This week I went to the summer meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). It was great to see so many friends (some of whom I hadn’t met face to face before) and it was fun to brainstorm ideas about all facets of physics teaching. It was also cool to see presentations about things ranging from ways to use video analysis for student projects (thanks Aaron Titus!) to the amazing story of the prediction and discovery of the Higgs boson.
I also spent a fair amount of time comparing my experiences there to my experiences with the Global Physics Department. I thought I’d use this post to try to get my thoughts down about that comparison, and, maybe, start a further discussion about it below in the comments.
First, similarities. Things they both do, or don’t do, well (numbered in case you want to refer to them).
- Get to learn about innovative ideas
- Get to build relationships with people
- Get to hear and tell lots of physics jokes
Next, things that AAPT does well that GPD doesn’t:
- A focused, intense, long time to talk about physics and physics teaching.
- Rooming with a fellow small-school physics professor (Thanks, Ben Stottrup!).
- Great chance to use great meals to build relationships
- Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace has great food and had great fellowship (including a great pic of me that Fran Poodrytook – hopefully she’ll be willing to send it to me to put here).
- I used the word “great” there a bunch, sorry. Peter Bohacek pointed out at that dinner that I also use the word “awesome” a lot. I proposed the adjective “SuperFly.”
- Good place to participate in discussion about the direction of physics teaching policy issues (things like standards etc) by attending the committee meetings.
- A talk there can be put on your CV and people know what it means
- and an invited talk there is well understood, from a CV perspective
Now some things that GPD does well but AAPT doesn’t:
- Always leaves time for discussion after a speaker
- see below as I talk about how that discussion has a place to go afterwards as well
- Has a vibrant backchannel during presentations
- All presentations are recorded
- You can wear pajamas
- It’s free
One thing I really didn’t like at AAPT this year were the sessions with 3 invited speakers who all went long, with no time at the end for discussion. Those presenters could have just recorded their presentations and put them on youtube or something. My favorite sessions were those where a clear discussion could happen. I really liked what Danny Caballero did in the session I talked in. It was scheduled for 90 minutes, and
me I and the other two speakers (superstars Frank Noschese and Noah Podolefsky) each only talked for 15 minutes. That left nearly half the time for discussion. Awesome. Sorry, SuperFly.
I think the sessions I love most in both AAPT and GPD are those where there’s a somewhat open question, and a small number of experts sets the table for a great discussion on the topic.
Let’s be clear, I do have an agenda here. I think GPD is great and it has a chance to really grow to be one of the most important groups to help physics teachers. Right now we’re small and very agile, both, really, the opposite of AAPT. I like those strengths, and the size and (slow) speed of the AAPT really dragged on me a little this past week.
So, what are your thoughts? Here are some extreme stances to get your blood boiling. None of these describe my feeling (I think), they’re just conversation starters:
- I’ll never go to AAPT again. I get all I need from GPD, twitter, and the physics blogosphere.
- I would never put a presentation at GPD on my cv. It’s too informal.
- If GPD becomes more successful, it’ll look just like AAPT does now.
- GPD and AAPT have nothing to do with each other. They scratch completely different itches for me.
Whoops, just realized that I mentioned earlier that I had some thoughts about where discussions can go after a GPD presentation. I was referring to how both twitter and the blogosphere really take off after most GPD meetings. John Burk leads the way, usually. I don’t feel that such conversations do the same thing at AAPT, but please correct me if I’m wrong.