Week 7: AAPT Summer Meeting + A Visit to NIST

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Sunday, July 24, 2016


Simon Wright

What a week. Where do I begin?

The rest of the Summer Meeting was unbelievably cool. I was extremely busy, but I still managed to spend some time wandering around the convention center, seeing all of the cool booths, talking to a ton of people, and going to some events that interested me. On Sunday, Rebecca and I went to the High School Teachers’ Camp where I got to meet a lot of teachers and hear them discuss techniques they used in class.

HS Teacher Camp

All the teachers also had a chance to share some of the cool and unique things that they do in their classes, and I had a very interesting discussion with one teacher who uses programming to teach his high school students about solving problems numerically that might otherwise be very difficult. For example, he modeled dropping a coffee filter using vPython, using a) a 2nd order differential equation, which high school students would probably not be able to understand, and b) Euler’s method, a way of numerically solving for the model that a high school student (who has taken calculus) would likely be able to comprehend. What’s more, they would get a chance to actually see and interact with the code that comprises of a modern implementation of Euler’s method, which is something that I know I would have liked to have seen in high school. This is particularly interesting to me, of course, because I am working on the Bootstrap for Physics program (which aims to combine CS and Physics at the middle school/high school level), and while the principles behind vPython and Bootstrap are somewhat different it was cool to see this teacher’s use of programming in his class.

On Monday, I was able to go to a few committee meetings, including one on teacher prep and one on physics in high school. The committees are interesting because they are mostly made out of normal, AAPT-affiliated teachers, so they really have their feet on the ground when it comes to the day-to-day experience of teaching. Many of the committee meetings I attended were for high school teachers, and they were all very appreciative of the work Rebecca has done in the last year to help focus more of AAPT’s effort on K-12 education.

On both Monday and Tuesday, I helped run the High School Teachers’ Lounge, where Rebecca and I set out something like 12-15 lesson plans including make-and-takes and live demos. I was able to talk to a ton of different teachers from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of paths ahead of and behind them. It was really nice to hear about the wide variety of opportunities that teachers had; it made me somewhat less fearful of navigating the grad school/workforce issues that I will be facing in just a few months.

All in all, the summer meeting was amazing. I learned a ton from a lot of people, I met a lot of really cool teachers, and I even ran into some professors from my school! Also, Sacramento has an unbelievable number of Pokéstops.

Back in DC, Jose and Vanessa invited all of the SPS interns to NIST this Friday to have a tour and hear about a lot of the work that is going on there. It was a really cool experience, and honestly it made me sort of look forward to getting back to school and continuing my research. Working with AAPT has been awesome, but I also miss working with data and doing more concrete science in my day-to-day life.

One of the coolest things we saw was a lab that was working on standardizing the kilogram. I knew that the kilogram had one been standardized as a specific, physical item, and I was really interested to hear about the work being done to create a more theoretical, conceptual definition of mass. This is one thing that I think is really satisfying from a scientific standpoint that might not be so much from a layman’s perspective. “Measuring the kilogram? So what? I have a scale at home that can do that.” But understanding the way that the wholly constructed idea of a “kilogram” is defined in a mathematically rigorous way is pretty much science at its very core. Or at least, it is from my perspective.

We are closing in on our last few weeks at this internship. I can already say that I have learned a ton and this experience has really helped me to consider my next few steps during and after my final year of college. Still, there are a few more things to do, and I look forward to the work that the last 3 weeks will bring!

More photos from the summer meeting + NIST are attached below, if you want to see more!

Simon Wright