|About the Program | Meet the Interns | Past Interns
University of Arkansas
Internship: AAPT/PTRA Teacher Professional Development
I'm an Arkansan, born-and-bred, and I studied physics and education at the University of Arkansas. In May I'll be a licensed physics and math teacher. Teaching is my passion, and I'm going to leap straight into the classroom to share my skills and enthusiasm with the next generation of physicists.
I also have the pleasure of being a returning internĖI just couldn't stay away! Back in 2013 I was one half of Team SOCK, but this summer I'll be working with the American Association of Physics Teachers instead. I look forward to coming back because it is no exaggeration to say that being an SPS intern changed my life forever. In my spare time, my hobby is appreciating art and doing artsy things.
- Week 1
- Week 2
- Week 3
- Week 4
- Week 5
- Week 6
- Week 7
- Week 8
- Week 9
- Final Reflections
|Week 1, May 26-June 1, 2014
Guess Who's Back!
I'm Caleb Heath, the prodigal intern. If you're staff or friend or family, than I and my story are familiar to you. But some of you reading this will be spaced further down the temporal flow. Some of you are future interns, or at least, you'd like to be. I therefore repeat my history for your benefit.
I was born in Tennessee, but am a life-long Arkansas. Physics didn't enter my life until I was twenty-four. "Caleb," I said (as I often do), "you wanted to be a scientist when you were little. What happened?" "It's too hard, and I'm not smart enough for all that." "That's crap. We never even tried."
So I did try, and I surprised myself. Now I have a BS in physics from the University of Arkansas; it goes nicely with my old BA in philosophy. I no longer want to be a scientist however. I want to be a teacher. You can have your telescopes and cyclotrons. Give me a whiteboards and students any day.
Actually give me a cyclotron too. Just a small one, something that will fit in my classroom budget. Why thank you! Iím sure weíll get a kick out of it.
Last summer I was a SOCK Intern. The 2013 kit on sensors and measurement is something I'm still quite proud of, but it has little to do with what Iím doing this year. My work this year is with the AAPT, specifically the PTRA program.
Hereís how it works. Teachers need professional development. To facilitate national excellence in physics teaching , we select the best physics teachers to become Physics Teaching Resource Agents. This elite educating force is provided with intense professional development at workshops and institutes. The Agents then replicate this development at a local level.
So my job is to help revise and develop some of those professional development materials. My audience is some of the best physics teachers in the country. So you know, just a little pressure. But thatís how you make diamonds.
I had a good time getting into DC. I slept almost completely throughout my flights on account of exhaustion. A week spent packing up your life can do that to you. Since Iím still looking for a job, and my lease ends mid-way through the summer, everything goes into a storage unit until I know exactly where Iím moving to. So if youíre looking for a physics/math teacher, holla! I also do middle school.
This isnít my first rodeo, so I got myself settled in quickly. Iím looking forward to a more relaxed summer this go around. There are still a few things I never ticked off my DC bucket list.
And of course my fellow interns are great. I think this is going to be even better than last year!
Our first weekend together is coming up. We have dinner at Toniís house to look forward too, as well as a trip to the Einstein statue and Arlington Cemetery. And itís not blazingly hot yet!
Donít worry DC, I know youíll make it up to me later.
Photo 1: Like seeing the presidental hair collection.
Photo 2: New Mexican clown art is the best way to say "I'm sorry."
|Week 2, June 2-8, 2014
Let's Run the Experiment
"Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing." -- Wernher von Braun
The key difference between an expert and a novice is not knowledge or ability: it is process.
As most of my readers have a physics background, I will ask you to reach back into your past, to high school or your freshmen physics courses, and try to remember how you used to solve problems.
Are you shuddering in horror as you recall your early missteps? I bet they were a mess, werenít they? Or perhaps your experiences were different than mine. You may have emerged into the world from the brow of Newton like Minerva from Jupiter, fully endowed with knowledge of the workings of the universe. If you did, please donít tell me. My nature is not generous enough to easily conceal envy.
