Retiring President's Address - 2003

Christopher J. Chiaverina
Announcer, Vol. 33, Iss. 1

Given Jan. 13, 2003, at the 126th AAPT National Meeting in Austin, Texas

Good Morning. I seem to be doing a lot of retiring these days. Today I’m retiring from the presidency of the AAPT; last June I left the classroom after teaching high school physics for 34 years. Throughout my career I’ve been extremely fortunate to have known and worked with some of the best in the business. At Barrington High School, my friend and mentor Jim Hicks introduced me to inquiry-based learning. It was also Jim who took me to my first AAPT meeting. For that, I will be eternally grateful. This organization has had a profound effect on my professional life. Through AAPT publications and meetings I learned how and what to teach in my physics classes. I presented my first paper at an AAPT meeting and had my first article published in TPT. Most importantly, I have had the opportunity to meet and learn from America’s finest scientists and educators.

I would imagine that many of you have been touched by the AAPT in similar ways. Over the years, our organization has helped thousands of teachers find better ways of reaching and teaching their students. As we enter the new millennium, AAPT continues to be the leader in physics education. However, the Executive Board remains mindful of the changing needs of the AAPT membership, the demands placed on science educators by state and federal mandates and the limitations created by current economic conditions. As a consequence, in the summer of 2000, then-president Ruth Howes organized an Executive Board retreat for the purpose of addressing long-range planning for AAPT. This planning has proven to be extremely important in helping the Executive Board set its priorities. I would like to thank Ruth for her efforts and assure her that her work continues to shape the future of AAPT.

As you know, the activities of our organization are numerous and diverse. I would like to take a few minutes to share a sampling of AAPT’s current activities with you. Keep in mind, this list is far from being exhaustive.


A recent membership survey revealed that the American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher remain the most valuable benefits of being a member of AAPT. This isn’t surprising, for who doesn’t look forward to receiving these publications each month? If you’re like me, when they arrive, they are the first pieces of mail opened.

Under the editorship of Jan Tobochnik and Karl Mamola, respectively, these publications seem to improve with each issue. By reaching out and touching our members, many of whom are unable to attend our meetings, they serve to strengthen our sense of community. I am happy to report that AJP and TPT are both available online.

National Task Force on Undergraduate Education

Two years ago, the Exxon Mobil Foundation awarded the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics $133,000 to support Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Education, or SPIN-UP. The Task Force is charged with planning, developing and coordinating activities designed to “revitalize” our nation’s undergraduate physics programs. Sponsored jointly by the AAPT, the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the Task Force has made site visits to a number of “thriving” physics departments across the country. Chaired by past AAPT president Robert Hilborn, the Task Force is completing a case study of the characteristics common to robust undergraduate physics programs. A report, due out shortly, will identify best practices of our nation’s most successful physics departments.


Based on the SPIN-UP four-year institution model initiated by the Task Force, a similar effort has been initiated at two-year colleges. Mary Beth Monroe, Tom O’Kuma and Warren Hein serve as leaders of the NSF-funded project. After conducting approximately 10 site visits to two-year colleges and a nationwide survey of all two-year colleges, the project will prepare a report containing a set of case studies of exemplary two-year college physics programs.

New Faculty Workshop

The seventh annual New Faculty Workshop was held in November at the American Center for Physics in College Park. Under Ken Krane’s leadership, this highly successful workshop addressed the needs of new four-year college and university physics and astronomy faculty. The workshop has been so popular that planners have recently had to face the problem of over subscription. The APS and AAS are cosponsors of the AAPT-initiated workshop.

Department Chairs Conference

Every other year, for the last 20 years, AAPT and APS have convened a meeting of physics department chairs at the American Center for Physics. These conferences foster connections between AAPT and four-year colleges and universities and make chairs aware of AAPT activities, publications and meetings. Speakers at this spring’s meeting included Jack Marburger, the President’s Science Advisor, and Ray Orbach, the Director of the Office of Science in the Department of Energy.

