Call for questions for the PERC 20/20 Bridging session panelists

posted by Beth Cunningham, AAPT; Lin Ding, The Ohio State University; Alexis V. Knaub, AAPT; and Steve Maier, Northwestern Oklahoma State on

This year's PERC will be uniquely focused on communal reflections on the role of physics education research. To promote meaningful discourses about the history, current status and future projections of PER, we have invited a group of plenary panelists with diverse expertise in DBER and/or PER to join us in our Bridging Session (see for the introduction to our invited panelists). We believe candid and deep dialogues will take place when the entire community are actively engaged.

To that end, we would like to crowdsource questions that you believe are pertinent to the theme of this year's PERC and are important to be asked of our panelists. We will collect and compile them into a list to be used for the Q&A component of our Bridging Session.

You can submit your questions to before July 14. There is no limit on the number of questions you can submit or the number of times you can submit. We also encourage you to invite your colleagues to submit their questions. After all, we want to make sure the community's voices are being heard and addressed.

A Short History of How AAPT Started Doing a Land Acknowledgement at National Conferences in 2019

posted by Angela Little on

My name is Dr. Angie Little (Chinook Nation). I wanted to share a little bit about a positive experience of advocating for Indigenous causes within the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). There's some more detail that could be added to this account at some point, but here are the basics:

In 2019, the AAPT leadership was asked by an AAPT member about whether the organization would consider making an Indigenous land acknowledgement at their next conference. The AAPT Committee on Diversity Chair at the time, Dr. David Marasco, was also contacted about the request. Dr. Marasco pulled Dr. Ximena Cid into the conversation, who explained to the leadership some of her thinking on best practices. Dr. Cid is a long time organizer for Chicanx/Latinx and Indigenous peoples in the physical sciences and is also a leader in the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) community. Dr. Cid looped me into the conversation as well, as I'd been doing some work to support the APS Committee on Minorities in supporting Indigenous-led causes.

A Zoom meeting was eventually convened across the AAPT Executive Officer, President, President-Elect, and Vice President to discuss this idea. I was asked to join. I was pleasantly surprised that the Executive Officer had asked the leadership to read through a guide about best practices in land acknowledgements before the meeting convened ( This guide has a lot of helpful information and explains things like: “Acknowledgment by itself is a small gesture. It becomes meaningful when coupled with authentic relationships and informed action.” On the call, AAPT leadership agreed that, to support a meaningful land acknowledgement, they would provide funds to the Director of a Native American Studies program on a college campus nearby the conference location. These funds would be for the Director to use at their discretion: for their time to give the land acknowledgement, to support their own program, and/or toward another local Indigenous cause. Lastly, the AAPT leadership noted that they understood that the land acknowledgement was only a first step. They agreed that they would try to work toward more long-term relationship building with Indigenous groups such as the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C, since the AAPT headquarters is located nearby Washington, D.C. 

AAPT's 2019 Summer Meeting was in Provo, Utah. Dr. Franci Taylor, Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) at University of Utah, was contacted and agreed to give the acknowledgement. The AAPT Program PDF included this description of the first land acknowledgement:

Image Description: This image comes from the AAPT program booklet, with the title, "Land Acknowledgement at Welcome Reception," and includes a brief description of the event (this text will appear at the bottom of this blog post). On the left is a black and white photo of Dr. Franci Taylor - she is a Choctaw woman with long dark hair, glasses, a sweater and turtle neck shirt, and a beaded necklace. To the right of the event description, there is also red circle. "YOU'RE ON INDIGENOUS LAND" is written in white inside of the circle. The word "Indigenous" is highlighted in white with red lettering. 

The land acknowledgement discussion among AAPT leadership occurred in Spring of 2019 and by Summer of 2019, AAPT had followed through with having a land acknowledgement at their August 2019 meeting in Provo, Utah. I really appreciated Dr. Taylor's acknowledgement, which was preceded by some thoughtful context, history, and story-telling. 

