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AAPT Washington

Report of the Annual meeting of Washington Section of APPT: October 2012


Creating Space for Student Creativity: Friday Workshops Continue

 And a Large Contingent Drops in From BC.   

 Check Out Their Photos!

The meeting this year continued our recent practice of Friday evening workshops for high school teachers with an entirely new lineup of workshops that emphasized the conference theme of creating spaces for student creativity. This years selection contained some new material and some old favorites. Bruce Palmquist of Central Washington University oppened the evening showing how teachers can use the PhET Simulations to help students create and test hypothesses. His semistructured activities provide a balance between defined and open ended questions appropriate to beginning students who may have little experience formilation a useful experimental question.  

He was followed by fellow CWU faculty member Michael Jackson treated participants to hands on activities useful either as inquiry explorations, or as tools to assess student progress. Special apparatus designed at CWU and more PhET simulations were the main elements in the activities.  

Our reigning President Andrew Boudreaux of Western Washington University closed the evening with Invention Tasks around developing Proportional Reasoning in students. Here the participants tried first hand to devise signature parameters or models to help rank scenarios or products we might encounter in our lives. Proportional reasoning in its raw form is the starting point uncluttered by math phobic reactions that can be stimulated by exposure to variables at the early stages.  


Saturday Invited talks.  

Bruce Palmquist opened the show with a very nice presentation of the highlights of his workshop in a format suitable to the larger audience. He included several nice examples and an excellent guide to resources that would allow the listener to borrow or create their own hypothesis building and testing activities.  

Bruce was followed by a trio from Green River Community College presenting a slate of practices employed there to foster student creativity. Ajay Narayanan described the care and nourishment of a healthy physics club and showed many friuts of the students creativity from rockets and trebuchets, to cosmic rays. These activities changed the students involved and act as outreach to students who did not know about their interest in physics. Keith Clay and Adrienne Battle took up two ends of open exploration in the laboratory. Keith described mini laboratory experiences focused on answereing a single question but posed without any lab manual guidence. Students are typically able to devise a test to answer the question in a short time and Keith shares the diversity of approaches from around the room with the whole class. Students see that nature is the final arbiter, but that there is more than one way to come to the answer. Adrienne prefers a more risky and comprehensive start to an instructional challenge. "Here is some stuff, can you build an electric motor?" True they had a reading assignment the night before, but even the best students are pretty shocked that she really believes they can do this. Amazingly, students can make surprising steps in an appropriate environment and Adrienne described how these labs succeed even when the students fail at the specific task. Here is student creativity in its raw form.  

The Green river team was followed by Jeff Hashimoto of Ellensberg High School. He reminded us that creativity in its essential form only requiires that invention is new to you. He described activities or prompts that allow his students to create many of the key elements of the introductory mechanics themselves. This might be a reconstruction of Galileo's lab or "OK you have a solution, find two more ways to solve this problem". Jeff loves to have conferences. His annual conference on centripetal force brings renowned research teams together to present their findings on this mysterious phenomena.  

Donna Messina of the University of Washington spoke to us about preparing K-12 teachers to foster creativity in their own classrooms. The UW summer institute is well known for its PER based preparation of K-12 teachers. Donna explicitly drew the connection between the programs features and supporting teachers in this goal and how other features help prevent back-sliding into teaching as telling. Some features she identified were assessment using RTOP and instilling a habit of being reflexive through practices such as the brown bag lunch series. She noted that in the end creativity was fostered in both populations: K-12 students, and the teachers who participated in the institute.  


Morning Coffee Break.  

Lezlie DeWater followed with the anatomy of the pre-service program at Seattle Pacific University with the same outcome. The structure of quality PER based teacher preparation is directly connected in many places with fostering creativity. Particularly interesting was how many elements of the SPU program are different from the UW Summer Institute. From the use of Learning Assistants (LAs) to the rights and responsibilities contract for the classroom learning community, we were treated to a much wider variety of examples and best practices than one might have supposed just knowing that each speaker would describe a PER based teacher preparation program.  

Next up was Don Pringle of Ferndale High School. His students construct a representation of behaviors and phenomena using modeling pedogogy developed at Arizona State by Hestenes et all. Don laid out the steps his student go through on a typical modeling unit showing us the important elements we would need to implement this pedegogy and illustrating it all with artifacts and photos from the classroom. He made excellent use of his time, providing motivation, structure, details, and outcomes, all backed up with helpful resource citations.  

Invention activities were not be shorted in today's program. James Day at the university of British Columbia uses them to help students develop data analysis methods such as standard deviations and weighted averages of disparate data and linear regression. Elements students are typically poor at even after a year of laboratory instruction. What is more, at UBC they have devised a computer environment for serving the invention tasks and receiving the student submissions. This facilitates both the instruction and the assessment of its efficacy.  