Back to the nature of expertise, and Iíll be brief. The novice tries to solve problems, but the expert tries to understand them.
What does this have to do with anything? It has to do with the quote from the beginning of this entry. I am trying to become an expert, so Iíve spent this week trying to understand my problem. This is ill-defined work. It provokes a certain amount of anxiety and dissatisfaction, especially if you have been socialized in some maladaptive habits by experience. ďWhat are you doing? Get to work already!Ē harps the inner critic.
Well, next week is a time for trial-and-error. Iím no expert yet. Time to get in some fumbling and flailing.
Photo 1: The view from ACP
Also as a show of hands, when was the last time you used a 3Ĺ inch floppy disk? Iíve enjoyed a few adventures exhuming fossilized files this week, excavating with a boot disk and a command line. (Thanks Erwin!)
This kind of archaeology is becoming more necessary every day. Media and systems become obsolete. Programs can no longer be run on current hardware. Instead of curating a writerís collection of correspondence, weíre data-mining their e-mails. Death now bequeaths two estates, the one physical and the other digital.
Photo 2: Old school computing.
Thanks to fellow intern Ashley, I also had the opportunity to attend an exhibition of ExploraVision winners this week. The idea behind this contest is that student teams take an existing technology, research it, and then extrapolate its development twenty years down the line. Then they wrap it all up in reports, abstracts, video presentations, and a website.
ExploraVision is a simulation of research and development, and quite different from a normal science fair or competition. No apparatus or process is actually produced. Entries are more like a elaborate thought experiments in science and engineering. To the viewer, the result is inspirational; to the contestants, it is aspirational.
|Week 3, June 9-15, 2014
The Temple of Science
Lincoln founded the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of the Civil War. Among its first tasks was to solve the problem of compass malfunction in iron-clad warships. Since then, some of the most brilliant people in the US have volunteered their time to produce reports that have had lasting impact on the nation.
I had occasion to go the National Academy of Sciences building yesterday to attend a discussion on the report ďSTEM Integration in K-12 EducationĒ. Iíll pick out some salient points for you.
STEM integration blends science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in instruction rather than segregating them. More specific descriptions vary. Indeed, one of the central findings of the committee is that it would be much easier to move ahead in integrating STEM if we could establish a common lexicon. Still, the landscape looks encouraging.
Integrating the STEM subjects sounds like a good idea from a commonsense standpoint; it mirrors the way the subjects are used in the real world. Science and math should become more relevant and engaging if teachers can link them to the solving of real problems. Now thatís should, and as scientists we should be careful to look at evidence for this commonsense notion.
And the evidence is that it does work! Itís difficult path for both students and educators though. Students need to have the links between science, engineering, and so forth explicitly pointed out to them. Teachers have to stretch their expertise to encompass all the disciplines. Administrators have to be flexible and energetic enough to support innovative approaches. Still, there are now an increasing number of high schools that put all but the most elite colleges to shame.
I can't continue further without discussing the magnificence that is the dome of the NAS Building.
Photo: Encircling the rim of the wheel is an inscription:
"To science, pilot of industry, conqueror of disease, multiplier of the harvest, explorer of the universe, revealer of nature's laws, eternal guide to truth."
Inside the wheel are eight medallions representing the extant sciences. Physics is of course included.
Photo: On the wall is an excerpt from Aeschylus' "Prometheus Bound". I'll abridge even further:
"Hearken to the miseries that beset mankind. They were witless erst and I made them to have sense and be endowed with reason. . . . everything they wrought without judgment, until such time as I taught them to discern the risings of the stars and their settings. Aye, and numbers, too, chiefest of sciences, I invented for them . . . If ever man fell ill, there was no defence, but for lack of medicine they wasted away, until I showed them how to mix soothing remedies . . . Hear the sum of the whole matter--every art possessed by man comes from Prometheus."
A suggested correction: "Every art possessed by humankind comes from humans."