As of Summer 2020, my understanding is that Dr. Beth Cunningham, AAPT's Executive Officer, has reached out to some D.C. area Native American leaders and is working toward longer-term relationship building.

Text of the event description that appears in the image is reproduced in text form here:

Franci Taylor, Executive Director of the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) at University of Utah and a cross-cultural consultant for University Health Sciences. She will conduct a Land Acknowledgement at the beginning of the Welcome Reception on Sunday, July 21, 2019. This land acknowledgment recognizes the traditional territory of the Indigenous people who called the land home before the arrival of settlers, and in many cases still do call it home. Ms. Taylor earned a B.F.A. and a B.S. in Anthropology/Sociology at Montana State University. She earned her Ph.D. in American Indian Studies through the Faculty of Archaeology program at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. She has taught American Indian Studies and Culture for over 25 years locally, nationally, and internationally at all educational levels. She has worked on creating American Indian curriculum for public schools. Land Acknowledgment is a way to recognize that the land on which we hold this meeting has a very long history, reaching beyond the establishment of European colonies, as well as its significance for the Indigenous peoples who lived and continue to live upon this territory, and whose practices and spiritualities were tied to the land and continue to develop in relationship to the land and its other inhabitants today.


Tags: history  AAPT  organizing  

Anti-Black racism in policing: what's it got to do with physics?

posted by Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer, Western Washington University on

Content warning: anti-Black violence and death.


Below, I share a slightly edited version of an essay I wrote last February for students enrolled in a class called Matter & Energy in Physical Systems. I wrote the essay for Black History Month as a way to hold myself accountable to my own self-education about Black history. I shared this and other essays with the students I was teaching as part of an overall strategy of incorporating the people and history of physics into formal undergraduate physics education.

I’m posting this essay on the PERC 20/20 blog in response to the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade by current or former police officers. People across the nation mourn and organize publicly and privately. Meanwhile, the president of the United States has threatened to use the military to kill Black protestors, using a racist dog whistle and quoting a racist police chief in the process.

This is a terrifying, dangerous, and heartbreaking time in the United States. Amidst the pain, fear, and heartache, it is important to remember that PER is interconnected with the realities of racism in policing. In this essay, I emphasize that interconnectedness by compiling writing done by individuals and groups in physics and astronomy.

Anti-Black racism in policing

The goal of this essay is to explore the impacts of anti-Black police practices on the physics and astronomy communities. As a first step, I think it will be useful to comment on the reality of ongoing and systemic anti-Black racism in policing.

Anti-Blackness in policing is well-documented and has historical precedent. The US Department of Justice has recently reported on systemic racism and unconstitutional use of lethal force in the Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson police departments, and it described the level of force used by police officers in Cleveland as "chaotic and dangerous." Moreover, according to a 2015 FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide, "domestic terrorism investigations [by the FBI] focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers." (emphasis added). Similarly, in 2006, the FBI released a bulletin called "White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement."

Alarming as they may be, the DOJ and FBI reports of racism in policing are unsurprisingly consistent with historical reality that, in the United States, slave patrols were a precursor to police. Consider a more recent example: the federal government's "war on drugs," a campaign responsible for skyrocketing increases in the number of people (disproportionately Black) incarcerated in the United States. The war on drugs was initiated by President Nixon in the 1970s and exacerbated by President Clinton in the 1990s, and it was rooted in anti-Blackness from the start: John Ehrlichman, Nixon's domestic policy advisor, told Harper's Magazine that

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Thus, anti-Black racism in policing is neither new nor accidental.

#BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName

Anti-Black police violence undergoes waves of attention by popular news media, and reports typically focus on the experiences of Black men. In response to these trends, Kimberlé Crenshaw urges us to remember that "police violence against black women is very real. The level of violence that black women face is such that it's not surprising that some of them do not survive their encounters with police." (The Urgency of Intersectionality, TEDWomen; 2016). Moreover, according to the 2015 US Transgender Survey Report, trans people experience "high levels of mistreatment and harassment by police," and negative experiences are particularly common among Black trans women.

