Energy Project at AAPT/PERC

Members and collaborators of the Energy Project in the Department of Physics spent the week in Omaha, Nebraska, sharing the work of the Energy Project with colleagues at the Summer National Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT, August 1-3) and the associated Physics Education Research Conference (PERC, August 3-4).

Presenters for the Energy Project included:

Stamatis Vokos, Seattle Pacific University

Rachel Scherr, Energy Project, Seattle Pacific University

Sam McKagan, McKagan Enterprises, Seattle

Hunter Close, Texas State University

Eleanor Close, Texas State University

Benedikt Harrer, University of Maine

Warren Christensen, North Dakota State University

Eleanor Sayre, Kansas State University

Presentations addressed topics such as intuitive ontologies for energy in physics; productive disciplinary engagement in the context of energy; criteria for creating and categorizing forms of energy; and promoting proximal formative assessment with relational discourse.

Talks, posters, and short papers submitted to the PERC Proceedings are posted at the Energy Project website.

Energy Project Summer Institutes (EPSRI)

In a Summer Research Institute (SRI), a team of researchers gathers to document and study a rich instructional context with a common, rich data set; mentor one another in a dynamic, problem-oriented framework; and develop collaborations based on their work together. In the Energy Project Summer Research Institutes (EPSRIs), scholars from around the country gather to observe, videotape, and conduct research on the Energy Project professional development courses.  The EPSRI was developed by Rachel Scherr and Sam McKagan in 2010 in response to (1) the Energy Project’s need for diverse perspectives on its research and (2) the Physics Education Research (PER) community’s needs for research collaboration opportunities and training in qualitative video analysis methods. June’s EPSRI Scholars observed professional development courses for elementary teachers.

Products of the EPSRI include:

  • 120 hours of video (approximately 1 terabyte of data).
  • 30 video episodes.  Each episode gives us a useful entry point into the data corpus.
  • 170 pages of field notes, documenting the minute-by-minute action of the observed classes in a searchable format.
  • 45 reflective posts to the EPSRI Scholars blog, each representing a bit of insight into the data, technical expertise, research question, reflection on the methodology, etc.
  • New technical expertise regarding state-of-the-art videocameras, technology for collaborative real-time field notes, and remote audio observation.
  • New relationships:  scholar-scholar, scholar-instructor, and scholar-teacher, significantly expanding our professional learning community.

June 2011 EPSRI Scholars (alphabetical order)

Krishna Chowdary, Faculty, The Evergreen State College, Olympia

Emma Kahle, Undergraduate, Columbia University, New York

Siri Mehus, Faculty, University of Washington College of Education, Seattle

Lane Seeley, Faculty, Department of Physics, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle

Mackenzie Stetzer, Faculty, University of Washington Department of Physics, Seattle

Enrique Suarez, Graduate Student, Tufts University, Boston


Physics Department Chair John Lindberg helps direct new Engineering scholarship

Physics Department Chair John Lindberg – along with Engineering Program Director Elaine Scott and Associate Professors of Engineering Don Peter,  Kevin Bolding, and Melani Plett – is directing a new National Science Foundation grant. The $600,000 grant, entitled “Engaging the Community to Achieve Success in Engineering II,” will provide scholarships to engineering students demonstrating academic potential and financial need.

Our thanks go out to the grant-direction team!

Undergraduate Research Presented at National Conference

The SPU Physics Department offers opportunities for undergraduates to participate in departmental research. Recently, Kayla Hegedus, a visiting student at SPU from Whitman College, worked with the Physics Department’s Energy Project and produced a poster which she presented at the 2011 Women in Physics conference. Kayla will also present her research at the Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research (FFPER) conference in March and at the Whitman Undergraduate Conference in April.

Our congratulations goes out to Kayla and to the Energy Project support team!

You can view Kayla’s poster here: Argumentation Poster

Highlighting SPU Noyce Scholar Zach Brenneman

Zach Brenneman, an SPU physics student and Noyce Scholar, was recently highlighted by “SPU Stories.” Check it out and learn what makes him excited about teaching physics.

Physics Learning Assistant Receives “Outstanding Student Presenter” Award

Heidi Rowles and Michael Willcockson, SPU Physics Learning Assistants (LA), recently gave presentations at the 2011 American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) winter meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. Their presentations were supported by an SPU SERVE grant.

