President's Commentary (Spring 2006)
AAPT: Organized for Change
This year AAPT celebrates its diamond anniversary. For 75 years our organization has championed physics by supporting the improvement of physics teaching. As we celebrate AAPT’s achievements, we must plan for new challenges and opportunities. Our society has come a long way since AAPT was founded. Today we believe that everyone needs an understanding of physics. Moreover, physics needs the intellectual contributions of people from all segments of society. Just as physics has gone from a 1930s vision of a universe made of protons, neutrons, and electrons to a richer tapestry of quarks, bosons, dark matter, and dark energy, our view of teaching has changed just as dramatically. We know much more about how people learn and, more importantly, how they don’t. Now is a fitting time to examine AAPT’s structure and programs to determine how our organization can help us shape the future of physics teaching for the next 75 years.
As an organization of teachers, AAPT is intimately concerned with effective communication. We need and demand information that is instantly accessible and up-to-date. Our traditional journals, the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher are available online. We have just established a new electronic journal in collaboration with the American Physical Society called Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research. Perhaps you are now reading the online version of the Announcer. This type of electronic information is readily accessible to anyone with a computer, searchable, and transferable from place to place more efficiently than shipping paper. It is likely that paper versions of these publications will soon vanish. How will the shift to electronic publication affect AAPT and its members?
Improvement in electronic communication means that building a community no longer depends solely on physical interactions. Our students function in a milieu of cell phones, text messaging, email, chat rooms, and virtual communities. This easy flow of information and ideas can allow more people to be involved in determining the direction of our organization. The strength of AAPT is its diverse membership. Ours is the only organization that encompasses physics teaching from high school to graduate school. Our members are research physicists at universities and national laboratories, application physicists in industry, physics faculty and support personnel at large and small colleges, community college physics instructors, high school physics teachers, publishers of physics textbooks and software, and producers of equipment for physics teaching. Most of our students go from high school to college and then into the workforce. A few become the teachers who prepare the next generation. These teachers get their professional preparation at colleges and universities and use the tools prepared by publishers and equipment developers. The communities that participate in this education cycle are interdependent, all must thrive or none will. How can AAPT strengthen the connections between these various communities to ensure effective teaching at all levels?
As an organization, AAPT must satisfy both diverse regional needs and common national interests. The ability of AAPT to facilitate the improvement of physics teaching depends on the vitality of its regional sections. Through the section representatives, regional needs influence the direction of the national organization, and in turn the national organization provides the support necessary to help meet regional needs. To ensure that national meetings are accessible to our large membership, it is the sections, through their representatives, that determine the time and place of national meetings. Some sections have begun to establish multi-path electronic links that unite their membership behind specific goals to improve physics teaching in their region. Has your section been effective in influencing the quality of physics teaching in your region? How can the national organization better assist your section to be an active agent of educational change?
Area committees are based on national needs as determined by the AAPT membership. These committees focus on specific areas that directly impact the teaching. (A listing of area committees is available at www.aapt.org/Directory.) The newest area committee, Teacher Preparation, emphasizes AAPT’s understanding of our responsibility to have programs specifically designed to produce well-prepared K-12 teachers. Through their chairs, area committees are responsible for directing the national program of AAPT to foster the improvement of physics teaching. Have you had adequate access to the area committees that interest you? Is their national program effectively supporting your efforts to institute more effective physics teaching?
Change is the one constant in our society, our physics, our pedagogy, and our membership. Our challenge is to continually reshape AAPT to assist each of us in improving the appreciation of physics through effective teaching. You can help by communicating your ideas to your section representatives, area committees, executive board members, executive office, and your president. Together we can expand AAPT’s community of effective physics teaching.