A Decade of Creating Science History Teaching Guides

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A Decade of Creating Science History Teaching Guides


Joanna Behrman, Assistant Public Historian, Center for History of Physics


The 2014 teaching guide team breaks for a photo, (L-R) SPS interns Jacob Zalkind and Simon Patané, and graduate research assistants Sharina Haynes and Serina Hwang Jensen. Photo by Greg Good.

For more than 10 years the Center for History of Physics (CHP), with the help of SPS summer interns, has been sharing previously untold stories from physics and astronomy history with students and the public through teaching guides. CHP is part of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the parent organization of SPS, and supports the scholarly community’s efforts to document, investigate, and understand developments in modern physics and their impact on society.

CHP created the first Teaching Guides on History of the Physical Sciences in 2013 to help diversify how physicsts are represented in the classroom. Today we have more than 50 available online for K–12 teachers, college professors, and anyone else who wants to learn about the diverse historical community of physical scientists and share it with others.

The collection grows every summer through the work of graduate research assistants and undergraduate SPS interns—14 so far! Most of these interns split their time between working for CHP and the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, which is also part of AIP. Every summer our corner of AIP is reinvigorated with their infectious energy. To mark the tenth anniversary of the teaching guides, I reconnected with some of our former interns. Here are some of their reflections.

Why did you decide to do an SPS internship?

I was trying to figure out my place in physics. I had completed a summer research project in astrophysics following my freshman year and found that I wasn't genuinely engaged with the work. I started looking for ways to try out alternative paths I could take with my physics degree. This led me to explore the idea of teaching physics or working in physics education. When I heard about the SPS internship program, I thought it would be a great opportunity to work on a physics education project and explore different opportunities within physics.

—Brean Prefontaine, 2015 SPS Intern, Physics Education Research Postdoc, Duke University

I was immediately drawn to not only the diverse set of experiences offered through the internship, but also the opportunity to live in the DC area for a few months with a great group of people.

—Simon Patané, 2014 SPS Intern, Systems Engineer III, Redwire Space 


The 2016 teaching guide team poses in the library, (L-R) then AIP History Center director Greg Good, SPS interns Victoria DiTomasso and Samantha Spytek, and graduate research assistants Lance Burch and Stephen Neal. Photo courtesy of the American Institute of Physics.

What skills or lessons did you learn through the internship?

This internship changed me and my life in ways I never expected, even before I was an intern. I interviewed for the 2018 cohort and did not get in. But what changed me forever was a question in my interview. An AIP staff member asked me, “What are you proud of?” At the time, I wasn’t doing research, didn’t feel like I was excelling in classes, and was struggling to feel proud or like I had accomplished anything of merit. . . . I dug deep and recognized that I was a good friend, classmate, roommate, and teammate. Every day, I got myself out of bed and worked hard. That was all worth being proud of. After this perspective change, I became a better student and went from trying to fit this perfect physics student model I had been striving to achieve to refocusing on what I loved to do and pursuing what made me happy.

—Catherine Ryan, 2019 SPS Intern, Program Specialist, National Hydropower Association

What is a good memory or two you have from that summer?

I remember writing a Physics Today article about Eunice Foote and interviewing some of the people who helped publicize her story. I was so nervous and was far out of my comfort zone, but the interview subjects reassured me and encouraged me. It made me feel like I was part of the science history community and that we were all working together to share the stories that have been overlooked. It felt really special to be part of a team working to correct history.

—Maura Shapiro, 2021 SPS Intern, Science Writer, American Institute of Physics

My first great memory was when the CHP and Niels Bohr Library & Archives staff digressed in a meeting and spent time trying to find the location where a photograph of Jane Dewey was taken based solely on the background. It was amusing hearing all of our ideas as we bounced them off of one another and incredibly exhilarating to finally pin down the exact location of the photo. Another good memory was my last memory—as I finished my final presentation, hearing from Joanna Behrman, my mentor, how well I’d done and feeling it myself was a boost of confidence in myself, my work, and my skills as a librarian and physicist that I hadn’t expected.

—MJ Keller, 2023 SPS Intern, Physics and Astronomy Student, University of Rochester

What aspect of the teaching guides did you work on?

We took previously created guides and updated them to follow a format known in physics education research as 5 E (engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate), consolidated all guides and corresponding resources into one large database, identified Next Generation Science Standards for each lesson, and worked with the website division to update the page and make it accessible and easy to use. We also each made a few lessons of our own.

—Samantha Spytek, 2016 SPS Intern, Physics Teacher, Academies of Loudoun

I delved into the captivating stories of two remarkable women physicists: Émilie du Châtelet and Katherine Clerk Maxwell. As an intern, I was tasked with choosing teaching guide topics …, performing extensive research on the women, and creating teaching guides about them for an age group of my choice (I chose grades K–2). I made the teaching guides, including their supplementary materials.… I LOVED doing the historical research and the content creation, making these women’s stories come alive for the students.

—Emma Goulet, 2022 SPS Intern, Quantum Physics Cultural Exchange Teacher, Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, Science for Monks and Nuns

These responses have been edited for length and clarity; full responses are available on the Niels Bohr Library & Archives blog Ex Libris Universum at aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/ex-libris-universum.

Be an SPS Summer Intern

The SPS summer internship program offers 10-week, paid positions for undergraduate physics and astronomy students in science research, history, education, outreach, and policy. Interns are placed with organizations in the greater Washington, DC, area that do research, engage with the community, and promote the advancement of physics and astronomy. Applications are due January 15 each year. Learn more at spsnational.org/programs/internships. 

Browse the Teaching Guides

From “African Americans and Life in a Secret City” to “When Computers Wore Skirts,” you can browse the CHP Teaching Guides at aip.org/history-programs/physics-history/teaching-guides/browse. These teaching guides meet national educational standards, can fit into social and natural science courses, and are available for free. They are great resources for SPS outreach events, meetings, and lesson planning! 



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