Erin explores physics outreach in DC

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Week 9: Presentations and Goodbyes - Aug 25, 2006 at 11:21AM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

The last few days of my SPS/APS internship have come and gone. Now, back in Michigan, I miss all the people I met this summer already.

Our last weekend in DC was a calm one. Everyone was finishing up and practicing their final presentations, and the heat kept us inside for the most part. Saturday morning we had a tour of the White House, which was a fun and interesting way to get everyone up and walking around the city as a group. Sunday we had our now traditional family dinner. It had a bit of a sad twinge but the great food kept us from thinking about it being the last one too much.

Presentation day was much more relaxed than I had expected. Everyone did an amazing job talking about their projects and answering the questions supplied by the crowd. I think that my presentation went fairly well (Monday's practice definitely helped!), but I handed off my questions too quickly to Jessica and Kendra. My presentation took a little too long because there were so many questions! I've heard questions are a sign of an interested audience, so I was very happy to see the hands in the air.

My trip back to Michigan was slightly complicated by one canceled flight and weather delays, but I made it back in one piece and almost on schedule. Back in Ann Arbor I will settle back into my other job, course development with my advisor Dr. Tim McKay, and wait for fall classes to start in September. There is no telling what this year will bring. I hope that I will be able to find another summer opportunity as fitted to my interests and engaging as this program was. Our group was lucky to fit together so well and I hope that we will all remember this summer as a rewarding experience, wherever our futures lead us.

Week 8: AAPT Meeting and Flying - Jul 28, 2006 at 12:21PM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

We have come to the end of yet another busy week.  My trip to Syracuse, New York for the summer AAPT conference went very well.  Some of the best parts were presenting my poster about PhysicsQuest at the SPS poster session, celebrating Jessica's birthday, and meeting other people interested in physics teaching.  It is sometimes hard to imagine that there is an entire community out there that is passionate about teaching physics when we are so spread out, but this conference really showed me how cohesive and interesting the community is.  I found it inspiring to see so many great teachers who love what they do come together to share their ideas and experiences.  

One striking thing was that most of the attendees were much older than I had expected.  I had heard that there would be a good job market because many teachers are nearing retirement, and the age range of the meeting really drove that home.  Another theme that kept reappearing was that so many high school physics teachers are under prepared.  Many of the speakers I listened to cited very high percentages of teachers who have neither a college major nor minor in physics, but are called on to teach physics, sometimes even at the AP level.  The conference also got me thinking about the physics first curriculum, where physics is taught in ninth grade to all students.  I can see arguments both for and against, but the idea seems to be gathering support.  I hadn't foreseen teaching freshmen as a physics teacher, but it could be fun.

Presenting my work on PhysicsQuest was fun and much less scary than I had expected.  The session was not very crowded, so I actually got to talk to everyone who was interested in the project.  It was very gratifying to see people get excited about PhysicsQuest and the possibility of using it in their schools.  

Ann and I flew back to DC with Ted Hodapp in his tiny Cessna 172 airplane.  I knew it would be small, but it still surprised me when the three of us plus baggage completely filled the plane.  Ted had us help with the checklists throughout the trip and we had headsets so that we could listen in to the radio and talk to each other throughout the flight.  He even let me fly the plane for a few minutes!  The trip was very smooth, which was a nice surprise in such a tiny plane.  

Today is my last day at APS, but that the end of the program is almost here hasn't really hit me, since we will all be at ACP for final presentations next week as well.  We start presenting on Monday, so I better start practicing!

Week Seven: Poster Preparation - Jul 21, 2006 at 9:07PM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

This week has really flown by!  At the beginning of the week it seemed that I would be done with most of my work and ready for the AAPT meeting in time to start on a new part of my project, but alas everything always takes a lot longer than I predict.  The entire week was filled with adding references to the PhysicsQuest extensions activities, editing my poster for AAPT, editing the extensions some more, and editing the core activities.  It hadn't actually hit me how much I have written for this project until I printed out everything to take with me to the meeting.  I have over 50 pages of written material!  I don't think I have ever written anything that long before and it is a great feeling to see that big stack of papers and know it was all written by me.  Of course I never could have done it without lots of guidance and feedback (thanks Kendra!).  I have learned a lot about writing for students and teachers working on this project, and I'm sure I'll be using these skills as my career moves forward.

