American Association of Physics Teachers Meet in Provo

The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) is a community of people with the goal of “enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching.” Less than 50% of high school physics teachers have a degree in physics. Dr. Steve Turley, a physics professor at BYU and long time AAPT member, said that our region routinely prepares more physics teachers than other regions and having the chance to showcase that would be monumental. BYU is consistently in the top five schools nationwide for producing physics teachers, going so far as producing 21 graduates in the 2017-2018 school year. Monica Phish, APS Director of Education and Diversity at the time, said "We are extremely pleased that BYU prepared a record 21 physics teachers in a single year. Duane Merrell and his colleagues have an exemplary program that dovetails with BYU's enduring support for the teaching profession.” BYU professors and faculty have been members of AAPT for years and have been pushing to hold one of the AAPT meetings here in Provo to showcase our school and the teaching community here. 

In the summer of 2019 the aspiration became reality as the summer AAPT meeting was held in Provo. Almost 1100 physics professors and teachers from universities and high schools across the country came together for this AAPT meeting. One of the most important activities in this meeting is the President’s Town Hall where all attending members are invited to come up with and enact a strategic plan for what they want to focus on for the next year. At this meeting, they decided to focus on professional development for professors and teachers and retention of students in their classes and programs. As part of the AAPT meetings they hold elections for some of the important offices in the organization. One of our own faculty, Duane Merrell, was elected last year and currently serves as the vice president of the National Board of Directors of the AAPT. 

Other portions of this meeting consisted of interactive workshops, forums, and events hosted by our physics department. Our own Dr. Powers and Dr. Stokes were two of the four workshop organizer’s who helped orchestrate the 46 workshops members participated in. The workshops included things to help improve labs, reviews of new software, and how to teach digital labs. Many workshops addressed concerns with diversity among the students and teachers themselves. These included The Art of Effective Negotiation Workshop, Drying ‘White Tears:’ Interrogating Whiteness and Racism in a Multiracial Classroom, and Leadership Skills and Networking for Women Workshop. 

One of the integral methods for teaching physics is through the use of physics demonstrations that introduce important concepts in ways that the students can observe and understand. At the AAPT meeting there was a workshop that was done by PIRA (Physics Instructional Resource Association) and staff here at BYU. During this workshop they showed approximately 50 demonstrations related to electricity and magnetism. All the demos shown in the workshop came from BYU’s Physics Demonstrations Area, which provides these demonstrations for classes and outreach events. The demonstrations shown in the workshop formed a subset of the PIRA 200: 200 demos that are important demonstrations of concepts in an introductory physics course. This workshop allowed instructors to learn about what demonstrations are useful as well as how to best incorporate them into introductory physics classes.

(Student Contributors: Grace McKay, Devin Lewis, and Jarrod Hansen)

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