In November 2001, the AAPT hosted the first meeting of the chairs of the “top 25” physics departments in the nation. Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman took the lead in coordinating the meeting, which focused on undergraduate physics education. The participants’ desire to hold another meeting attests to its success. It will take place this spring in College Park.

Preparation of Physics Teachers

As is well known, the supply of well-trained, motivated teachers in America is not keeping up with demand. The problem, particularly acute in mathematics and the sciences, is approaching a crisis in physics.

AAPT is involved in several initiatives intended to address this critical issue. The Physics Teaching Resource Agents or PTRA has a stellar 15-year history of providing high-quality professional development to teachers of physics. Under the leadership of Jim Nelson, Jan Mader and George Amann, the PTRA program has recently been awarded support from the NSF for its PTRA-Rural initiative. The $5 million grant will extend over five years.

APS, AAPT, and AIP have embarked on a five-year program to improve the science preparation of future K-12 teachers. The Physics Teacher Education Coalition, or PhysTEC for short, has received support from the NSF as well as a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE).

Thanks to the efforts of Leonard Jossem, an AAPT committee on teacher preparation and professional development has been formed. This committee is examining ways in which the AAPT and its sections can work together to better serve fledgling teachers.


AAPT, along with the APS, AIP and AAS, have recently received $900,000 to develop the physics component of the proposed National Science Digital Library or NSDL. Warren Hein and Bruce Mason are leading the effort to refine and expand AAPT’s Physical Science Resource Center, our current online teacher resource.

International Physics Olympiad

Due to safety concerns, the U.S. Physics Team that normally competes in the International Physics Olympiad did not participate in the event that was held in Indonesia. Instead AAPT arranged for a “Tribute to the U.S. Physics Team,” held at NASA headquarters. The extraordinarily successful event included addresses by a current astronaut, the NASA director of physics and astronomy research and the Science Advisor to the Secretary of State. I would like to thank coaches Mary Mogge and Leaf Turner for their leadership and dedication to the Olympiad. I would also like to acknowledge Bernie Khoury’s good judgement. As we know from recent history, his decision to keep our kids home was the right one.


AAPT had an extraordinarily successful year in obtaining external support for its activities. These awards were the product of a great deal of work by staff members and members of AAPT. I would like to thank all whose hard work resulted in this year’s veritable windfall.


The last few years have been exciting ones for our organization. As a result of the efforts of AAPT and the physics teaching community, the future of physics education appears bright. More students than ever before are taking, enjoying and understanding physics. As a result of the work of the Physics Education Research community, we possess a better understanding of how students learn and how we can improve our teaching. The advent of

computer-assisted instruction, digital resources and long-distance learning have created possibilities that physics teachers could only dream of a few years ago.

However, many challenges remain for our organization. We must heighten our efforts to bring more young people into AAPT. If you haven’t noticed, we’re an aging organization. Equally pressing is the need to interest minorities in physics and physics teaching. Virtually all physics departments find it difficult to increase the number of minority students who study physics. In general, we must make physics and physics teaching more attractive to a wider audience.

We must also decide the future role of AAPT in teacher preparation. As I stated previously, we are involved in several initiatives that address preparing prospective teachers, but they only scratch the surface of the problem. Many of our activities focus on professional development of current teachers, rather than the pre-service training of prospective teachers. Equally daunting is the challenge of assisting the burgeoning group of crossover physics teachers, draftees from other fields who are asked to deliver the goods without the necessary training. Finally, it will all be for naught if we don’t find a way to retain good teachers. Stopping the revolving door of teacher turnover is every bit as important as attracting qualified people in the first place.

Concluding Remarks

I am extremely proud to have been selected to serve as your president. I hope that in some small way I have been able to give back to an organization that has given me so much. I would like to thank my fellow Board members and the College Park staff for their unflagging support. In particular I would like to acknowledge John Hubisz, Bernie Khoury and Carol Heimpel who have provided aid and comfort every step of the way.

At this time it is a great pleasure to turn the gavel over to your next president, Charlie Holbrow. Our membership could not have selected a more able person to lead the AAPT. Congratulations Charlie!