Week 9: An August Company

Share This:

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Caleb L. Heath

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.

Caleb L. Heath