UniServe Science News Volume 18 October 2001


American Association of Physics Teachers meeting

Ian Johnston
UniServe Science

The American Association of Physics Teachers holds two meetings each year, one in summer and one in winter. The former is the larger and is regularly attended by something of the order of 800 participants. They come from all over the United States, and there is always a good sprinkling of attendees from the rest of the world. It is therefore one of the most important, if not the most important conference that a practising physics teacher can attend. This year it was held in July in Rochester, New York.

There are many specialized interest groups within the AAPT, and the conference usually has as many as six streams going on simultaneously. A change that has taken place in the last dozen or so years that I have been going to these conferences is that the group devoted to Physics Education Research has become larger and much more prominent. Some three or four years ago, this group started holding satellite meetings, at the start or the end of the main conference. This year that satellite meeting had an enrolment of around 200 participants.

One of the highlights of the AAPT meetings has always been the keynote speakers, and since they are so well attended, they can attract the very best keynotes. This year one of the plenaries was devoted to recollections of one of the great names in early quantum theory, Max Born. It was given by one who had worked with him at the end of his career - Emil Wolf - and who co-authored the extremely influential book on Optics which most workers in the field know simply as Born and Wolf. There are those who don't know that one of Max Born's grandchildren also gained world-wide fame, but as a pop singer - Olivia Newton-John. And it was interesting to learn from the speaker that he gains much more respect from his students from having an autographed picture of her on his wall, than all his mementos of her grandfather.

Of the many papers that I found of particular interest, I would single out:

  • a description of an impressive software package for teaching students geometrical optics, constructed along sound pedagogical lines, by Fred Goldberg from San Diego State University, which goes by the name of Constructing Physics Understanding; and
  • a truly amazing graphical programming tool called Vpython which allows students or teachers to construct fully rotatable three-dimensional diagrams, with the very minimum of programming knowledge, which was demonstrated by Bruce Sherwood from Carnegie-Mellon Institute.

All in all I would say that the AAPT meetings are always worthwhile attending for physics teachers who want to keep up with what is happening. If you can get the funding to attend just one overseas conference each year, you would do well to make it this one.

Ian Johnston
UniServe Science

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UniServe Science News Volume 18 October 2001

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