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November 2017 Member Spotlight - Danny CaballeroSpotlight Archive

Member Spotlight

Danny Caballero
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan

I chose physics in high school because it was interesting. I thought it was neat how different equations coming from very simple statements of "fact" could describe real physical situations. Or at the very least, they could get really close to describing them. But what was cooler still, was that even when experiments didn't go exactly right, they went predictably wrong. The time of flight was too long because of air resistance. The ball didn't bounce quite high enough because the collision was inelastic. My physics teacher had a shelf of popular physics books that he encouraged us to read. One was Chaos by James Gleick. I read that book and immediately realized that all the really cool physics was much more complicated than blocks on ramps and dropped balls. Physics that was really interesting was often difficult to understand, hard to predict, and, often, counter intuitive. That hooked me. I wanted to know more about physics in all its interesting forms. So the next fall, I enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin as a physics major. Coming from a home where neither of my parents went to college, they were, needless to say, skeptical: "What are you going to do with physics?!" I said, "Well, I can always teach."

I floundered a bit in graduate school. I was studying nonlinear dynamics, but I was at times pretty aimless. I enjoyed working with students more than working with my experiment. In that sense, AAPT was a wonderful place for me. I joined AAPT as a graduate student in 2008 and attended my first AAPT Summer Meeting in 2009 in Ann Arbor. After attending my first session at the meeting, I was hooked; these were my people. People were talking about teaching, learning, education research, and programs to better support students. I wanted to know more about what others were trying in their classes and what physics education research had discovered about student learning. I was so overwhelmed that I think that I got conference anxiety. I was worried that by attending one great session that I was missing out on another great session. But, it turned out that everyone I encountered that year was incredibly warm and welcoming. The informal conversations became invaluable to me. I learned about teaching, about learning, about research, about careers, about so many things. It was wonderfully overwhelming.

I'm currently a professor at Michigan State where I have taught a variety of physics courses and I study how students learn physics.  My research focuses on how students learn to use computers to model physical systems. In my work, I get to share my love and interest in physics with young people and wonder how they learn it all. I don’t think that would have happened without joining AAPT. AAPT provided a platform to share my ideas, to visit with colleagues and collaborators, and to enjoy physics and physics teaching. I’m incredibly grateful to continue to be a part of such a supportive organization.