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AAPT Washington


Friday, October 28, 2016      -     Location:   Rainier 361
Workshop.  See Workshop page.




Saturday, October 29, 2016      -     Rainier Building
Preliminary Schedule - Changes may yet occur.
Send your abstracts to get on the schedule via the registration page.





8:00 -

Coffee and Registration.  

8:00 -

Welcome.   Hillary Stephens - Pierce College (

8:35 -

Facilitating a simple research project in an online introductory astronomy class.
Bruce Palmquist, - Central Washington University
  • Abstract:  In my fully online general education astronomy course, students do a basic research project using images they request from an online microobservatory ( They formulate a simple research question, request supporting images from the microobservatory, "analyze" the images, and discuss the findings. This presentation will share the assignment description, template, rubric, and sample.
  • 8:55 -

    Research-Like Labs in a Two Year College: Challenges and Rewards.
    Chitra Solomonson, - Green River Community College
  • Abstract:  Students at Green River College have been working with Organic Photovoltaic cells as part of the Calculus-based Physics course. What started out as a small-scale project where students fabricate and characterize organic photovoltaic cells has now morphed into a “research-like lab”. Students start early in the quarter learning what it means to do research. They learn the Physics of photovoltaic cells through online videos, characterize pre-fabricated cells, analyze their data, write a report and present their findings to their classmates. We will share the evolution of this project – the challenges and rewards of its implementation in a two year college. This work has been made possible through funding from the National Science Foundation (DUE: 1141339) and is a collaboration between Green River College and the University of Washington.
  • 9:15 -

    The value of technical problem solving versus the value of publishable results in undergraduate research: How do we strike a balance?
    David Laman, - Heritage University
  • Abstract:  Faculty scholarship at undergraduate institutions faces unique challenges. Undergraduate research commonly involves relatively short-term projects with student involvement limited by the multiple demands of school and life. Mentors are sometimes faced with weighing the value of having students independently solve technical problems against facilitating solutions rapidly in order to obtain publishable results. The technical challenges faced by Heritage University students working on two different laser spectroscopy projects and the sporadic journey from mounting the first optic on the optical table to reliable operational instruments are described.
  • 9:35 -

    Break -- Coffee.  

    9:45 -

    Who Needs Computation in Undergraduate Physics Courses?
    Norman Chonacky, - Yale University
  • Abstract:  In recent years computation has significantly shaped science and engineering practices. Research and development in the professional sciences and engineering have adopted this “three legged” (theory, experiment, and computation) approach at “warp speed” amid breath taking achievements. But with few exceptions, computation has not yet been integrated with theory and experiment across undergraduate curricula. This suggests that the transition process is either very difficult or not a high priority.

    Physics faculty have traditionally been responsible for designing the physics curriculum in this country. The AAPT SPINUP study found that undergraduate curricula – standard offerings, topics, and their arrangement in the courses – are highly standardized among American colleges and universities, despite an absence of external standards. This implies that agreement on content among undergraduate physics instructors is quite uniform, even if their pedagogy is not.

    Faculty are the key to breaching this uniformity. This talk describes a path for transition based upon survey findings of the American Institute of Physics (AIP). That study stimulated the Partnership for Integration of Computation into Undergraduate Physics (PICUP) to develop a Framework for faculty development learning to use computation in their courses. Now, with the support of the NSF and the AAPT, PICUP projects are underway to carry out this work in supportive and collaborative environments. Faculty and students need this.
  • 10:05 -

    SageMathCloud in the Physics Classroom.
    Bret Underwood, - Pacific Lutheran University
  • Abstract:  We want students to do more computation in our physics courses, but practical challenges such as paying for expensive software, helping students install versions of software on their own machines, and managing student coding projects can make this difficult. In this talk, I'll outline the features of SageMathCloud, a cloud-based platform with a browser interface that can run SageMath and Juypter worksheets (including Python) without students needing to install any software. I'll describe how I use it in my physics classes, and how it has been flexible and powerful for many different instructional applications inside and outside the classroom.
  • 10:25 -

    Using Reflective Writing in Physics to Teach and Assess Critical Thinking and Metacognition.
    Hillary Stephens, - Pierce College Fort Steilacoom
  • Abstract:  Why take physics? One frequent answer to this question is “It teaches you to critically think.” Is thinking something that can be explicitly taught or is it safe to assume that it is just something students should pick up through learning physics? This talk will describe two reflective writing practices, a daily journal and portfolio that have been implemented in physics classes to both teach and assess critical thinking and metacognition skills. Explicitly introducing these concepts to students impacts the attitude and level of engagement of the students and provides a framework to discuss, practice and improve them in class.
  • 10:45 -

    Investigating student understanding of air resistance and terminal speed.
    Andrew Boudreaux, - Western Washington University
    Michael Greiner, - Whatcom Community College
  • Abstract:  Velocity dependent forces are not often covered in introductory physics, but can provide a rich context for students to deepen their understanding of Newtonian principles. Motion sensors and coffee filters allow for easy, compelling observations. Even without a quantitative analysis, students can reason qualitatively about force balance and the effects and interrelationships of variables such as size, speed, and mass for objects in free-fall. At WWU and WCC, we have been exploring student thinking in this area, and developing a module on air resistance for inclusion in a course using the Physics and Everyday Thinking curriculum. This talk will share student responses on course exams and ungraded quizzes to identify specific types of productive and problematic reasoning.
  • 11:10 -

    Pierce College Science Dome demonstration.  

    11:40 -

    Student Poster Session.  

    12:10 -


    1:15 -

    Curiosities of Reflection, Diffraction and Polarization.
    Robert Ruotsalainen, - Eastern Washington University
  • Abstract:  Frustrated total internal reflection provides an optical analog to quantum mechanical tunneling. The central maximum of single slit (or circular aperture) diffraction illustrates L'Hospital's rule. A spinning polarizer, sandwiched between stationary crossed polarizers, is associated with an oscillating emergent intensity at a frequency that is four times that of the spinning polarizer. Each of these phenomena is demonstrated using relatively simple equipment.
  • 1:30 -

    Cracker-barrel: Active Classroom Demonstrations.  
    Meeting participants are invited to bring a demonstration to share.

    2:00 -

    Break -- Coffee.  

    2:15 -

    Power for the Future.
    David A Cornell, - Principia College (Emeritus)
  • Abstract:  Society today is in the business of converting from carbon-liberating fossil-fueled energy to alternatives. Green groups support photo-voltaic or wind energy as means of replacing oil and gas. These alternatives have deep problems which make it impossible for them to reliably provide power for us on a 24-7 demand basis. Germany's attempt to replace nuclear power is a case in point, where they are falling back upon lignite coal in times of need. This talk provides background to support course material that open discussion of other options that are truly promising and greener than coal. The speaker argues for modern nuclear technology, which is safer, more reliable, and ultimately cheaper than any alternative.
  • 2:35 -

    Robert Hobbs, - Bellevue College
  • Abstract:  TBA.
  • 3:00 PM -
           4:00 PM

    Business Meeting This may appear earlier.