Within the last decade, multiple movements have taken shape to raise awareness of systemic racism in policing and advocate for reform. In 2013, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi started the #BlackLivesMatter movement in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer, George Zimmerman. Since then, the movement has expanded into a global "chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes." (Note: there is a #BlackLivesMatter chapter in Bellingham.)

In 2014, the African American Policy Forum ( rolled out the #SayHerName campaign in response to the unjust police killings of Gabriella Nevarez, Aura Rosser, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, and other Black women. #SayHerName is "a movement that calls attention to police violence against Black women, girls and femmes, and demands that their stories be integrated into calls for justice, policy responses to police violence, and media representations of police brutality."

By focusing on #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName, I don't mean to imply that resistance to anti-Black racism in policing began only recently. Indeed, because modern policing is rooted in slave patrols, the history of resistance includes historical figures and networks like Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad as well as present-day scholars and movements like Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Prison Abolition.

The histories and movements described above inform the sociopolitical context in which physics is embedded. Put another way, physics is not isolated from issues of police violence. In fact, individuals and groups within the physics community have responded to this issue in a variety of ways.

Police violence and physics

The fatal police shooting of Tamir Rice (a 12 year old boy) received major news coverage, as did the shootings of Alton Sterling (37 years old) and Philando Castile (32 years old). Videos of all three shootings were widely circulated in news and social media. The fatal police shootings of Aiyana Jones (a 7 year old girl) and Rekia Boyd (22 years old) received less attention, but were no less devastating.

In the physics and astronomy communities, the shootings elicited responses from individuals, groups, and organizations.

Response from Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

In 2017, theoretical physicist and feminist theorist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein wrote a poignant and unfinished essay called, "What is the plan for including Tamir Rice in #STEM?" From her essay:

I learned recently that the American Geophysical Union believes that stating that #BlackLivesMatter is outside their purview, but also they want us to know that they are committed to inclusion.

So, I have a question: what is the plan for including Tamir Rice in STEM? Are they aware that it is hard for dead Black children to become scientists? Are they aware that it is hard for Philando Castile to encourage his daughter to become a scientist? Are they aware that Alton Sterling’s children no longer have a father to help pay for the books that might open their minds to science?

. . . [C]an we bring back Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was shot because she was Black and seven years old and sleeping in her bed at home?

Also, how about Rekiya Boyd? It might be that she was going to take a physics class one day that would change her life. And maybe then she would have changed ours.

. . . Let’s be real though. These professional societies don’t have a plan for including Tamir Rice or Aiyana Stanley-Jones in STEM, and I don’t either because they’re dead. They were murdered by police officers who faced no serious legal repercussions for killing Black children because to the system, to you who refuses to oppose it, their lives were nothing but the smudges of a pathetic second class of post-slaves that you call African-Americans, because you’re polite.

. . . The only plan to include me in STEM is the one that looks past the living and speaks to the dead and says we are going to mourn for you and fight like hell for those you left behind.

Responses from members of professional committees

In 2016, the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile provided the impetus for two statements from members of professional committees. First, members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA) wrote a statement in support of Black Lives Matter. The statement was co-signed by members of the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) and the AAS Working Group on Accessibility and Disability (WGAD). From the statement:

The recent extrajudicial killings of two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, by the police have shocked, disturbed, and frightened many of us today. We express our unequivocal repulsion to these acts, which are just one manifestation of the underlying systemic racism in our country. These events affect our community directly. Many Black astronomers in this country, especially those in junior positions, are suffering at this moment. We encourage all of you to be mindful as you reach out to our fellow Black astronomers, and be present with them during these difficult times. The undersigned reaffirm our commitment to ensure the inclusion, support, and safety of every Black person in astronomy.

Black Lives Matter!

