I have a rich and thorough understanding of the content and skill knowledge, theories, and issues comprising the discipline of physics.
A roundabout path to physics
Two basic things drive me to teach science: a seemingly unending fascination with science and a belief that teaching science will help enrich the lives of my students and equalize opportunity. I was initially drawn to the mathematical beauty and astronomical application of physics, but learned to appreciate the many other topics throughout my coursework in undergraduate and graduate school, as I pursued my Ph.D. in Applied Physics. Through my participation in research involving astrophysics, biophysics, satellite physics, earth science, atmospheric science, and pollutant modeling, I further developed appreciation for not only the physics content, but also for its many multidisciplinary and real-world applications.
Helping Students Understand Their World Through Physics
Guiding my students through the discoveries of physics will help them understand the world, while also being better informed about and more capable of “changing the world”. Physics has always been a study of how the natural world works, and in our increasingly technological society, it is also essential to understanding the tools we use every moment of our lives. In the more practical sense of finding a job, physics, with its associated scientific and critical thinking skills, is essential to any profession involving science, engineering, or technology.
Nature of Science and Physics Education Research
Because physics is based on laws and evidence that students can measure and observe, it is critical in helping students become more scientifically literate and to aid them in understanding the Nature of Science. The Nature of Science encompasses scientific ways of knowing, scientific literacy, scientific practices, and an understanding of the history of scientific developments (Rutherford, F. J., & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.), and is thus a crosscutting theme in scientific curriculum development, such as the Next Generation Science Standards. Public perceptions of science differ greatly from its actual practices, leading to myths about science (Chiappetta, E. L., & Koballa,Thomas R.,,Jr. (2004). Quizzing students on the myths of science. The Science Teacher, 71(9), 58-61.) that I look forward to dispelling. To consistently improve integration of the Nature of Science, I regularly read publications from the National Science Teachers Association, attend physics teacher conferences at Cornell, and keep up with scientific discoveries in popular and peer-reviewed journals.
Physics education research was one of the earliest fields of education research, with a wealth of knowledge to explore. I have delved into this research as part of a teacher inquiry project on formative assessment in the physics classroom, and look forward to continuing to learn and stay abreast of physics education research. I am thus planning to attend the American Association of Physics Teachers conference in the summer of 2013.
While physics content quickly became fascinating to me because of my love of mathematics, it is often intimidating to many students. Everyone is born with this innate curiosity about the world around them, but the heavy focus on formulas and terminology in physics can easily cause students to lose this curiosity. In my teaching, I strive to help students re-discover their curiosity about their world and their ability to explore this curiosity.
Examples of Physics Knowledge and Physics Education Concepts
Content Knowledge and Application
I attained my Ph.D. in Applied Physics from University of Michigan (click here to read my thesis), taking graduate-level courses in physics at the University of Michigan, University of Arizona, Leiden University, and Ithaca College. The courses span experimental and theoretical physics, earth science and sustainability (to which many physics concepts can be applied), and more recent courses in science pedagogy.
Re-discovering curiosity while applying basic concepts to real-world problems
Every student has experienced circular motion in their own lives, by, for example, riding a bike, going on a roller coaster, or pitching a ball. Yet, physics can often turn this topic into a formula-heavy set of problems and blanket statements about what centripetal force is. The attached centripetal motion lesson plan shows students many examples of centripetal motion and has them work in groups to experience and then break down misconceptions about force direction. Almost every student began the lesson believing that there was an outward force on a ball being swung in a circle by a string, yet they were able to use their own observations and experiences to realize that a string can’t actually push a ball outward. They ultimately built upon this new concept of centripetal motion to understand artificial gravity in orbiting space stations, thus connecting abstract concepts to the real world.
Nature of Science
Understanding and teaching the “Nature of Science” is critical to any real scientific teaching. The attached paper summarizes my evolving perspective on the Nature of Science and how I intend to begin teaching it in my classes. Of course, finding the best ways to weave the Nature of Science throughout my lessons will be a continually changing process.
Literature Review of Physics Education Research on Every-Pupil-Response Techniques
This literature review summarizes some key articles on methods and challenges in implementing every-pupil-response techniques in physics classrooms.