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AAPT: what a difference 12 years makes

July 31, 2012

I must confess a very sad story. 12 years ago was the last time I attended an AAPT summer meeting. That year, it was held at the University of Guelph in Canada, and honestly, the only thing I remember from that conference is a pervasive feeling of loneliness. I don’t think I talked to a single soul other than the gate agents at the airport.

12 years later things are a bit different.

2012 07 30 17 52 25

Contrast that with this year—I haven’t eaten a single meal with less than 8 people. Tonight I met up with more than 16 people most of whom had never met face to face but chatted with each other like old friends thanks to our connections via twitter and blogging. Everywhere I go I find myself bumping into people I know, and striking up illuminating conversations that give me so many ideas for my own teaching. Social media changes everything.

So without further ado, here are some brief highlights from today before I go to bed:

  • Morning Panel on The Good And Bad of Video Lectures with Frank Noschese, Noah Podolefsky and Andy Rundquist: This is the best session I’ve ever seen at any of the 4 AAPT national meetings I’ve attended. I think it was because the speakers were given a significant amount of time to speak (15 minutes each) and then had 5 minutes of questions following each talk, followed by 30 minutes of discussion after all three talks. I think it also helped tremendously that the presenters had communicated with one another to coordinate presentations. Every session should be encouraged to do this. As for specific takeaways, I found:
    • Online learning is nothing new—CBS tried an experiment back in the 60s and 70s where they showed video lectures about literature and students could take a correspondence course as a supplement.
    • The people urging the greatest amount of caution about the future of online learning are the leading pioneers in the space like Sebastian Thrun (Udacity) and Andrew Ng (Coursea).
    • Rather than tripping over themselves to jump on the online learning bandwagon, colleges and schools would be much better served to begin to focus on and highlight the things that they are uniquely good at, that online education will never be able to replace—relationships between teachers and students, focus Noah’s big 4 things college should be doing: 1. empowerment 2. opportunity 3. equality 4. social enrichment.
    • Frank was awesome, and his talk was worth it for just the quote: “If we want kids to start thinking like scientists, we need to have them refer back to experiments, not yesterday’s lecture.” He also showed a frightening comparison of this 1900s vision of the future of education to many photographs of 1-1 learning in elementary classrooms
    • Andy’s presentation on how he uses video in his classroom to make specific videos to follow up on student questions and have students creating screencasts to demonstrate their understanding was typically SuperFly. If there’s one idea I wish i could spread further and help more people buy into, this would be it.
  • Aaron Titus is a rockstar: Arron delivered an excellent talk in the late afternoon about his work to encourage intro students to do independent research using video analysis. His students have done projects like studying the backspin of a soccer ball to find the moment arm of the ball, measuring the rotational inertia of a spinning ice skater, and studying the motion of a point on a hula-hoop that rotates around a person’s wrist. What was most amazing in the talk was the incredible effects Aaron’s work has had on his university. He has almost singlehandedly increased interest in physics to the point where the school has had to hire additional staff, and most recently, created a physics major in the past year, where 40% of his graduates have gone onto careers in teaching. Incredible.

I’m too tired to finish writing up highlights from the day, so I’m going to skip the excellent session I got to moderate on teaching computation to introductory students.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Aaron permalink
    August 8, 2012 5:00 pm

    That is, without a doubt, the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me…”rock star”. Can I send a link to my Dean?

    12 years between your attendance at AAPT is too much. That’s why we’ve scheduled you for a workshop and session for next summer in Portland–this way you’ll be obligated to attend. You are the true rock star! I’m just the air guitarist trying to mimic you.

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