Next, members of the American Physical Society (APS) Committee on Minorities (COM) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) Committee on Diversity (COD) jointly wrote a statement in support of Black Lives Matter:

These events [the shootings of Sterling and Castile, and the fatal shooting of 5 officers at a Dallas protest] affect the physics community. Safety, justice, and equality underlie our ability to succeed at all endeavors, including physics. Systemic racism exists. Systemic racism exists in physics. And we all must work tirelessly to challenge the structures that allow it to exist.

The APS COM and AAPT COD are dedicated to building a community where people of color can learn and practice physics free from racial harassment, bias, and fear. We are alarmingly far from this goal and we call on the entire physics community to join us in making this endeavor a reality. One way to move toward this goal is to engage in self-education and anti-racism training to build understanding in the ways that power structures combine with bias and racism to differentially impact physicists of color. This understanding is critical to our ability to affect change. We must create a climate that encourages and supports people of color in their pursuit of physics and physics careers.

The undersigned affirm our commitment that Black lives matter and that racial justice matters, in our society and in the physics community.

Importantly, neither of the statements by members of AAS CSMA, APS COM, and AAPT COD were official statements from the professional societies themselves. Indeed, it took about a year of coordinated internal and external pressure before the American Physical Society released a statement about systemic racial violence.

Response from the American Physical Society

With 50,000 members, the American Physical Society is the largest professional physics organization in North America, and I think it is the second largest in the world. Shortly after the release of an unofficial statement in support of #BlackLivesMatter by members of the APS Committee on Minorities, pressure began mounting for an official statement from APS. While members of COM coordinated internally with key decision-makers in APS, a group of white queer and trans people (mostly women) wrote and circulated an open letter outlining the realities and dangers of systemic racism in policing and its impacts on the physics community. Some of the authors of the open letter consulted with Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and members of COM to ensure that the content and purpose of the letter were appropriate. Ultimately, hundreds of physicists co-signed the open letter.

Finally, on April 23, 2017, the American Physical Society released an APS Board Statement on Racial Violence:

Physics flourishes best when physicists can work in an environment of safety, justice, and equity. Therefore, all of us must work vigorously against systemic racism and to overcome implicit biases. The Board of the American Physical Society believes that it is timely to reaffirm the importance of building a diverse and inclusive physics community, as expressed in the APS Joint Diversity Statement (Human Rights 08.2). The Board expresses deep concern over incidents of racially biased violence and threats of violence against people of color.

Racial profiling and physics

In the United States, white civilians too often use calls to the police as a way to harass Black people. In the context of multiple DOJ and FBI reports noting systemic racism in police departments, such calls carry the threat of violence. Moreover, they reinforce the racist idea that Black people are criminals who do not belong in particular spaces, including college campuses and other places where physics and astronomy research happen. Thus, the phenomenon of white people using the police to harass Black people has an obvious impact on the ability of Black physicists and astronomers to carry out their work.

Response from Simone Hyater-Adams

About a year ago, in January 2019, Simone Hyater-Adams was interviewed by Filling Space about her research on Racial Identity and Physics. When asked about forms of bias, Dr. Hyater Adams's response included recounting an episode when police were called on a student of color at her university:

A pattern of bias that can (and has) impacted physicists and physics departments is the pattern of calling the police on innocent people of color. This year, I witnessed this in my own department when a student of color was seen as “suspicious” while they were in the physics building after hours. The police were called on the student and while in this instance he was not harmed to my knowledge, there is national data and countless examples in the media that show how easily such an encounter between the police and a person of color can escalate to death. In addition, the professor who was involved sent an email to the department lists warning others about this student, and included a non-consensual photo of the student. Our department’s response was to reassure the person who called the police that they had done nothing wrong, instead of acknowledging the harm that they caused and the potential danger they put this student in. The department’s inability to publicly respond to the incident and the email had two big consequences: (1) it communicated that students of color are not seen as normal or innocent bodies in that space and therefore look suspicious; and (2) it caused this student to leave the department.

Silence from department faculty, administration, and staff in moments of injustice communicates that discrimination through people’s actions as well as department and university policy are welcome in your space. These messages contribute to why students of color, and of other marginalized identities, decide to leave the field.

