Week Six: Two Cities, One Week

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Saturday, July 14, 2018


Krystina Williamson

“Physics is a way of thinking.”

Dear Internet,

On a Sunday evening I found myself being told by google maps to walk across a river.

In the places I’m from, crossing bodies of water via walking typically aren’t the most fun experience. The sidewalks are what I’d colloquially call “janky”, or are non-existent. I was hesitant, but also eager to sleep in the hotel bed that I knew was waiting for me. So I followed Google Maps, and I crossed the river.

I was amazed at the dimly-lit river, the amazement would grow on me in the handful of days that I stayed in Chicago. I’ve been to many cities; San Francisco, New York City, Miami, and recently, Washington D.C.

Out of all of those, Chicago ties with San Francisco for prettiest.

In the brief 2.5 days that I was here this week, I was able to go see Cloud Gate, colloquially known as the Bean. I also visited Lurie Gardens, atte my first deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s and ate my first Chicago dog from Portillo’s. I dined at the Chicago French Market (many times) and walked around the city exploring. I walked around 40,000 steps between Monday and Wednesday.

I was brought to Chicago to participate and help organize a professional development workshop that combined physics modeling practices and coding. The first week I shyly got to know the other participants, all of whom taught at least one physics class. The first group of teachers I worked with had one teacher who had one year under her belt—the other had nearly two decades worth.

The first unit was about modeling energy, and so we played with poppers and hockey pucks and roll-back cars. We created a diagram I had never used before, system schemas, to demonstrate what we thought was in the system of whatever phenomena we were observing.

Most of the workshop time was spent writing our findings on a whiteboard, and the other half was spent discussing and sharing our findings with the class. E switched between student mode, where we looked at the activities through the lens of ninth graders, and teacher mode, where we asked deep questions to help us consider how we’d implement the activities in our own classrooms.

On Wednesday evening, I found myself in a new city, about 1,300 miles away from Chicago, at the southernmost tip of the United States.

Rebecca and I flew to Miami for a brief two-week conference for Step Up 4 Women. At this conference, AAPT, APS, the physics education researchers at FIU, Master Teachers, and Ambassador Leaders would meet to present their findings and thoughts on their work for the past year, and to brainstorm next steps.

I wish I could accurately put into words what it was like to have so many people dedicated to thinking about the representation of women in physics. As a woman in physics at a women’s college, I think often about the lack of women in my major, especially in comparison to other sciences, like biology, where the labs are overflowing with students.

I met some of the most dedicated physics researchers, physics educators and physics educators advocators. The education research team included undergraduates, graduate students, doctorate students, post-doc’s, and professors at FIU. This group of people completely changed my perceptions of what researchers were. Before this conference, I didn’t have any strong intentions of going to graduate school—it was something I’d do if only absolutely necessary. But I have since become so enthralled and excited with the questions that physics education researchers ask. When Zahra, a professor at FIU, light-heartedly asked me when I was coming to FIU for my graduate degree(s), I was very close to telling her to expect my application within the next year. Alas, I know that I want to teach physics before I make any big decisions on what further degrees I want to get next (if any).

After Miami, I went back to D.C., where I re-connected with the other interns who I had been out-of-touch with for a week. (Which sounds like a short amount of time, but considering we had been spending nearly every other minute together for the past five weeks, being gone for a week seems like a looooong time.)

It’s been an excellent week, to say the least. I’m thankful for this weekend in D.C, but I’m also looking forward to going back to Chicago, to continue learning about computational modeling, and delve into Pyret.


Me and Rebecca in Lurie Gardens
Me at Cloud Gate, affectionately called The Bean.
Me introducing myself at the Step Up 4 Women Conference in Miami

Krystina Williamson