We are pleased to report that Heidi’s presentation received an award from the Society of Physics Students for “Outstanding Student Presenter.” Please feel free to check out Heidi’s presentation!

SERVE Grant Awarded to Physics Learning Assistants

Two SPU Physics Learning Assistants (LAs), Heidi Rowles and Michael Wilcockson, along with Assistant Professor of Physics Hunter Close, were awarded a grant through the Spiritual and Educational Resources for Vocational Exploration (SERVE) program. The grant allows them to travel to the 2011 American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) winter meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, in January.

There, Heidi and Michael will offer presentations at a targeted session showcasing LAs from around the country for physics faculty interested in launching LA programs at their institutions. Michael and Heidi plan to present about the transformation of their own perspective about teaching and learning as a result of participating in SPU’s LA program, and the impact of this transformation on their sense of vocation.

The abstracts that Heidi and Michael submitted for their presentations are below. The Physics Department is excited to be able to send these students to share their experience at a national level and to possibly influence other LA programs.

How Learning About Learning in Physics Changed My Future Career
Heidi K. Rowles, Hunter G. Close, and Rachel E. Scherr
Heidi Rowles

As a student working toward a degree in the sciences, the Learning Assistant (LA) program swayed me from pursuing a medical career to a teaching career. The program organically exposes LAs to the ways that students process fundamental ideas in physics. Through daily classroom interaction with students, an LA preparation session, and a pedagogy course for LAs (including quarterly clinical interviews with non-physics students), the program teaches LAs to creatively assess what students already know when they approach their physics education.

LAs learn to observe, marvel at, and facilitate real-time productive cognitive processes in which students engage during interactive instruction. Viewing instruction through this lens helped me learn more deeply about both learning and physics itself. The intrigue I experienced diverted me from a career in medical diagnosis to one discerning the dynamic relationship between students and concepts, and the tactics teachers use to influence that relationship.

Discovering Cognitive Resources in Students Teaches LAs About Genuine Dialogue
Michael A. Willcockson, Hunter G. Close, Rachel E. Scherr

At SPU, undergraduate physics students practice teaching through the Learning Assistant (LA) program, which includes interviewing non-physics students about some basic physical phenomena. As an LA, the results were startling to me: without being taught, the interviewees were pre-loaded with some pieces of physics understanding. As an LA I learned that physics is achievable not because the concepts are simple but because students are clever (i.e., willing and able to think innovatively about a life of physics experience).

My new-found appreciation for student thinking changed the way I teach and the way I communicate generally. As I encouraged students to engage tasks, I found that they knew more than I thought and needed what I knew less than they thought. As a future medical student, this lesson has changed how I view interactions with patients. Valuing others’ ability to think is essential to productive communication, regardless of the profession.

Pumpkin Physics

In the spirit of the Halloween season, the SPU chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) offered some festivity to Otto Miller Hall. Check it out!

The Energy of a Bouncy Castle

In early October 2010, the Physics Department hosted a Bouncy Castle Party at the house of Professors Eleanor and Hunter Close. Much fun was had by all! To stay tuned for the next event, follow the SPU Physics Facebook page.

Bouncy Castle

Visiting Researcher Rachel Scherr watches Professor Hunter Close experience the bouncy castle slide.

Professors John Lindberg and Lane Seeley enjoy the party inside with student Taryn Kitson.

Highlighting: Eleanor Close

Eleanor CloseAssistant Professor of Physics and Science Education Eleanor Close was recently highlighted in the June 2010 issue of SPU’s etc magazine. Here are some highlights!

Some people think that physics is scary. What do you think is the scariest science? Astrology. No, seriously — who says science is scary? Skydiving is scary. Science is fun!

Which takes more guts: Teaching or giving birth to twins?
Teaching. Giving birth to twins was no problem! Teaching is a challenge every day. You have to try to understand what’s going on in your 20-30 students’ minds — find out what they think, and figure out what kind of learning experience they need. That’s why it takes guts, and also why it’s so much fun.

Are there any cultural myths about physics that you would like to obliterate?
Yes! Some people believe that physics is all abstract number-crunching and only for super-smart or super-nerdy people. Not true! Physics is about questions that most kids ask, such as, `What is time?’ Everyone can learn physics just like everyone can learn to sing. And just like singing hymns can bring you closer to God (even if you don’t sing on key), exploring questions about creation can bring you closer to God (even if you’re not a “science person.”)

Read the rest of the Q&A.