Eastern presented by Project Director Melissa McCartney.

Science is a leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary.  With less than an 8 percent acceptance rate, Science publications present the most exciting findings of scientists and, as such, summaries of these findings are frequently highlighted in the news.  Ideally, when used in an educational setting, Science articles can provide an understanding of how scientists design their experiments, present their results, and discuss what steps to take next.  How do we make these complex research articles more accessible to a more general audience?

In 2009, Science began an educational initiative called “Science in the Classroom” (SitC) with funding from the National Science Foundation (DUE 1043998).  The goal of SitC is to make selected Science content more accessible.  The decision was made that SitC would not be an educational resource that simply re-wrote primary research literature.  Instead, we would choose our papers carefully and build a web-based educational scaffold, designed to provide students tools to use for interpretation, around the original text of each paper.  It was also decided to take advantage of a unique feature of Science, specifically, the vast amount of original News content we generate every week.  Our thought was that by including this content, as well as Perspectives, Review Articles, Policy Forums, podcasts, and Editorials, we would be able to place selected primary research papers into a larger context for students and teachers: one that portrays science as dynamic, full of controversies that are constantly being resolved, and involving topics intimately related to people’s lives.

A prototype website was launched in October, 2011, and, following several rounds of beta testing, the launch of the current website (http://scienceintheclassroom.org) occurred in October, 2013.  In essence, Science in the Classroom is a collection of annotated research papers and accompanying teaching materials designed to help students at the advanced high school, community college, and undergraduate level understand the structure and workings of professional scientific research.  Each annotated Science paper contains a “Learning Lens,” which is used to selectively highlight and explain original text of the research article. An interactive glossary and an expanded explanation of the figures, often with a close-up of the relevant section of the figure itself, have been built into each research paper.  Also accompanying the papers are a further explanation of the background materials, the author’s experiments, the conclusions, and the references.    

Science in the Classroom promotes the development of transferable learning skills through introducing primary literature into the classroom and by engaging students in the fundamental scientific principles of experimental design and critical analysis. In essence, students will be exposed to the process of science.  By focusing on the universal language of experimental design and data analysis, Science in the Classroom presents science as an endeavor grounded on common principles, rather than a disjointed sum of individual disciplines.  

Today, SitC collaborates with volunteers at all levels of SitC resource development.  Graduate students and postdocs, who have an interest in science education, serve as annotators and write any additional content that accompanies a SitC resource.  This process doubles as a professional development opportunity as annotators learn how to communicate complex science to a more general audience, connect complex science to current science education frameworks and standards, and develop an educational resource for use in classrooms.  Feedback from annotators strongly suggests that the SitC annotation experience is a valuable addition to a CV.

Moving forward, we are looking for opportunities to involve teachers and the teaching community in the process of resource development and use.  This collaboration could include the review of resources to make sure they target the correct language/content level, the creation of teacher guides to accompany SitC resources, or working with their students to collect data on the teaching and learning gains taking place around SitC use. 

SitC depends on volunteer contributions from science and science education experts at all levels.  If the idea of SitC resonates with you, and you would like to become involved, please let us know!  We would love to hear your ideas and call you a partner.

Melissa McCartney

Project Director, Science in the Classroom


AAAS Science

Simulations for K-12 Physics Teachers

by Rebecca Vieyra with guest commentary from Byron Philhour, 23 February 2016

Physics teachers find benefit in using online simulations with their students in many ways: they help students interact with phenomena that might be too expensive, dangerous, or time-consuming to physically do. More importantly, they can help students to conceptualize phenomena that is not always visible. Although physics teachers might have familiarity with with Physics Education Technology simulations (PhETs) or Open Source Simulations, among others, another resource that provides simulations in addition to other curricular and instructional materials is CK-12.

AAPT member and physics teacher Byron Philhour shares how he uses CK-12 resources in his own classroom:

I use the CK-12 simulations in many different ways, depending on the types of inquiry activities I am using in a given school week. Some simulations I like better as an introduction to a concept, with the thought that it will generate questions from students that can be answered during class. The Airplane simulation is good for this because it is such fun to fly. Other times, I use the simulations as a way to revisit material in new ways. Block and Tackle allows students to see visually that the work done by pulley systems with different mechanical advantage stays the same. Occasionally, I project the simulations at the front of the class and we talk through them together. One example of this is Irwin-2D - we adjust the velocity vs. time graphs in the horizontal and vertical direction and then see what happens. I like having all these different arrows for my quiver that I can use as I like. The set of simulations is so large that I'm sure you'll find something you can use with your students that is fun and for free.