Our intern group was busy this week with two tours.  Monday we visited the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where Kacey, Pat, Andy and Alex are doing their research.  It was interesting to meet some of the people we hear so much about back at the dorm and see where they work.  The most interesting part, however, was not related to anyone's research.  We had a chance to try out some new visualization tools used by scientists at NIST.  The researcher who showed us the work was very excited about the possibilities of the new technology, which allows the user to step into three dimensional images and look around to see what is happening.  We all donned special glasses as he showed us several examples of visualizations projected on two walls and the floor of the room.  There was one special pair of glasses that the program could track and react to so that the image could react to your movement by, for instance, getting larger when you step forward.  You can also zoom in so that you are in the middle of the visualization and turn around to see different parts.

Thursday we had a very different kind of tour as we went through the Capitol building on a staff led tour.  This time was much more interesting to me than the last time I toured the building.  The intern who led our tour knew a lot of interesting history behind the building, statues, and paintings that I had never heard about.  It was really worthwhile to have a guide, otherwise I don't think I would have gotten very much out of the visit.  

Tomorrow morning Ann, Kendra, Jessica and I leave for a long drive to scenic New York state.  I'm looking forward to spending some time with Kendra and Jessica outside of work.  We will be in Syracuse, New York until Wednesday for the AAPT meeting, so the next week should be pretty exciting.  After we get back there are only two workdays until final presentations, oh how time flies when you're having fun!

Week Six: Pandas and Playing with Color - Jul 14, 2006 at 9:31PM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

The past week has been calm in intern land.  Over the weekend we finally made a successful trip to the National Zoo.  I most enjoyed the otters, aka puppies of the sea.  The pandas were good too, but not very active.  We missed the baby panda's first birthday by one day, which is definitely a good thing since the exhibit would have been packed for the event.

Just when I thought I had finished coming up with new activities for PhysicsQuest Kendra suggested that we add an experiment about color along with a few things about secret messages and spies to the project.  I found two different recipes for invisible ink, one with lemon juice that becomes visible when heated, and one with corn starch ink developed by iodine solution.  They aren't exactly physics based, but it's still science!  I also wrote up a color experiment using color filters.  First the kids will look at their surroundings through the filters and see how each color makes different colors appear dark.  Next they look at some secret messages, made by putting a pattern of a primary color over the top of a message (just like the Outburst game cards that you have to view through a red filter).  Hopefully the kids will like it as much as Kendra and I did!  

I also worked on a less glamorous aspect of the project: getting permission from authors of activities that are similar to the extensions I have written.  This is something I have never done before, and it is good to see aspects of outreach than the actually writing of materials.  Sometimes it is hard to tell whether we need to cite or need permission from authors, but my supervisors are helpful when I'm unsure.

A week from Saturday we will be leaving for the AAPT meeting in Syracuse, New York.  My poster is well on its way to completion, though it has been slow going.  I have never been to a national meeting before and I'm a little nervous to present my poster.  All the posters I have seen have been research based and printed on huge poster pages, while mine will be a power point presentation pinned to the wall.  Apparently this is a fairly common style, but I have never seen it done so I'm not sure how to approach the layout.  Kendra has been really helpful though, and hopefully we will be able to go over it again when I have it in a more complete form.

Week 5: Fourth of July and PhysicsQuest Code - Jul 7, 2006 at 12:26PM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

After a long weekend and a short workweek, it's time for another update.  Fourth of July weekend was a lot of fun in the city, and we all kept pretty busy.  It always makes breaks seem even longer when you cram lots of fun stuff into them!  Saturday some of us went to a British pub to watch the England versus Portugal world cup game.  I'm not a big sports fan but it was fun to see everyone so excited watching the game.  The most entertaining part for me was that we met a French guy who claimed to be the French ambassador's son.  Later I looked up the ambassador and guess what: he has two daughters and no sons!  I bet that guy, whoever he was, got a kick out of the foolish Americans believing his story.  

On Sunday a few of us went to the pool to cool down, which turned out to be an excellent idea since it was free for some reason.  After the pool we had the weekly intern "family" dinner.  Good cooking by everyone, as usual!

Monday we went to the rehearsal of the "Capitol Fourth" concert on the lawn of the Capitol.  The group of us went through an entire big box of nerds (a very appropriate candy) while listening to Elmo, Stevie Wonder and others.  The highlight of the evening was hearing Elmo explain that he had "technical difficulties" and that they would have to repeat his song.  For some reason that voice making the announcement was just hilarious.

I spent most of the fourth on the national mall with Ryan.  By pure chance we ended up getting herded into the Air and Space Museum during the afternoon thunderstorm at the same time there was an Air Force band playing inside.  Listening to the cool swing music certainly helped pass the time until they let us escape.  As the sun set we headed over to the Washington Monument to watch the fireworks with some of my fellow interns and the NASA Academy group.  The show was amazing.  I kept thinking it was going to end and then a new song would start!  

