SEES: An Opportunity for Students to See Themselves as Physicists

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Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action

SEES: An Opportunity for Students to See Themselves as Physicists


Amanda Williams, SPS Alumna, Weber State University

Meetings of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) are filled with talks, posters, and workshops aimed at physics teachers. But one event at its annual winter meeting is just for students—Students Exploring Engineering and Science (SEES).  SEES participants get a new perspective on things with the help of diffraction glasses. Photo courtesy of Brad Conrad.

SEES is an outreach collaboration between the AAPT and SPS. Dozens of students from local schools are bused to the conference hotel for a morning of fun, hands-on physics led by SPS volunteers. The goal is to directly impact the community while improving outreach efforts across the United States. This past January, 50 sixth-grade students from Christa McAuliffe Middle School in Houston, Texas, participated in SEES at the 2019 AAPT Winter Meeting, and volunteers from 11 SPS chapters were there to greet them.  SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor for 2018, Dr. Roberto Ramos, receives his plaque from SPS president Dr. Alina Gearba-Sell at the AAPT Winter Meeting. Photo courtesy of AAPT.

The sixth graders walked into the hotel ballroom, not quite sure what to expect. Earl Blodgett, a physics professor and SPS advisor at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, invited them to sit down in the middle of the room. As he walked up to the students, Dr. Blodgett started talking but then interrupted himself to admire the echo in the room. He used that as a segue to note that science is just observing the world around you.

Brad Conrad, the director of SPS, then asked the students, “What is science? What do scientists do?” With answers such as “make new energy sources” and “build structures and develop technology,” the students showed an impressive amount of breadth and openness in their answers. Their energy informed us that it was going to be a fun morning!

For most of the morning, the students were guided by volunteers through four different stations. Each station emphasized a different physics concept. The students explored circuits, the diffraction of light, collisions and momentum, and simple motors. They also received “rainbow glasses” (diffraction glasses) to take home, along with some other goodies.

Over a shared pizza lunch, I asked the students about their experiences. I found that each activity was equally cited as a favorite, consistent with the excitement and lighthearted inquisitiveness I saw on the students’ faces at each station.

What sets SEES apart from other outreach events is the diverse set of volunteers. Each SPS volunteer had a unique story and reason for volunteering. Some were there for the opportunity to teach, some to learn new demos, and some to solidify their physics knowledge. Our reasons for pursuing physics ranged from “I loved tinkering when I was a kid” to “I want to help the next generation fuse both art and physics.” The volunteers reflect the fact that you don’t have to fit in a particular box to get into science; you just have to enjoy it and dedicate yourself to it. I was glad we had the chance to share our stories with the sixth graders.

As Michelle Obama put it during her speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back (…)” And that is what SEES is all about: the physics community coming together to inspire the next generation to see themselves in science, too.The students gave SEES a resounding thumbs up! Photo courtesy of AAPT.

For SPS outreach resources, head over to the SPS website at There you’ll see a growing list of demonstration ideas with comprehensive guides.

SPS also still has a few free Science Outreach Catalyst Kits for the 2018–19 school year. Learn more and request a FREE kit at!.

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