President's Commentary (February 2008)

President's Commentary
Lila Adair
February 15, 2008

Over the next 12 months of my presidency I wish to share with you the heart and soul of AAPT. We have come a long way from that first conversation at MIT in the summer of 1928 when Paul Klopsteg and some of his colleagues discussed their unhappiness at a lack of attention to education on the part of the American Physical Society and their desire to create a new organization to meet that need. At a special luncheon at the joint APS-AAAS meeting in Cleveland on December 29, 1930, attended by 22 perspective members, the American Association of Physics Teachers was born via a unanimous approval of a motion “that there be organized an informal association of those interested in the teaching of physics; that officers be elected who shall remain in office for one year; that a committee be established for the purpose of preparing the plans for a formal organization; that these things be done without prejudice toward any possible approach from other organizations or societies toward affiliation.” Under the leadership of President Homer Dodge, Vice President Paul Klopsteg, Secretary-Treasurer William Webb, and 45 dedicated members, a constitution was written and the first annual meeting was planned for 1931 in New Orleans. The original goal of AAPT was to ensure the “dissemination of knowledge of physics particularly by way of teaching.”

Now in its 78th year with more than 11,000 members, AAPT is still dedicated to that original goal, indicated by a slightly more modern mission statement “to enhance the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching.” Four critical issues guiding our current programs and activities are:
  1. increase AAPT’s outreach to and impact on physics teachers,
  2. increase the diversity and numbers of physics teachers and students,
  3. improve the pedagogical skills and physics knowledge of teachers at all levels, and
  4. increase our understanding of physics learning and of ways to improve teaching effectiveness.
Some of the more visible activities involve annual meetings, journals, special conferences, area committees, and our 47 local sections. Perhaps less visible activities involve our many resources available through the Physics Store, the various awards and grants, a career center, the PTRA and PhysTEC programs, and many others that strengthen physics and physics education. Each of us has one of these special areas that stand out, but it takes all of us working together to make AAPT the strong, influential organization that it is today.

I will begin my commentaries by sharing what I believe about AAPT personally: a brief look at our core values and an overview of our programs. Each commentary will deal with a different area of AAPT. As you develop questions or comments about yourorganization, please write to me at aaptadair@mindspring.comand share your thoughts. Thus, let us adventure into the world of AAPT; who we are and what we stand for.

As a small child, my mother always said that you could recover from the loss of many things, but that you could never recover from the loss of your good name. Our chartered name is the American Association of Physics Teachers, a well-known and respected name. The actual words in a name may change over time, but we must always be true to the name that represents us to the public. We must always believe in our name and keep its professional reputation clean, honest, and without blemish. What do I believe that our name says about us as an organization?

I believe in American.America is called by many names: the land of the free and home of the brave; baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet; a melting pot, and the good old USA. No matter what it is called, I am proud to be an American. America is more than just those who were born here; it is a country that welcomes people from all over the world, a true melting pot of cultures. Throughout history some of our most famous and influential scientists have immigrated from other countries and made America their home. America has a world-wide reputation for its leadership in scientific research and development and has provided a rich academic environment for many international students and scientists who received their scientific training here and returned to their home country to provide leadership in research and industrial pursuits. AAPT is very proud of our international members who make up 13% of our total membership. America and AAPT are truly inclusive of all who wish to work and study here.

To enhance that inclusive atmosphere, AAPT has provided leadership in the USA/Japan/China Conferences, the Inter-American Conferences, and the International Physics Olympiad; has provided free journals to third world countries through the Fuller Fund; has funded African and South American teacher participation in UNESCO optics workshops through the Dodge Fund; and has shipped textbooks to schools in Africa. Many international physicists have been featured at AAPT meetings: Jocelyn Bell Brunell, George Coyne, the Stray Cats from Japan, and physics teacher groups from Denmark and Mexico, and many speakers in the “Physics Teaching Around the World” sessions at each meeting. We welcome all to AAPT to contribute, to share, and to learn. Look at the faces of our Central Office staff, former presidents and members, and you will see representation from many countries. As America stands with open arms to the world, AAPT welcomes all who love physics and physics teaching

I believe in Association.Working together for common goals is the key to success for any organization. Our area committees and sections make up our two largest groups of active participants, which are involved in many projects and topical conferences: PTRA, SPIN UP, TYC21, R1 University Physics Department Conference, College Department Chair Conference, New Faculty Workshop, and the TA topical conference. Members often work across all levels K-20 to combine the ideas and skills of high school and two- and four-year college and university physics educators. AAPT participates with sister societies in the PhysTEC and ComPADRE projects and in many other NSF grants with outside groups of researchers and industrial physicists. Joint ventures are also co-sponsored with sister societies like AAAS, AAS, AIP, and NSTA. Working with all of these groups has made AAPT stronger and has built our professional reputation in the scientific community. By working effectively with these groups, AAPT has become the voice of physics education; alone we were but a small whisper.

I believe in Physics.Physics is thefundamental science. From the beginning of recorded time, physics has always been at the forefront of scientific research. Space, time, light, sound, energy, electricity, and technology are all common words in our everyday vocabulary. Applied physics is everywhere in our world, and it is hard to find a career that does not involve physics in some way. AAPT members and our associates have helped raise the public awareness of physics through our outstanding journals, local demonstration shows, Physics on the Road traveling vans, movies, and television programs featuring well-known people like Mr. Wizard, Carl Sagan, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Paul Hewitt, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Some of our members work in industry, national labs, science museums (like the Exploratorium), observatories, and planetariums. AAPT is involved in the academic leadership of Physics Education Research (PER) and the Physics for All and Physics First programs. Physics is everywhere, and AAPT is there to share the excitement of physics with the world.

I believe in Teachers.Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that says “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Teachers are the lifeblood of the world, and each of us can point to that one special high school or college teacher who turned us on to physics. AAPT strives to develop the teaching skills needed by all K-20 physics educators. Our High School Committee has worked diligently on national and state science standards and strategies for dealing with Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) and other No Child Left Behind issues. AIP’s Society of Physics Students (SPS), along with our Undergraduate Education Committee, provide an opportunity for students to make formal presentations at AAPT Annual Meetings and are working with APS on a Doubling Initiative to increase undergraduate physics majors. Our Annual Meetings provide workshops and sessions on various topics on teaching techniques, along with cutting-edge physics content. Staff development is offered through the PTRA program, special projects carried out by the Teacher Preparation Committee, and other topical conferences offered around the country and in College Park, MD. We are all teachers, in one way are or another. Whether it is teaching a young child to walk, teaching a first-grader about the phases of the moon or teaching a nuclear engineer to run a nuclear power plant, it is still teaching—a valuable part of our everyday life. We should be proud of our profession. We are called to teach. Yes, we are educators, professors, directors, or department chairs, but our first responsibility is to teach…Teach with pride!

I believe in AAPT, the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Moreover, I believe in you. Let us keep our professional association as respected and well-known as it always has been. Youare the key.

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