Response from astronomers

In 2018, members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA) wrote a Statement Against the Policing of Black and Indigenous Students:

We bring to your attention a string of recent incidents involving Black and Indigenous students being racially profiled on university campuses in the United States. We urge you to reaffirm your commitment to the safety of Black and Indigenous astronomers, and especially students, within your institutions.

. . . Make no mistake, these incidents do not happen in a vacuum, but are the continuation of centuries of systemic racism and over-policing of communities of color, and the over-surveillance of Black and Indigenous bodies in predominantly-white spaces.

As summer arrives, new Black and Indigenous students prepare themselves to move to new settings, either to join graduate or REU [Research Experiences for Undergraduates] programs. The signatories urge you to step up your commitment to their safety. A few recommendations for white colleagues include:

    • Recognize that it is your duty to ensure that Black and Indigenous members of your scientific communities feel safe, protected and included - and take immediate action to protect them.
    • Have conversations in your departments and research groups about the implications of white folks calling the police on people of color, which may result in their incarceration and violent (often lethal) action against them.

Response from physics education researchers of color

Beginning in 2017, physics education researchers of color created a discussion space for people of color at the annual Physics Education Research Conference (PERC). Last summer, members of that space wrote a document Emerging Reflections from the People of Color (POC) at PERC Discussion Space. One of the sections of this document focuses on "Dealing with Racism in General Society." Graduate student Brian Zamarripa Roman was the lead on this section, which includes the following excerpt:

These incidents [incidents of interpersonal racism that sometimes result in calling police or other authorities] occur in general society and new incidents occur daily; thus, they are not only a possibility, but a reality during conferences. POC in the discussion space have been detained, handcuffed, and had their citizenship questioned by local law enforcement when walking back to their Airbnb. Others have also been questioned by hotel staff about their guest status during conferences on various occasions and conference locations. Individuals in the space have also been pulled over by police in their Uber on their way to restaurants at night and accused of drunk driving due to the driver having a non English accent. A large group of POC were kicked out of a bar after a minimal altercation with one of the individuals, while the white perpetrator was allowed to remain in the premises. Additionally, the AAPT conference in Texas raised serious concerns regarding the possibility of POC being interrogated and detained. These incidents were the ones willingly shared by POC in the space, however it is likely other traumatic racist experiences have occurred that were not brought to light. These experiences, as well as those happening in general society, lead to POC in PER becoming hyper aware of potential racist incidents and carrying a burden that their white counterparts may not be aware of.

AAPT is an organization that promotes and encourages diversity and the Physics Education Research Community should endeavor to support diversity. As a starting point, the community should be aware of the triad of agents (businesses, individuals, and authorities) that potentially perpetuate racism and the ways they interact with POC who are AAPT attendees.

Concluding thoughts

To learn Black Physics History is to learn the history of police brutality and racial profiling by civilians and authorities alike as they apply to Black physicists and astronomers, including colleges students as well as children like Tamir Rice and Aiyana Jones who will never have the option of considering a physics major. This is history is heartbreaking, and I am grateful to Black women like Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and Simone Hyater-Adams who have vulnerably and publicly spoken up about their experiences and views.

This is the first time I've compiled so much previous writing about racist police practices in one place. For me, my next steps include re-reading the various resources and recommendations, and thinking about which steps I could take locally as an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and which steps I could take as an active member of multiple professional physics organizations.

Tags: racism  anti-blackness  policing  physics  astronomy  aapt  aas  aps  

-- Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer, Ph.D. (he/him) Assistant Professor Physics & Astronomy Department Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Program Western Washington University

AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions

posted by Joel Corbo, University of Colorado- Boulder and J.T. Laverty, Kansas State University on

(All photos in the post by AAPT photographer, Ashauni Lennox)

Ever since the 2017 Winter Meeting in Atlanta, AAPT conferences have included a “Game Night” on the official meeting agenda. These events are a great way to bring together people from across the AAPT community in a low-stakes environment to meet each other, eat snacks, play games, and have fun.