Byron Philhour, Ph.D

Would you like to learn more about CK-12 simulations? Join this month's webinar "CK-12 Physics Simulations" on Thursday, February 25th, at 8PM Eastern presented by AAPT member Sonia Tye.

Byron Philhour

CK12 Logo

Mentoring: Nurturing the Physics Teaching Profession

by Rebecca Vieyra, 7 January 2016

Mentoring is integral to most professions, and it's no different for physics teachers. Look for a physics teacher in any high school, and you will most likely find that she or he is the only physics teacher in the school. Although isolation is often experienced by teachers regardless of their discipline, about 80% of physics teachers are the only physics teachers in their school (AIP, 2012).

What this often means is that physics teachers turn to the wider community - they attend conferences, workshops, and join professional societies such as the American Association of Physics Teachers, or even start their own networks online.

What's your role in physics education? As a profession, we all have the responsibility to take care of each other. Mentoring is one solution to inducting and retaining new physics teachers, while supporting and re-energizing those who have been in the profession for a while. In fact, a report recently found that after 5 years of teaching, those teachers who had a mentor in their first year had an 86% chance of remaining in the classroom, as compared to only 71% of teachers who did not have a mentor in that first year (DOEd, 2015).

One immediate action you can take is to join the AAPT's eMentoring Program, and register to be either a mentor or a mentee. Essentially, the program pairs up mentors and mentees with similar teaching situations, and, if possible, similar geographic locations. Mentoring relationships often develop through e-mails, over the phone, or sometimes even in person.

What's in it for you? As a mentor or mentee, a mentoring relationship gives you a "physics buddy" with whom you can bounce ideas, share lessons, and work out challenges. Mentees often seek out a mentor for help with fundamental physics and teaching strategies. Mentors can benefit from the exchange of new ideas, and the knowledge that they are having a significant impact outside of the classroom as well as within it. A number of mentoring relationships have resulted in classroom visits to meet each other in person and offer feedback, co-publications in professional journals, or even co-presentations at national workshops and conferences.

The AAPT's eMentoring Program also supports monthly webinars for mentors, mentees, and the general public. Join this month's webinar on NGSS-Based Strategies for Facilitating Student Learning in Chemistry and Physics with AAPT eMentor Frank Lock, in coordination with the American Association of Chemistry Teachers.

Meet a mentor: John Roeder.
I can remember wanting to be a teacher as far back as my elementary school days, but it wasn't until I took Dr. Lambe's introductory physics course (that was recommended for math majors) when I was a freshman at Washington University that I got interested in physics and Dr. Lambe persuaded me to become a physics major. He also recommended that I go to Princeton for graduate school. After getting my Ph.D. there in 1966, I spent two years as an intelligence analyst in the Army (they knew my thesis was in nuclear physics) and then taught five years at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.  After that, my wife Rae Ann and I moved back to Princeton (where I had first met her), and I started teaching at The Calhoun School, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where I am now spending my 43rd.

I think that the most important lesson I have learned in more than forty years of teaching is the importance of student engagement in the learning process. To this end, I like to create situations in which students are asked to do things that enable them to discover basic concepts and principles of physics for themselves. This, to me, is more meaningful and lasting than having them hear someone "tell" them what the concepts and principles are.

My professional involvement with AAPT began when I applied to become a Physics Teaching Resource Agent (PTRA) (and was accepted) in 1985. This networked me with a lot of other eager physics teachers, and from working with them I realized that I had a lot to give to my professional physics teaching community and that it was time to do so. In addition to being a PTRA, I also accepted the position as Secretary-Treasurer of the Physics Club of New York (an organization of mostly high school physics teachers that meets monthly to hear speakers) and have served AAPT in a number of capacities.  It then only seemed natural that I should volunteer to be one of AAPT's eMentors. I suppose I've had about half a dozen mentees by now, and the one I think I shall remember most was Natasha, then in Baltimore, who liked to have me call her every Sunday night.

American Institute of Physics. (April 2012). Challenges high school teachers face. Retrieved from https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/highschool/hs-teacherchall-09.pdf

U.S. Department of Education. (April 2015). Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years: Results from the first through fifth waves of the 2007-08 beginning teacher longitudinal study. National Center for Education Statistics. NCES 2015-337. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015337.pdf

final infographic

Mentor John Roeder.

roeder grill
John Roeder at the grill.


For more details and information about K12 Programs, please contact Rebecca Vieyra, K12 Program Manager, at rvieyra@aapt.org