Week 9: Teaching Teachers

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Friday, July 24, 2015


Connor Day

I escaped intern life for a bit this past weekend. I spent Friday evening in Alexandria, VA (across the river from southeast DC) with my friend Olivia who is from there. We walked through Old Town Alexandria down to the waterfront; it’s a beautiful area. We stopped at a nice pizza place on the way to an outdoor movie by the Potomac. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was showing, so there were lots of little kids running around when we arrived, but they calmed down when the movie began. It was surprisingly adorable! I need to go back and watch the first one now. I spent the rest of the weekend with my family in Westminster, MD. It was a particularly warm and sunny weekend, so I spent most of it in their pool. We had a picnic on Saturday night that featured my uncle’s famous BBQ chicken, and the evening was nice enough to set a small bonfire in the backyard at dusk. We had planned to make s'mores, but I started falling asleep by the fire before that happened...

The history center was happy to welcome nine teachers from across the country to work with us this week in a four-day workshop. Our aim was to receive direct feedback from them on our teaching guides and resources and to expose them to all resources AIP has to offer to their classrooms. Most of the attendees were high school physics teachers, but a few taught younger and older students. Unfortunately, the intern tour day of the Capitol Hill was also on Monday, and although we didn’t want to skip out on the first day of the teacher workshop, we didn’t want to miss the Hill tour either. We decided to miss the initial welcoming of the teachers on Monday to join the interns for a morning tour of the Capitol Building with the “redcoats.” This was the tour that is open to any tourists, but it was still interesting. We got to see inside the famous inner dome, the Crypt, and many of the state statues that live inside the building.

Brean and I slipped back to ACP before lunchtime to join the workshop. We began by working in small groups and focused on improving one lesson plan each. The group I facilitated was very productive; we considered specific ideas and additions to the plan regarding the “Mercury 13,” a group of women who underwent some of the same physiological tests as the NASA Mercury astronauts. (This was a groundbreaking event in the advancement of female astronauts.) Our group later discussed general ideas that would be useful to the project as a whole. I was glad that the group was very lively and engaged so early in the workshop! Later in the afternoon, Rachel Ivie from the AIP Statistical Research Center came by to present some statistics that AIP has published regarding underrepresented minorities in physics. Although I had already been exposed to a lot of the information she presented through my work here, it was nice to have the ability to ask questions and receive more context directly from the SRC director.

Tuesday began with a tour of the library and archives with the teachers. Our small group discussions continued, and Anne Cox from Eckerd College came by to speak about the collaborative project called HerStories. She and one of her students have been developing lesson plans based on the inspiring HerStories video that I have been exposed to many times in the past couple of years. She came to use our team of teachers to critique and discuss her lessons just as we had been doing with the history center’s work. I’m glad to see that the HerStories project is continuing to gain visibility across the physics community. That afternoon, we found time to try out Phystory with the teachers, and I was thrilled that it was a hit! Even though the teachers weren’t experts at the history in the game, their competitive natures made the game exciting, and all seemed to want to try it with their students - which is exactly the goal we were aiming to achieve!

Wednesday included a talk by Sean, our SPS director, regarding the role of SPS at the undergraduate and high school level and the types of resources available through SPS for teachers, including the online SOCK guides and materials. He brought a items to perform a few of the SOCK activities from last year’s project based on light. The teachers really enjoyed the polarizing glasses. We also played Heads Up with the teachers, which proved to be a more difficult game than Phystory, even for the history team members ourselves!

That evening, we stayed late after the workshop for a BBQ dinner with the teachers and the entire library staff. We all were extremely well-fed this week with catered lunch every day: tex-mex lunch on Monday with plenty of chips, salsa, and guacamole leftovers for us to take home; Mediterranean cuisine on Tuesday; and sandwiches on Wednesday with macaroni and cheese and BBQ chicken to take home in the evening!

Thursday was our last day with the teachers, and most of our discussions were with the entire group regarding new ideas for game content and new lesson plans and activities. As Brean and I have been developing our card games, our graduate student team member Joanna has been creating a scientific version of the popular board game Settlers of Catan called Scientists of Catan. It had been a long time since I had played the original game, and most of the teachers had never heard of Catan, so it took a little while to explain the concept to them. After about half an hour of gameplay, however, the competition got heated, and everyone was enjoying it!

The group this week was incredibly fun to work with and get to know. One of them I had met at a previous CUWiP conference, and another had a special connection with one of the interns - Aman’s mommy! Everyone really enjoyed the casual atmosphere of the workshop and had outgoing and friendly personalities that teachers tend to have. I’m hoping to keep in touch with all of them!

I will continue meeting educators next week at the AAPT summer meeting hosted here in College Park at UMD. I’m already registered to attend, and one of my own professors from Agnes Scott is speaking at the conference. The intern team was informed today that we will be giving a joint talk at the meeting too! One of the graduate students from last year was scheduled to give an overview of our teaching guide project, but she cannot make it, so the torch has been passed to us. Luckily, Brean and I are already preparing for our final intern presentations next Friday, so this talk simply forces us to be ready for our SPS presentation even sooner! I can’t believe my last official day as an SPS intern is a week from today.

Connor Day