PICUP Community

PICUP Member Spotlight

Hunter Close
I've been paying attention for a few years to the information about careers for physics students that's been published by the Society of Physics Students and the AAPT and APS. I gradually realized that computer programming was a very important skill for physics students to develop. It was a gap in my own background, so I knew I would have to learn programming in order to help my students. One big reason that I got involved with PICUP was just so that I could get support for learning computation, let alone learning to teach with computation. As I saw more and more of VPython in presentations at AAPT, I understood that there was a great opportunity to create situations where students were learning physics and programming together. So, I became a computational convert.

Being involved with PICUP is beneficial to me because it gave me an inside look into colleagues' diverse backgrounds, ideas, and levels of confidence. I was able to ask some really basic questions. I was able to place myself in a landscape of possibilities for my own developing approach to teaching physics with computation. And I met people with common interests.

In Summer 2016, a student and I started developing a block-based editor for GlowScript VPython called GlowScript Blocks, in collaboration with Trinket. In Fall 2017, we deployed this product, which is currently in beta-testing, for use in introductory mechanics. Our goal has been to expose all introductory mechanics students at Texas State to some computational concepts, methods, and applications in an enjoyable, low-stakes way. In our program's model, exposure and enjoyment in the intro level labs lead into formal, 2nd year, laboratory-based instruction on the use of python for physical modeling. Both of these levels of program reform began in Fall 2017. Students in the 2nd year "Python Lab" also started their course using GlowScript Blocks. The blocks-based activities have students adding or editing commands in an existing, working GlowScript Blocks program to change its output. The output of one of these editable programs does not quite match the output of another, given "model" program, for which the blocks and underlying code are hidden. Students figure out what needs to be changed in their program and construct the commands. The blocks have proven to eliminate the syntax and formatting barrier that many novice programmers face; with the barrier removed, students focus more on the structure and dynamics of the program.

My favorite kind of experience from teaching physics with computation has been when students catch on to the opportunities that are available with computation, assign themselves their own creative tasks, and then they come show me what they've made. I feel excited to find out what will happen when our entire community of physics majors has had computation as a proper part of their education and the students can more effectively interact with each other in this creative space.

Spotlight Archive


PICUP Virtual Meetings

February 2018 Virtual Meeting

February 27th, 2018 - 8pm ET

Todd Zimmerman will share some of his work to integrate computation in advanced lab and lead a discussion around using computation in labs.

Most Recent Meeting

January 2018 Virtual Meeting - Michelle Kuchera presented on pair programming.

Meeting Archive


For online community interaction, PICUP uses the team communication environment at slack.com.  The slack channels range from bulletin board-type announcements of events and activities of PICUP interest to in-depth discussions on how to integrate computational activities into introductory and advanced undergraduate physics courses.

Hit the SLACK logo below to request an invitation to join the PICUP TEAM at SLACK

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