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Program for AAPT Topical Workshop:
Teaching General Relativity to Undergraduates
 Syracuse University July 20-21, 2006

Thank you

This workshop has been organized with the help and support of the Center for Gravitational Wave Physics at Penn State, the LIGO Project, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the Syracuse University Department of Physics.  We thank these organizations for making this event possible.  We also thank Pearson Addison-Wesley and Cambridge University Press for making available a number of important textbooks for teaching general relativity.



The purpose of the conference is to share ways to teach general relativity to undergraduate physics students and to insert general relativity into the undergraduate curriculum.  Participants are university and college faculty interested in doing this at their home institutions. Some participants already teach or have taught general relativity to undergraduates and some are looking for ways to introduce concepts of general relativity into their existing physics curriculum.


To maintain focus, the workshop emphasizes gravitational radiation and LIGO, deviations from Newtonian gravitation and GPS, and black holes. Visiting experts will give talks on these subjects with particular emphasis on how they may be used to present important ideas of general relativity to undergraduates.


Participants will explore how to teach undergraduate physics students basic concepts and important phenomena of general relativity.  They will review and share existing approaches, but they will also develop new ideas for teaching general relativity.  They will propose strategies for introducing ideas of general relativity into existing courses.


Speakers and Organization



7:30 8:00 Set up posters


8:00 8:15 Welcoming remarks


Chair: Stamatis Vokos

8:15 9:30 The shape of the subject

           8:15   9:00 Jorge Pullin, LSU and LIGO, reviews the central ideas of the theory for the
                               participants new to the teaching of general relativity

           9:00 9:30 Question and discussion session with Pullin


9:30 10:00 coffee break, poster discussions


Chair: Greg Comer

10:00 11:30 Different approaches to teaching general relativity to undergraduates:

10:00 10:30 Jim Hartle, UCSB: Teaching the physics of general relativity first

10:30 10:45 Discussion


10:45 11:15 Tom Moore, Pomona College: Teaching general relativity and its math

11:15 11:30 Discussion


11:30 12:45 Three breakout sessions on existing syllabi: What decisions do you need to make as you create a syllabus for each of the following cases:

1.      Insertion strategies and GR for students with little physics

2.      Math intense

3.      Physics First


12:45 4:00 Free Time

            Further discussion of posters

Lunch and explore Syracuse:

            Tour the Syracuse physics department

            Visit the Everson Museum of Art

            Visit MOST: Museum of Science and Technology

            Syracuse Zoo

            Salt City Museum

            Hiking in Onondaga Lake County Park

            Boating on Jamesville Reservoir from Jamesville Park


Chair: Shane Larson

4:00 5:45 Two topics for teaching general relativity

4:00 4:30 Neil Ashby, U. Colorado: Teaching the general relativity of GPS

4:30 4:45 Discussion


5:00 5:30 Peter Saulson, Syracuse U.: Teaching gravitational radiation

5:30 5:45 Discussion


6:00 6:45 Supper


Chair: Edwin Taylor

7:00 7:45 A third topic for teaching general relativity

7:00 7:30 Don Marolf, UCSB: Teaching black holes

7:30 7:45 Discussion


8:00 9:30 Breakout sessions: Identify problems that use GPS, gravitational radiation, and black holes to support

1.      insertion strategies

2.      math intensive approach

3.      physics first approach

and outline model syllabi incorporating these.


FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2006

Chair: Peter Saulson

9:00 10:15 Involving students with the subject

             9:00 9:45 Rai Weiss, MIT and LIGO: About Teaching General Relativity:
                                History, Motivation, Experiment  (4.7Mb PDF)

             9:45 10:15 Discussion session with Weiss


10:15 10:45 Coffee break, poster discussions


            10:45 11:15 Stamatis Vokos, Seattle Pacific U.: Student Understanding and
             Misunderstanding of Conceptions Important in General Relativity

            11:15 11:30 Discussion


Moderator: Michelle Larson

11:30 12:30 Progress reports, plenary discussion. 

12:30 1:30 lunch and poster discussions


1:30 2:45 Breakout sessions refine syllabi and problem lists; suggest FAQs for website list; try out the AAPT GR list serve

1.      for novices

2.      for students in math intensive GR course

3.      for students in physics first approach


2:45 3:00 Break


3:00 3:45 Each group presents its work to the entire workshop


3:45 4:00 Designation of the people who will

                                    install a wiki

                                    moderate a list serve.

                                    edit materials for ComPADRE.

                                    answer the FAQs.

                                    be available to advise conferees when they try out these ideas.

                                    et al.

4:00 Adjourn

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