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STEP-ping UP and Networking at AAPT
Meeting Notes - SPS Reporters at Science Conferences
STEP-ping UP and Networking at AAPT
Amber Sammons, 2019 SPS/AAPT Teacher Professional Development Intern and SPS Member, Illinois State University
Mountains do, in fact, exist. That was the first thing I learned when I landed in Provo, Utah, for the summer meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). The unfamiliar formations (I’m from the prairies of Illinois) set the tone for a week filled with new experiences and discoveries.
At the time of the meeting, I was an SPS summer intern working with AAPT. Because of this, I was able to access a bit more of the meeting than I had when I attended previous AAPT meetings. In particular, I had the opportunity to visit some of the workshops that AAPT hosted for physics teachers, which expanded my knowledge base as a physics teacher in training.
Before the official meeting started, I helped prepare the K-12 Teacher’s Lounge, a place where various workshops were held to provide digital resources, topical discussions, and interactive labs and lesson plans. The person who was in charge of running the lounge happened to be someone who previously held my internship position. Since then, she has changed from being a high school physics teacher to a science coordinator for an elementary school. While my passion and career goals lie in teaching high school physics, it was great to talk to her about her journey and hear the advice she had for people interested in working with younger students.
After the workshops and setup ended, the conference officially began. My physics education research team from Illinois State University was also attending the meeting. While I wasn’t able to present our research, I helped my team prepare data and write papers throughout the summer. Our group presented two posters and a talk during the conference, all of which I helped with in some capacity. Another highlight of the meeting was networking with people who were introducing new resources and teaching methodologies to the classroom, either at the K-12 level or the introductory college level. Over the course of the conference, I made connections with people from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, professors doing research at universities across the country, and even possible graduate schools.
The biggest takeaways from the meeting were the connections I made and the lessons I learned from STEP UP (a national movement that provides resources to reduce barriers and engage young women in physics) and other groups supporting women pursuing physics degrees and/or careers. I have been working to start a Women in Physics group at my university with limited support. Luckily, we were awarded a grant from APS to help with this endeavor financially, but the process of starting a new group on campus is challenging. I had an extended conversation with a group from the University of Maryland about ways to make sure this sort of club survives and thrives, and I attended a STEP UP session that demonstrated that there really is a movement to improve the experience of everyone pursuing physics. The session talked specifically about lesson plans STEP UP has developed and their work helping women develop physics identities. It gave me so much courage as a preservice teacher to see meaningful and important lesson plans that have been easily implemented and successful. This experience has reinvigorated my pursuit of a Women in Physics group at Illinois State and my goal to encourage the students in my future classes to see themselves as physicists.