The morning talks ended with Christa Larsen an unregenerate foil to Andrew's PER efforts at Western Washington University. Her lively description of a problem based learning class that was truly entirely focused on problem solving might stimulate some eye rolling among the devotees of conceptual development, but there was no denying that this was an extremely successful atmosphere that supported and sustained student creativity. "I like an elegant syllabus" means just two categories for grading (exams and homework for example) to her. This spirit has led her to a working pedagogy that is stripped of nearly eveything that gets in the way of her stated instructional priority. In this alone she captured her audience at the meeting. While many may disagree with her focus, everyone found substantive food for thought and appreciation for her success with the conference theme.  

Lunch and Poster Session. See Program Below.  

Mark Buchli at Liberty High School wonders what you can do with AP students in the spring after they sit for the AP exam. You really have no hold on them then, so give them some real science to do. He had made contact with the Polar Science Center at the Applied Physics Lab at UW. The goal was to prepare students to look at the problem of climate change as it impacts the artic ice cover. He began with a series of experiments in Ice formation and calorimetry and follows up with openended analysis of large data sets. It was very motivating to see how similar student generated questions and analysis was to published work in many cases. And there was no problem with motivating ths students.  

Natasha Holmes of UBC finished up with a slightly different window into the benefits of invention tasks. Where James had focused on the structure for their larger research efforts at UBC Natasha described how the invention support environment dilivered the invention tasks, provided scafolding as the students developed their models and recorded the results for evaluation and assessment.  

We took a short break for business: Dale Ingram was installed as the next President. The 2013 meeting will be at LIGO Hanford Observatory.  

Tom Haff closed with some musings about tops and getting useful data on precession. He brought toys to demonstrate the issues and left the assembled Pondering how one might help students confirm predictions in the actual lab setting.  

Below is the text of the meeting program.  

WA-AAPT Meeting Program.  


  • Bruce Palmquist, CWU, 5-5:50pm,
    Creating and using hypothesis-testing investigations using online simulations. In this workshop, you will learn how to develop investigations using PhET physics simulations . PhET simulations are effective tools for teaching students physics concepts and helping them learn investigative skills. The presenter will share some investigations he created, guide you through the process of creating your own investigation, and provide feedback as you start developing your own.
  • Mike Jackson, CWU, 6-6:50pm,
    Exploration of electric circuits using hands-on activities and physics simulations. In this workshop, electric circuits will be explored using an experimental apparatus containing five light bulbs connected in various series and parallel configurations. This experiment has been used to assess student understanding of electric circuits in our introductory physics courses for majors, non-majors, and the general education program. Next, series and parallel circuits will be investigated using the PhET physics simulation circuit-construction-kit-dc. Along with a brief review of electric circuits, the workshop facilitator will share some investigations created by colleagues at Central Washington University including an equipment list for the hands-on activities.
  • Andrew Boudreaux, WWU, 7-8pm,
    Invention tasks to support mathematical sense-making in physics. When we introduce new quantities in physics we usually explain mathematically how they are related to other quantities. Too often students misinterpret the reasoning and simply memorize, approaching physics as a match-the-equation activity. Invention instruction, pioneered by Dan Schwartz, presents open-ended situations in which students must create mathematical procedures to characterize physical situations. Invention tasks prime students to make sense of subsequent formal instruction. This workshop will engage participants in invention tasks and discuss classroom applications.

Invited Talks:  

  • Bruce Palmquist Central Washington University Facilitating student creativity using online simulations
  • Ajay Narayanan, Adrienne Battle, and Keith Clay Green River Community College Sparking creativity through clubs and labs
  • Jeff Hashimoto Ellensburg High School Opportunities for creativity in high school physics
  • Donna Messina University of Washington Professional development that fosters teachers' creativity in bringing inquiry to the K-12 classroom
  • Lezlie DeWater Seattle Pacific University Scaffolding creativity and imagination in physical science courses for pre-service elementary teachers
  • Don Pringle Ferndale High School Modeling instruction in the high school physics classroom
  • James Day University of British Columbia Invention activities as preparation for learning laboratory data handling skills
  • Kristen Larson Western Washington University Putting my money where my mouth is: Adventures in using lecture time to foster creativity in problem solving

Contributed Talks:  

  • Mark Buchli Liberty High School Ice investigations for physics students: A Post AP Exam Opportunity
  • Natasha Holmes University of British Columbia Developing Skills Through Invention
  • Thomas Haff Issaquah High School Tops and Gyro: How do you measure spin and precession at the same time?


  • Natasha Holmes, Ida Roll, James Day, and Doug Bonn University of British Columbia The invention Support Environment - Where do we go from here?
  • Alistair McInerny, Andrew Boudreaux and Sepideh P. Rishel Western Washington University Assessing the reflexive writing of introductory physics students
  • Sepideh P. Rishel, Andrew Boudreaux Western Washington University Characterizing student metacognition: A case study approach.
  • Alexis Olsho University of Washington Research as a guide for adapting curriculum on special relativity to a new population
  • Stella Stylianidou University of Washington Identifying student difficulties with IV characteristic curves