This week I worked more on developing the storyline, secret message, and code for the core PhysicsQuest kit.  It's exciting to me that thousands of teachers and students will see my work next year (and hopefully like it!).  There was never any guarantee that classes would use the extension activities, and that's fine, but it is nice to work on something that I know is important to the main project.  The end of this internship is creeping up faster and faster.  In two weeks I'll be leaving for the AAPT conference, and after we return it's only a few days until our final presentations!

Week 4: Hiking Adventures and Plan Changes - Jul 7, 2006 at 12:24PM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

Rain, rain, and some more rain. That s what this week has been all about! On Saturday a bunch of us headed to Shenandoah National Park for a full day of hiking up and down a small mountain. All in all we went 10 to 12 miles with about half of that in the pouring rain. It was great to see green all around me again! There were quite a few memorable moments like Alex s fall and near falling tree-head collision, waterfall swimming, deer sightings, and the loudest thunderclap I have ever heard. Once I got warmed up from walking the rain was actually quite fun and it made the trip down seem shorter, since the slippery rocks were challenging to navigate. Sunday was spent recovering from the miles of uphill walking, though my muscles are just now getting back to their normal non-sore state.

The PhysicsQuest extensions are coming along really well. I made it my goal to have a good draft of all of the activities ready for editing and testing by the end of the week, and I think I'm on track to make it. I got a little sidetracked on Wednesday though, when I remembered an exciting lens activity that will probably work without too much in the way of extra materials: the refracting telescope. If the right combination of lenses is included in the kit this should be really easy. Judging from how much fun I had looking around the office with two lenses stuck on a ruler, the kids will love it! I'm also hoping to get involved in the layout or illustration part of the project if I have time. If I'm headed for a career in teaching it would be a good idea to learn how to make fancy looking science activities.

My life plan has recently been evolving. I'm thinking of graduating at the end of this year with the rest of my class instead of staying on for an extra year in order to earn teacher certification. The next step would be a one year master's program in education that also grants certification, but where that might take place is entirely up in the air. If you have any ideas as to who I should talk to about finding a grad school program, or other advice on how to get into teaching I am all ears.

Week 3: Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream x2 - Jun 27, 2006 at 11:35AM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

There have been some exciting developments in the past week. Let's get the not so fun part of the story out of the way first: they wouldn't let us into the zoo! Apparently there was some special event for members only, so we got up super early for nothing, boo. We made it a solid day of touristy activities with a trip to the old post office s bell tower and some more time at the museum of natural history. The rest of the weekend was very relaxing and fun, but not overly eventful.

This week at work it seems like there is always some little side thing that needs to be taken care of before I can continue writing up my activities! Monday was the ACP picnic, so the entire afternoon was spent making liquid nitrogen ice cream and talking to kids about temperature. It was fun, as outreach invariably is, but also really tiring. I think the kids had a good time and maybe they learned something too, who knows. Some of the kids got really into the hands on stuff, which was exciting to see. I talked to one group of three little girls for a long time about how evaporation makes you feel cold.

Wednesday we figured out how to get both Ann and I to the July AAPT meeting, and we'll even be able to go to workshops while we're there. I'm going to one about the physics of cell phones that sounds really interesting. I've looked over the schedule and people I know from all over the country are going to be there; I guess I'm more connected that I thought! Also, we get to fly back with Ted in his tiny little plane, which promises to be exciting.

Today Katherine, Ann, Jackie, and I went to an elementary school for some outreach fun with temperature. I'm always a little nervous before going into a classroom, but it wears off as soon as we start our presentation. The kids were really into the lesson with lots of raised hands and volunteers, though they were a bit excitable since they only had one day left of school after today. The best part was that they didn't know we were bringing liquid nitrogen or making ice cream, so it was even more fun for them than liquid nitrogen normally is. I especially liked the kid who asked if you can eat liquid nitrogen, that was fun to talk about.

This weekend we re going hiking on a trail with lots of waterfalls. Hopefully the thunderstorms in the forecast will decide to steer clear of the trail!

Week Two: Work description and dorm fun - Jun 18, 2006 at 10:44PM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

Ok, now it's time for an outline of what my work actually is for the summer. First for the acronyms: I work at the American Center for Physics (ACP) for the American Physical Society (APS) through a Society of Physics Students (SPS)/American Institute of Physics (AIP) internship. My main project is working on Physics Quest, which is a contest for middle school science classes. It consists of four activities that the class performs to decode a secret message from Ben Franklin. Franklin is the theme because this year marks his 300th birthday, so his science is featured in the experiments. The kids will be making simple circuits, playing with static charges on tape, investigating lenses and focal length, and using felt to figure out which colors absorb the most heat from a lamp. These activities are actually almost finished, and I will be writing the extensions. This idea is that if a teacher wants to turn Physics Quest into an entire unit we provide the extensions to help them come up with related experiments and demonstrations.

