Week 6: Welcome to Sacramento, and the OSA Workshop

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Monday, July 18, 2016


Simon Wright

I am currently in sunny (hot) Sacramento, California! I flew out on Friday and arrived at my hotel in that evening, exhausted but happy to be here. (Why is it that flying is so exhausting? It’s not like I’m flapping my wings to get across the country!) Once I arrived, I quickly unpacked and happily fell asleep, barely even thinking about the coming few days.

Of course, I woke up Saturday morning feeling slightly more nervous. That day would be the workshop I had come to help run, and I was quite anxious to share my several weeks of hard work with so many excellent teachers. I woke up early, so I had a brief walk to help me relax. The early morning air was cool and pleasant, and I got back feeling ready to go. I arrived to the workshop early to help set up, and by the time we got started I was feeling a lot more comfortable. All of the teachers were incredibly nice and friendly, and I felt very much at home. It didn’t feel like an awkward presentation, but more like I was just sharing some cool ideas on how to get some physics concepts across to younger students.

Rebecca was, of course, an excellent leader for the workshop, but I felt comfortable sharing my own thoughts on the lessons, walking around and helping individual groups, and explaining certain things to people who were having trouble in one way or another. By lunch, I was having a lot of fun talking to people and I was rather proud of having received a few compliments on all the activities that I had developed for the workshop.

After lunch I led a few activities myself (with wonderful backup from Rebecca and others) and by the end of the workshop I was honestly somewhat sad that it was over. Several teachers complimented me on my work, and many were excited to share the activities with their students. I had even gotten into conversations with some teachers about topics tangential to optics (including astronomy, my personal favorite subject) and some asked to stay in contact with me and ask me questions or continue a conversation in the future. I really wish I had business cards to hand out! Fortunately, my name and email was on all of the lesson plans I had developed, so people had an easy way to get in touch with me.

As for the content of the workshop, I have to say that I was somewhat surprised at the things that teachers did and did not know about optics. I certainly am no master, never having taken a formal class on the subject, and I honestly think that I learned the most about it from developing these plans over the last few weeks. A lot of teachers knew the basics of a lot of concepts, but not quite how to teach them to young students. I was somewhat surprised at how few knew about the difference between color mixing and pigment mixing, and it was so much fun to watch as what started out for many teachers as a surprised, almost incredulous attitude developed into a kind of intuition in just one day. I think if we can accomplish that, then science teachers should totally be able to get the most important parts across to their students over the course of several lessons. Of course, it helps that every one of *our* students was incredibly motivated and excited to be there!

We got comment cards from every participant at the end, and I was thrilled with the feedback. Everyone seemed to love the activities and the way they were presented, and the few suggestions we got were all constructive and easily manageable for future workshops. I felt incredibly gratified that real teachers seemed to appreciate my work so much, and it really makes the sometimes dull work I had been doing for the last few weeks seem completely worth it.

Side note: I saw a large number of teachers playing Pokémon GO during the breaks. Clearly this phenomenon extends to a large number of people… It also lends credence to the theory that teachers are just regular people, which if you had told me at age 6 I would have had a mental breakdown.

The AAPT conference, though, has only just started! I still have several days to participate and help Rebecca with more events including the High School Teachers’ Lounge where we will be sharing some more lesson plans (although most of them were not written by me), and hopefully chatting with more teachers and getting to know more people. I will be able to hopefully attend some seminars and presentations and just see what this meeting is all about! All that will be included in my next post, once I am back in DC!

Simon Wright