I miss the grandness of saying "man" and "mankind", but I'm striving to be more inclusive in my language. Constraint is a driver of creativity. It demands cleverness, and should it surprise anyone that "engineer" and ďingeniousĒ are born of the same root?
|Week 4, June 16-22, 2014
I Love Conferences
Yes, I do.
And they keep getting better and better every time I go to them. Hereís why.
We have never before had as much access to information as we do now. I can learn about (and I canít believe spell-check knew what I meant here) Kalmyk cooking, explosive ordinance disposal, and Model T maintenance with a quick Google search. Iíll probably have videos too.
So if you have all the answers, the biggest remaining problem is phrasing your questions. Without this you cannot find the link between what you want to know and what there is to know.
I eagerly await every advance in voice interface and artificial intelligence. I would like someday for us to have the Star Trek experience where the computers can puzzle out our meaning and deal with our fuzzy queries. Until then itís GIGO, garbage in, garbage out.
That may never change actually, which brings me back to the usefulness of the conference, or the congress or the summit or the symposium. Whatever you call it, the central principle is the same: those with a shared interest meet and discuss that interest. And a human expert, unlike our silicon friends, has a fair chance of matching their answer to your proto-question.
The excellent Jack Hehn up at AAPT previously described to me that a sort of oral tradition exists in the physics teaching community. I think that it actually extends to any endeavor, any community. The lab notebook is really a very small part of what has gone into the development of a scientific idea.
Needless to say, I had a very good time at the 2014 Noyce Conference this past Thursday and Friday. A selection of people I got to meet:
- My old advisors, Gay and John Stewart
- Pennsylvania Representative Chaka Fattah
- DC Public Schools Deputy Chief of STEM Kim Cherry
- Science vlogger Derek Muller, creator of the YouTube channel Veritasium (bonus, got to see a sneak peak of a new video)
- Two teachers at a school Iím interviewing at on Wednesday
- And so many more
STEM education is really a small world.
Well, aside from the professional enrichment, how was my week? Let me show you the greatest museum in DC that youíve never heard of.
That . . . is the National Building Museum, once home to the Pension Bureau of the Post-Civil War era. Its state of the art 1887 construction paid consideration to both accessibility (low, wide stairs with handrails for aging veterans) and worker health (an innovative, passive ventilation system and fireproofing). Now it is a museum for architecture. Really though, you come to see the great central plaza.
The designer took inspiration from an Italian palazzo and gave it an American touch; he scaled it up to twice the size. If youíve ever seen pictures of the Inaugural Ball, you've seen the museum, though they completely transform it for functions. You can have your wedding here if you like. Only $10k.
I think it's actually a bargain, as far as extravagances go.
|Week 5, June 23-29, 2014
In the summertime, when the weather is high . . .
So is the mercury. And the humidity. And yes, the sky is far too close for my liking. But hey, it's been not bad for rain this year. I have yet to be utterly destroyed by freak rain showers. My hair's gone out of control, but it does that anyway. You're really disappointing me DC!
It's been a busy week up at AAPT. It's only going to become moreso as we get closer to the Summer Meeting. Yours truly gets to attend both that and the PTRA Summer Institute. That's going to be eight solid days of Minneapolitan goodness. I hear it's a very beautiful city, and I hope I'll have a bit of time to take it in between conference proceedings.
Until then, I have three weeks to wrap up my project. It has turned out to be an ambitious vision. That's okay. Shoot for the moon and you will at least end up somewhere else. I guarantee it. You can try it if you don't believe me.
Anyway, three weeks here and a week in Minnesota will basically wrap up the internship for me. Time has passed much faster this time around. Next week is the 4th of July too. That'll make for a short week. Busy, busy.
Let me tell you about what's been occupying AAPT this week: the new faculty workshops. I am sure that any of the physics majors out there will agree with me that many professors have a greater liking for the lab bench than the classroom. Even those who do like teaching classes are often not particularly innovative in their instructional methods.
