Which AAPT worlds do you navigate?

I’m not sure exactly how many worlds there are at AAPT conferences (or even if the world metaphor is right), but at the impromptu twitter meet-up, a few individuals were discussing that there might be four basic worlds:

  1. Physics Education Research World
  2. University Physics Educator World
  3. High School Physics Teacher World
  4. PIRA / Demo / Apparatus World

I’m not committed to this being the right carving, but there definitely seem to be different worlds one can navigate. The assumption in my mind (which can’t be exactly correct) is that the worlds do not overlap much, but that there a small number of border crossers / world straddlers. Or it could be that some worlds overlap more than others, because they actually have borders. And some worlds overlap very little, because they do not share borders. And there are probably some people who are not native to any one world, and wander all the worlds.

Anyway, I’m curious where people see themselves. Like I feel like I was born in PER world, but since beginning border-crossing to high school physics teacher world, PER world doesn’t feel so much like home anymore.

  • Do some feel like they have a home, but have friends in another world they can visit?
  • Do others feel more like dual citizens?
  • Does anyone feel homeless (in a good or bad way?) Does anyone feel stuck in one world?
  • Do some people feel squarely in one world?
  • Is someone deeply offended or shocked by the idea that there are different worlds?
  • Do certain worlds feel more isolated than others?
  • Do you have a different way you would want to carve up the worlds?

I’m not even sure if this way of thinking about people and community is helpful or harmful, but it’s been on my mind, so I’m writing about it.

Final thoughts:  Making up such carvings can be damaging. And so I think it deserves critical introspection to open this conversation. For example, many times, I have heard it suggested that there are producers and consumers of PER. When a few people offered this to me as a way of understanding my transition, it felt alienating. It felt like a very  “PER”-centric world view, where the only thing of true value was PER, and there are those who create and those who use. I don’t think of myself as either of those things, and so that way of carving the world felt wrong. I’m not deeply offended, I’m just saying that in that moment, I felt so misunderstood. Other people talked about being “nourished” in different ways by different parts of community at different times, and that better resonated by me. Like, for a while, PER was the intellectually, rich place about teaching and learning that nourished me; and now I found other intellectually, rich places to be nourishing me.

Final Final Thoughts: I’ve been thinking about the structure of High School Physics Teacher Camp (very unconference style) vs the AAPT meeting structure. A lot of AAPT meeting structure feels like it is designed for benefit of some worlds more so than others. This isn’t a criticism (I think), so much as a description. When teachers run workshops by themselves for themselves (supported by AAPT but organized outside the official AAPT structure), they organize in very different ways.

My experience at HS teacher camp felt like both “the rate of knowledge exchange” was crazy high, and support for fermentation / synthesis of ideas was high as well. It was also just better designed for joy. This seemed embodied in many ways — how sessions are formed, the different types of sessions that exist (breakouts, invited talk, share-a-thon, working time), and even in how collaborative notes are constructed in real time during the conference. I’m not saying that this format is generically “better”, but that it has advantages that seems to be really good for that world (high school teachers). My experience at AAPT standard sessions, this year was not as enjoyable. Once again, I’m not saying that the structure is generically awful, but it didn’t feel like it worked very well for me. 8+2 min contributed talk sessions seemed like the worst. Even when interesting people were doing and sharing interesting work, it mostly felt miserable to be there.

OK, this has turned into a diary entry / rant. Sorry.


8 thoughts on “Which AAPT worlds do you navigate?

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  1. Ooh this has me thinking!

    I don’t think I have much to add for the world carving, though interestingly I don’t overlap with the apparatus/demo people at all, it feels like.

    I think the PER/non-PER split is troubling, along the lines of the creator/user paradigm you mention. I think one of the interesting differences is that the high-school and college instructors are often decently experienced while the PER sessions seem dominated by grad students just getting going with their research. That maturity difference manifests in very different styles both in the presentations and in the audiences and hallway conversations.

    I like straddling a few worlds, but I notice that I get pretty crabby when I see people in one world misunderstanding or worst misrepresenting another world.

    Thanks for this, it still has me thinking.

    1. I definitely think of you as a textbook world straddler, and I think this kind of border-crossing is main way you find out about blind spots and biases of any particular world. It’s like how people say, you can’t really understand your country’s culture until you live or spend significant time abroad. Only in going away can you see what’s pervasive but invisible all around you.

  2. This is definitely interesting. I’m in the high school teaching world, but I miss research (generally) terribly every time I go to an AAPT meeting. It’s also interesting to me that you didn’t list a world for TYC faculty and researchers.

    1. We were talking about this on twitter a bit after you posted this. I feel like I need a map, now. to show me what worlds are there, and what’s the topology.

  3. Fascinating…The islands you describe seem familiar to me in my 20+ years of coming to AAPT meetings…I’ve always cherished the PER sessions and interactions as my very favorite part of the meeting as a different and rich kind of intellectual stimulation, but rarely felt I had anything much to add, while my original home felt more with the few undergraduate student centric things and college teachers and more association-policy type things..I was always interested to see which PER people I’d see at the plenaries, especially the traditional physics ones….it does seem though that the kinds of regular AAPT sessions available are quite limited compared to sessions I’ve experienced at other meetings (SPSCongresses, PERC, MAA regional meetings, etc.)…

  4. Brian, as a sometime conference organizer I’d love to hear more about the design of HS teacher camp, because it sounds awesome! Perhaps its own post?

  5. Thank you Brian, for this post and also sharing your thoughts on a Friday afternoon video meet up with Solo PER folks!

    What’s really compelling about this concept (as you mentioned in your meet up) is how those with prominence in one world might not be known of in another. And, how individuals with so much to share/gain might just walk right by one another–not ever knowing what they could have accomplished if they’d teamed up.

    Further questions your post has me considering . . .
    1) How might AAPT, individual members, or subgroups/committees within AAPT establish the means for its membership to be aware of others with similar interests (outside of the traditional “1st timer’s meeting”)?
    2) For members on different professional trajectories, how can fruitful connections be maintained (as opposed to leaving one world to become more involved in another)? Or are some worlds just too different to be bridged over the long haul?

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