So far I have looked through some great books of science projects for kids and picked out good ones that we might want to use for the extensions. I'm also using the internet (of course) and I've found at least six activities to go along with each core project! The trouble is that although I work in a building devoted to physics, there is no stuff to make fun physics experiments lying around. Kendra has to buy everything specially for testing the activities. At least this way we figure out how difficult it is to find the materials. It can actually be a good thing, since it makes me think about trying the experiments with supplies that are easier to find (like making a switch base from cardboard instead of wood). I'm having lots of fun testing the materials even though some, like the lemon batteries, don t work as well as I'd hoped. In testing the activities I want to try I've shocked myself a lot using Styrofoam plates, pie pans and film canisters. I haven't gotten tired of it yet, so hopefully the kids will like it too!

Life at the dorm is fun and keeps me entertained at night. We're all getting to know each other and do things together constantly. We've started a weekend potluck tradition, which gives us all a chance to show off our culinary skills and eat lots of tasty food. This week I'm being boring and just bringing green beans, but I'm planning something special for next week, yum. We also regress to childhood a bit in the evenings now that Jackie bought us toys. We have a box of wonderfully neon colored beach toys that is distributed nightly for outdoor and indoor excitement.

This weekend we re planning to go to the zoo even though the forecast is for 92 degrees and sunny; it should be a good time. Hopefully no one will die of heat stroke and we'll get there early enough to see the pandas before they decide it's too hot to be awake.

Monday will be annual picnic at ACP, so the four interns that work there will be running the cool physics room for kids (and inquisitive adults!). It should be fun, though it keeps getting more complicated as we try and plan it simply. I'm looking forward to the liquid nitrogen ice cream, which I somehow end up making at every physics gathering I attend.

Week One: Orienting - Jun 12, 2006 at 9:56PM
Erin McCamish
9 Posts

Here starts the journal of my time in DC. First, to catch up on what has happened so far:

Over the weekend all of the SPS interns moved in to our rooms at George Washington University. Everyone was really enthusiastic and we explored the city together, for both practical and fun purposes. Included in the exploration were two trips to the grocery store, since the Metro isn't exactly heavy shopping bag friendly. On Sunday we went sight seeing on the Mall which was great fun even though I had seen most of it before. The World War II memorial was especially nice, and I think it's relatively new. Our last stop was the the Einstein Memorial, where we ran into the NASA Academy group, including my boyfriend Ryan! That was a great surprise!

Monday we had our orientation and were introduced to many MANY people. They were all very nice and had interesting things to say, but I'm sorry to report I don't remember much even three days later. I also met my bosses at APS and got settled into my cubicle (yes I have a cubicle, it's cool). Tuesday and Wednesday I looked through the Physics Quest materials and did some of the experiments at my desk. It's fun to watch people in the financial department react as they walk by and see me playing with batteries or bubbles.

Wednesday night was the CNSF (Coalition for National Science Funding) Exhibit. It was a big fancy event on Capitol Hill where people who get NSF funding show off what they've done with the money to convince Congress that science funding is being well spent. Apparently APS usually has a booth, but since we just got here on Monday they decided it didn't make sense. Instead we got to walk around and shove bookmarks into peoples hands. I was really nervous at first, but it got easier. I started out talking to other young people, and moved up to their advisors by the end. I met a cool engineering professor from U of Michigan, who I am supposed to email about a physics/engineering project he s working on for students. I also talked to Vern Ehler, a Congressman from Michigan who also happens to be a physicist! I can t say I know too much about his work, but I know he s in Congress and on the Science and the Education Committees, which is enough to make me want to meet him. I weaseled my way in to talk to him and got a photo, but I didn't manage to get any APS information in. I also talked to an amazing woman from the Boston Museum of Science, and a couple of people about women in physics/science. Acting all professional and handing out APS information into people s hands is exhausting!

Today I was walking work after my 40 minute metro ride, only to meet Jackie on her way back home. Apparently a water main is broken at ACP (American Center for Physics, the building I work in), so they sent everyone home. Thus, I'm back at GW after 90 minutes in transit writing this journal entry.

That covers it for now; by the next time I write I'll have a better idea of my project details to share.


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