Read the book. Come to the lectures. Take the tests. Rinse and repeat.
That's how they learned after all.
The recurring message from the workshops, and I did hear this multiple times, is, "You guys are weird."
Anyone with a Ph. D. want to dispute this? The ability and motivation to learn high level physics, sometimes in spite of instruction, and the grit required to grind out that dissertation are abnormal. Undergrad physics majors are strange enough already. Add six years in the pressure cooker and years of research experience and it's no wonder that there is a sort of disconnect between professors-as-teachers and their future students.
The faculty that have been downstairs this week are committed to being better teachers. Just the fact that they want to improve their teaching is wonderful, but they've had a few days to stew in some of the best research and practices in physics education, so they're already ahead of the pack.
I sometimes feel bad for students who have had really excellent, innovative K-12 experiences, because I imagine they would find the lack of polish at many levels of the university disappointing.
A personal first this week: I attended my first baseball game. Specifically the Annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. Yes, the senators and representatives actually play. Arkansas did not represent unfortunately.
I had a hot dog and a nine dollar beer and sang, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." I feel considerably more American.
Also, apparently the State of Qatar helped sponsor (See photo).
|Week 6, June 30-July 6, 2014
Highlights of this week include birthdays and the next generation. The birthday is of course America's, but the next generation was somewhat more interesting. Regular readers will be aware of the National Institute of Standards and Technology one of our most celebrated national laboratories (Five Nobel prizes if I'm not mistaken.)
It has a ballistics testing range, a million pound force machine, and an exceedingly sensitive apparatus that may allow us to define the kilogram without recourse to a hunk of platinum-iridium.
I don't know why it should surprise me that they have a daycare, but it does.
They're precocious little ones too. It's not often I see an 8 year old who is trying to stumble out that light consists of propagating perpendicular electric and magnetic fields. Amazing what you can pick up from mom or dad, huh?
So, we brought science to the children, a collection of activities from this year's SOCK. I miss working on that project, but at least I got a little taste. It's very gratifying when you see the smiling, happy faces. And hear the shrieking.
It's not generally advisable to let first graders have sticky notes, mirrors, or LEDs. I don't think it's specifically advisable either, but you must accept some measure of chaos if you want to do outreach.
The point is after-all to instill wonder. The scientist around the dinner table that night can take over the teaching.
We got to spread physics the next day too, on the Fourth of July. We spent hours camped out beneath the shadow of the Washington monument. It was a beautiful day, bright and windy. Perfect parade weather. I found this out because one stopped me on my way to meet up with everyone. I have learned that the Falun Gong have a marching band. At least I'm pretty sure that's what I saw. Also a mobile temple went past. You could smell the incense.
Anyway, we brought two hundred pairs of diffraction glasses with us. Regular readers know about these already. They will split light sources into their continuous spectra. Your blue flashlight is really more of splash of blues and greens, sunlight a near rainbow, etc. It is the height understatement to say that they are a spectacular accessory for watching fireworks.
I took fifty of the glasses to hand out; Kirsten, Stephen and Mark went off with the rest. At first I had to explain what they did to the people on the Mall. But then children started looking through them and then the cries of joy began. Soon people were calling out with hands outstretched. I prioritized children, insisted that adults would have to share. My supply ran out in about three minutes.
We could have brought a pallet full and still not made a dent in the crowd. Maybe next year.
It was easy to identify who had the diffraction glasses later. Everywhere around us were cheers and exultation. But those who had they glasses were experiencing a whole other level of amazement. Shrieks of delight. Loud cries of "Cool!"
Music better than any National Symphony, which was excellent this year as always.
Stars and stripes forever.
|Week 7, July 7-13, 2014
Eating the Fruit of Knowledge
The highlight of this week was undoubtedly our tour of NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This is an amazing place, a true gem of a national lab, and a cornerstone of American industry. If just a handful of things you interacted with daily had their tolerances off by as little as a millimeter . . . you'd notice.
