2013-2014 SLAPT President's Welcome Message

Bob Brazzle, President – Saint Louis Area Physics Teachers

Welcome to the 2013-2014 school year! I believe that this year will be the beginning of significant changes to the entire physics program at your school. There are two reasons for this: First, the long-awaited Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have been released. Second, the AP Physics B course and exam is ending this year, and will be replaced by two exams (and hence two separate courses) next school year: AP Physics I and AP Physics II.

I was a member of the “Critical Stakeholders Team” reviewing the NGSS. There were several content errors in the “Framework” document from which the NGSS were developed, and I pointed these out during each of my formal reviews. Unfortunately, these seem to have propagated through to the current NGSS document. AAPT convened a national-level panel of 14 physicists and physics teachers, and they sent a formal letter to Achieve.org pointing out that there are errors in the Framework, and criticizing the practice of rigidly connecting only one specific “Science and Engineering Practice” with each specific “Disciplinary Core Idea”. It will be interesting to see how these criticisms play out in the coming months and years. Nevertheless, the NGSS are with us, and they will be the drivers of standardized tests for the foreseeable future. In spite of the above issues, I have been very pleased by the statements about the nature of scientific inquiry found in the NGSS (some of which are represented in the Science and Engineering Practices). I have a dream that one day, elementary teachers will tear down their “The Scientific Method” posters from their walls when they finally see how inaccurate and misleading they are. The NGSS is championing this issue and will hopefully give educators a more accurate picture of how scientific inquiry should actually be done. The replacement of the AP Physics B course is actually a related phenomenon: the AP folks have finally addressed the criticism of an overstuffed (too broad and too shallow) curriculum. Their response is to spread out roughly the same set of concepts over two years, and add a healthy dose of inquiry-based learning.

So inquiry is the common theme here. The participants at the June 1 planning meeting discussed these issues, and we will be featuring several workshops to help you navigate the coming changes. First, Jen Meyer will present “Labs for the AP Course” in December. It is the apparent intention of the College Board to give students inquiry-based lab experiences, and Jen will provide some examples. In April, during the annual Physics contest, we are putting together a kind of forum for teachers while their students are testing. We hope to bring in representatives from the College Board, and physics professors from Washington University, Mizzou and UMSL to discuss the specifics of the coming changes, and what a college level physics course looks like.

As we all know, good physics teaching also demands specialized resources, which can be expensive to buy, maintain and upgrade. Two of the workshops address this issue. In September, Jim Cibulka will present activities and labs in which data are directly obtained from videos clips (which can also easily be presented in an inquiry-based way). In August, David Schuster will present a bevy of free online resources which you can immediately incorporate into your curriculum. You can bring your own computer if you prefer, or use one of theirs. If you have ideas, or favorite online resources, please send them to David ASAP at schuster.david@wgmail.org.

In November, Val Michael will present a content-based workshop, targeted to new Physics teachers, teachers who are new to Physics and crossover teachers who teach other subjects as well. Val will focus on content related to refraction. Regardless of the targeted audience, I sincerely hope this workshop will be attended by veteran Physics teachers as well, so that great ideas can be shared widely. The truth is that we veterans can certainly learn from the “newbies” as well, and be inspired by your creativity and enthusiasm.

On a related note, we have two workshops in which we need your help, because they will be run as sharing sessions. The January workshop will continue in the same vein as last year’s popular, “My Lesson” workshop. But this year, we want to open it up to anyone who wants to share a lesson, lab, demo or activity. This is a great opportunity for professional growth, and to share the awesome things you do with your students. The February workshop is our annual joint workshop with local Chemistry teachers. This will also be a sharing session. If you have a lesson/lab/demo/activity you’d like to share, please send your idea to me so that we can organize these two sharing workshops.

SLAPT is a wonderful organization, and I am very proud to be its president this year. If you have ideas of how we can meet your needs as a physics teacher, please don’t hesitate to e-mail them to me. We need your help as well: consider nominating someone to be president-elect for the current year (or volunteer yourself). Also, we know that there are great physics teachers in our area who don’t always receive recognition for the great things they do. If you know a local physics teacher who is doing amazing things for his or her students, consider nominating them for the Gene Fuchs award. Thanks and have a great school year!


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