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Member Spotlight

Kelly O'Shea
Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School (LREI), New York, NY

After being hired for my first job teaching high school physics, my school encouraged me to join a professional organization, and I joined AAPT without really knowing anything about it. At first, the most helpful part of belonging to AAPT was getting The Physics Teacher magazine in the mail. In that first year of teaching physics, there were times when the magazine seemed to know exactly what kind of struggle I was about to have, and it delivered a relevant article right on time. I was predictably terrible at teaching when I started, and as I began to find my way toward improving my pedagogy and practice in the classroom (including taking a summer Modeling Instruction workshop on teaching mechanics), I also began to find ways to connect with other teachers online. I joined Twitter and started a blog to write about what I was trying with my classes. I was able to learn from teachers in other schools, get feedback on my own work, and feel support from a community of people who were also trying to keep improving the experiences they were creating for their students.

The High School Teacher Day at the 2012 summer meeting in Philadelphia was my introduction to participating in AAPT outside of reading TPT. I was able to meet some of the same people that I had been collaborating with online, and I connected with other teachers who shared similar problems, enthusiasms, and interests as I did. I knew I wanted even more of that kind of connection.

These past few summer meetings have offered me opportunities to take and give workshops, to join committees, to meet new friends who have become part of my professional learning network, and to collaborate with others to create even more opportunities for high school teachers at this meeting. Last summer, I was part of a committee that organized and facilitated a low-cost one-day event (the High School Physics Teacher Camp) meant to offer access to local teachers who might not otherwise be able to participate in the entire meeting. After the summer, I couldn’t stop telling everyone about how exciting it was to be part of an organization that gives you a job to do if you have feedback or an idea.

The new ideas and connections from AAPT meetings have had long-lasting effects on my teaching and my thinking. Taking a workshop where I learned about invention tasks (which helped lead me to TIPERs), hearing talks about how students can think the same way that scientists do, and the many hallway conversations with peers have all influenced choices I’ve made with my own students. A conversation during a discussion about TPT magazine at last summer’s meeting about race, racism, and teaching physics has challenged me to think more broadly about what happens in my classes outside of the physics content. That conversation has gained even more national relevance (see recent comments from the Supreme Court), but has also continued to echo for me personally as I consider how I can bring social justice work and teaching into my high school physics classroom.

I am so glad to be a member of AAPT, grateful for the support and encouragement they continue to give me, and of course excited to see my friends (and make new ones!) next summer.