This is particularly true in electronics. You may not have heard, but we've practically reached the limits of silicon-based computing. Intel works closely with NIST to develop new products, as do countless companies. NIST provides the facilities and expertise. Companies and research groups bring the problems and the operating fees.
Everyone knows the pain of being unable afford their own neutron research equipment and the difficulties of zoning for a nuclear reactor, even if it's not one rated big enough for power generation. But don't worry; that's what we have the NIST Center for Neutron Research for! If you have money and a research proposal (and a clean background check I'm assuming), NIST will let you come to Maryland and shoot all kinds of things with neutrons.
Very neat facility. It's a large hangar-like building criss-crossed with machinery, sort of like a techno-hedge maze. Also fun because they let us go inside and look at the nuclear reactor. It's just a small one, and it wasn't active at the time, but still . . . excellent. I love nuclear power.
No pictures unfortunately. Wasn't in the mood to visit Cuba on short notice.
Another neat thing about NIST: it has a large deer population that roams the compound. The whole area is fenced off for security reasons, and it's sizable enough to support a small herd. It's kind of surreal to be walking from building to building and see them doing their part to keep the grass low.
Another landmark is an apple tree. Not just any apple tree though, but a descendent of Newton's inspirational tree. That famous incident, of an apple helping to inspire gravitation, is true and documented. Newton did not however suffer a bonk to the head.
NIST's tree is a cutting of the original; it is the pure original. And it does grow apples. Stephen decided to pluck one and eat it. I thought I'd try one myself.
No great thoughts as a result of my consumption. Not unless you want to count, "Man, that's sour," and, "Old cultivars have really tiny fruit." Seriously, look at that apple in my hand. Compare it to the gigantic produce in today's markets next time you go.
You can thank selective breeding. And also Norman Borlaug. Or not. I won't dictate your feelings about the Green Revolution.
I'll close out this week's entry with an exhortation to future interns. Go up and down the mighty Potomac. Take a cruise if you like. Rent kayaks, like we did Saturday, and circle Theodore Roosevelt Island. Enjoy the splendor. Washington D.C. doesn't bring to mind the out of doors, but it has a lot to offer.
|Week 8, July 14-20, 2014
An Unbearable Lightness of Being
This has been a big week for me personally. After years of training, and months of back-breaking, nerve-wracking searching, I have a teaching job. I am the newest math teacher at Van Buren High School in Van Buren Arkansas. It's a picturesque little town that hugs the Arkansas River and sits near the Oklahoma state line.
The school is good. The administration wants it to be excellent, so they are seeking to innovate and make use of the most modern educational methods. The work is close to friends and family, as well as my mentors and colleagues in Fayetteville. I plan to stay well involved with UAteach and the University of Arkansas. A first year teacher needs support, and so does a young teaching program. I'm looking forward to furthering our reputation.
I got the news Tuesday, which was a fantastic day all around. Fred Dylla threw us a cool shindig in the College Park Aviation Museum. This is an excellent place to have a party. From the small, second story overlook where we had our gathering, you can view the century's worth of history on display.
The museum celebrates the adjacent airport: the oldest continuously operating airport in the world. The first pilots of the US Army Signal Corp learned to fly there. Countless innovations in airplane design and air travel itself (navigation, safety, armaments) were developed and tested there. Families would dress up and bring a picnic basket to the airport to enjoy the frequent demonstrations and air shows.
The little airport has unfortunately languished over the years. The events of 9/11 almost killed its capacity to operate; security clamped down tight due to its proximity to Washington DC. However, it's still holding on. We did our part by renting out the venue.
It was very good barbecue by the way. Taken in the company of our friends and mentors. Simply fantastic experience.
I can't believe this is almost all over. Our increasingly busy schedule only accelerates the perception that time is racing by.
Case-in-point, our Thursday tour of NASA Goddard, which was also conducted in the midst of a science jamboree. It was a like a combination of a carnival and a poster session. Tours of super-computing clusters, flight calculation centers, broadcast studios, animation labs. Presentations and booths from dozens of projects.
