The National AAPT Winter Meeting 2008: A “First–timers” Student Perspective

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American Association of Physics Teachers Winter Meeting

April 20, 2008

Baltimore, MD

Meeting host:

American Association of Physics Teachers


Kristin Peterson and Meagan Saldua, Angelo State University, San Angelo, TX

SPS Chapter:

Left to right- Kristin Peterson, Earl Blodgett (SPS President), Toni Sauncy (Angelo State SPS Advisor), and Meagan Saluda, participants in the "SPS Rainbow Room" outreach event at the Maryland Science Center during the 2008 AAPT Winter Meeting.The National AAPT Winter 2008 meeting was held in Baltimore, Maryland this year.  The meetings were held within the inner harbor of Baltimore and the views from the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel gave us a great overlooked of much of the downtown part of the city. 

The SPS/AAPT Poster Session helped kick start the meeting on Sunday night, January 20, 2008. This session included posters presented by research students and faculty, with topics ranging from outreach to cello strings. As part of this special SPS session, participants got to be part of the premier of the Future Faces of Physics Diversity Jeopardy game. Teams were gathered around the game board, each team having a different color buzzer with which to claim their chance at the right question. The game, developed by the National SPS office under the guidance of Kendra Rand and the subcommittee on underrepresented groups, includes a wide variety of physics trivia, along with some little known facts about some of the ‘faces of physics.’ The game was fun for everyone, challenging the competitors with physics facts and statistics. Congratulations go to a team of students from Penn State for their victory over all the other teams. But, even those who were not playing took part in the lively discussion generated by several of the surprising topics in the jeopardy style game. Thanks go to SPS for such a good game! Be on the lookout to see how your SPS chapter can get a kit for your zone meeting just like the one played in Baltimore. It will be a fun game for your group to get to know each other or for you to play at your zone meetings!

To top off the first night at the meeting, we attended the opening of the exhibit hall and a welcome reception. The exhibits were interesting, fun, and gave out lots of free, cool stuff!  Educational Innovation had tons of physics toys, including the ringing bowl, which seemed to be a real crowd pleaser.

Monday started with the First-Timers Gathering. This was a good meeting for those who have never attended an AAPT National meeting to figure out how to take full advantage of all the opportunities offered at this meeting. Then there was another poster session, which included intereting topics such as hanging airplanes in museums, the use of humor to enhance learning and the Galaxy Zoo. These lead to the first plenary session speech by Dr. Paul Hewitt. After the session, was the Young Physicists Meet and Greet, an event that younger meeting participants, especially students look forward to. We met with other ‘young physicists’ for about an hour in the lounge of the hotel and had lunch.  It was very interesting to see where everyone was from and learn things about the interests of other students. We had discussions on research, but eventually we got sucked into the black hole of politics. It was fun to meet other young physicists attending the meeting and begin our own ‘young networking’ session.

Tuesday was an exciting day that began with a talk by Mildred Dresselhaus, an acceptance speech for her receiving the AAPT Oersted Metal. She spoke of the people that have greatly influenced her life, including, but not limited to, the well-known Enrico Fermi, and one of her first mentors, Roslyn Yalow. She spoke passionately about the influence of teachers and teaching on her life, and about her experiences in teaching at MIT. She spoke with gratitude and humility, and serves as an inspiration for young female physicists. We got the opportunity to have a short interview with Dr. Dresselhaus following her presentation. When asked how she felt when she received the award, she answered, “It came as a surprise. All I did was help fill in the gaps to help all students to get on the same level.” We also asked what would she recommend for a student to succeed in Graduate School? She said, to “have job experience and have an idea of what you want to study before you arrive. Also, get into a research group as soon as you can.” A generous thank you to Dr. Dresselhaus for taking the time to talk to and inspire us!

Another exciting highlight of our meeting experience was the “Great Book Giveaway” put on by some of the exhibitors. These books up for grabs ranged from entertainment reading, to all kinds of educational books, even a biology book. Almost everyone who bought tickets walked out with at least a few books and other somewhat unusual items. For an example, one lucky winner walked out with an Einstein poster and a stack of books that reached from her waist to her neck!

The last day of the meeting was probably the most eventful and memorable for these two reporters. We started the day with an SPS outreach program at the Maryland Science Center. We called our activity the “Rainbow Room”, since we presented a fun and interactive session on light and color. We gave the over 125 children, ages 4th through 8th grade, each a pair of diffraction glasses and had them investigate different light sources and describe the color spectrum that they saw. The children had a lot of fun with the glasses and the show, and we had a lot of fun teaching the children.

Meagan Saldua (left) and Kristin Peterson (right) pose with their SPS Advisor Dr. Toni Sauncy (center), after she was formally awarded the 2007 SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award at the 2008 AAPT Winter Meeting awards ceremony.After this was the last event of the meeting, the Awards Ceremony and the Presidential Transfer. The President of AAPT passed on this Presidency to Lila Adair after his speech of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the past few years. The first award was exciting to us because it dealt with our teacher and mentor and the SPS chapter advisor at Angelo State University. Dr. Toni Sauncy received the SPS Outstanding Chapter Advisor Award for her commitment to building student leaders in SPS; from her Student Outreach across Texas to the many active students in the chapter. SPS President Earl Blodgett announced her, and he did a wonderful job, so thank you very much! The next award was to a writer of children books who wrote on a book called Jurassic Poop. Unfortunately we did not get to read this book, but it sounds very interesting. Other awards were given out to Dewey Dykstra, Andrew Graham, Thomas Senior, Chuck Stone, Jonathan Wolff and Barbara Wolff-Reichert, and Mike Wolter for their distinguished services.

Overall the trip was fun and educational and the wide variety of sessions taught everyone something to help improve a young physicists’ education. Baltimore was exciting, and even thought it was cold we, had an amazing time and we were glad to have the opportunity to go!

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