I get that NASA is big. They do more than launch shuttles and satellites. Still, I was a amazed by the sheer number of different divisions and projects. And I'm sure that not everyone bothered to show-up at the jamboree. The scale of these national laboratories and organizations is a vast and beautiful thing.
Thursday was also Ashley's birthday. We chipped in for a bottle of bourbon, serenaded her with "Happy Birthday" (with Nick providing accompaniment on his mandolin), then walked to the Georgetown waterfront and got ice cream. Good times.
This morning the bassoonists I'd met busking outside the Foggy Bottom Metro last year were back. I can tell it's going to be a good weekend.
|Week 9, July 21-27, 2014
An August Company
I am a teacher.
I had been saying that I would soon be a teacher, that I wasn't actually a teacher yet but would be starting at my first position in a few weeks. My colleagues at the PTRA Summer Institute have forced me to banish the future tense.
"Do you have a contract? Then you're a teacher," they said.
That means a lot coming from this group. But it occurs to me that I haven't told you much about the Physics Teaching Resource Agents.
They number a little over thirty individuals. Most are K-12 teachers, but a handful have become administrators or curriculum specialists over the years. The youngest PTRAs are only a few years into their teaching careers. The eldest have been teaching physics for longer than I've been alive. I would conservatively estimate at least 400 years of teaching experience was present at that summer institute, many lifetimes worth.
Some come from school districts who appreciate the importance of their work. Others have had to fight for the chance to attend. Each is a national treasure, not only a physics teacher (a rarity in itself), but a developer of other physics teachers.
I was frankly intimidated to meet so many excellent teachers. My concern was unfounded; I was accepted with open arms. When they found out that I was a new teacher they loaded me down with advice about everything from teaching practices to planning for retirement. Though my primary concern is to survive my first year, I will certainly be reading my HR forms carefully.
We spent Wednesday night through Saturday night constantly busy. When not working on the PTRA workshop catalog and other in-house projects, we were working with partner organizations like PASCO and the Perimeter Institute and giving feedback on their projects.
The NGSS made an emphasis on engineering in science class official, but the winds have been blowing that way for sometime. The PTRAs engineering gurus led us through several sessions of pile driving tower building, and bridge raising. Cost constraints are part of engineering, and definitely part of engineering education, so it's amazing what kind of learning you can derive from projects made using scraps.
Here's an example. One of our tasks was to build a structure that suspended a 50 gram mass (a Snickers) as high in the air as possible. Our construction material was several sheets of newspaper and a meter of tape. Next time you have a sheet of newspaper, start tearing it up in different directions. Notice anything different? Try it with different kinds of paper. I'm sure you'll discover some interesting properties.
I was unable to attend the final presentations on Friday with the rest of the SPS interns on account of the PTRA Summer Institute. Worse, I didn't get to go to Toni's going away party. With most of the next week being taken up by the AAPT Summer meeting, it's going to have a surreal feel as I run back to DC for a mere two days before going home to Arkansas again. Only three weeks before I start my job, and there is still so much to do.
Still, it's lovely Minneapolis. Wish you were here.
|Final Reflections, August 2014
Final Reflections Coming Soon
The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the AAPT Physics Teaching Resource Agents (PTRA) aim to improve the teaching and learning of physics and physical science for all teachers and students in the United States. The PTRA program provides professional development on physics content, teaching techniques based on research in physics education, and integration of technology into curriculum. The program maintains a nationwide cadre of more than 150 accomplished high school teacher-leaders who are trained and continually involved in professional development. These teacher-leaders are certified as PTRAs by AAPT to lead workshops throughout the country.
Working with PTRA teacher-leaders and AAPT staff this summer, Caleb is revising and developing materials for the PTRA workshops. He is also working on developing and testing classroom activities that involve technology and engineering design activities to accompany workshop materials.