Photo of game night attendees for first AAPT Game Night at the 2017 Atlanta Meeting

So what does an AAPT Game Night look like? Lots of people will be sitting at tables playing (frequently, modern) board games. There may be other kinds of games to play, such as ping pong, air hockey, or jumbo-sized Connect Four.  There will also be snacks such as popcorn, ice cream, or the like. At the Cincinnati meeting, one group played a one-shot D&D campaign, and sometimes people bring their personal video game consoles, like the Nintendo Switch, for others to play.

Game Night is attended by people from across the AAPT community and is a good place to network with physics teachers both inside and outside PER.  If you’re interested in relaxing with other physics teachers, engaging with fantastical worlds, or just counting cards, then you should consider going to Game Night at your next AAPT Summer or Winter Meeting.

Happy Game Night participants at the 2019 Summer Meeting in Provo

Given the title and theme of this blog, we want to explore how Game Night came to be, how it has changed over time, and what might be in store for it in the future. Our focus is on the Game Night that has become part of the AAPT conferences.  That said, board games have been a part of the PER community on and off for many years—informal game nights have existed at other conferences and as part of several groups within the community. Feel free to jump to the comments to tell your own stories of games in the PER community!


The First AAPT Game Night

The first AAPT Game Night was an unofficial event run by us (Joel Corbo and J.T. Laverty) and Dimitri Dounas-Frazer during the 2016 AAPT Summer Meeting in Sacramento. We were motivated to create it as an alternative social event to the long standing PER karaoke night. We were interested in creating a space that did not focus on alcohol, and we personally really enjoy playing games and teaching them to others.

Even though it wasn’t an official event, AAPT was very supportive of this impromptu game night. Joel had been on PERLOC for about half a year at that point as the PERC Liaison, which meant that he had been in communication with AAPT about various logistical conference matters. He asked Tiffany Hayes and Cerena Cantrell, the AAPT staffers who organize the conferences, if there was a room available where we could hold a Game Night, and they provided one on very short notice (like a day or two in advance).

People playing corn hole at the Summer 2018 Meeting in Washington, DC

The games were all from our personal collections, and we advertised primarily through Facebook posts, word of mouth, and the RiPE Meeting. Despite the last-minute nature of the event, a good number of people (30? 40? We’re not sure anymore) showed up to play games, and some other folks who had their instruments with them organized a “sing along/jam session” in the hallway outside the room where we were holding Game Night.


The Evolution of Game Night

After the success of the first unofficial Game Night, AAPT made it an official part of their conferences starting at the 2017 Winter Meeting in Atlanta.  To be clear, Tiffany and Cerena took the initiative to make this happen—they added it to the program and registration process; reserved space; ordered snacks and drinks; and rented several table-based games (e.g., ping pong and air hockey). They did all of that on their own and we are grateful for it.  They also asked us for game recommendations; AAPT now has its own collection of six games specifically for Game Night, to supplement the games that attendees bring from home. Since 2017, Game Night has been a regular part of all AAPT Summer and Winter Meetings.

People playing a card game at the 2019 Winter Meeting in Houston

One of the outcomes of Game Night’s institutionalization is that it now is advertised to everyone, not just the PER community, and lots of different people from across AAPT attend it. This makes it a great opportunity for PER and non-PER people to network with each other. An additional outcome is that Game Night falls under the jurisdiction of the AAPT Code of Conduct, which is important to us since we want it to be a space that is as open, inclusive, and as safe as possible.


While not officially part of AAPT and not technically connected to Game Night, the “sing along/jam session” that started outside the first Game Night has also continued, though often at different times and locations from Game Night.


Looking Forward

Given how well institutionalized Game Night has become, we expect that it’s here to stay as a fixture of AAPT conferences. We hope that it helps to foster interactions between people who might not otherwise have met, in a low-stakes environment where people can relax and be themselves. So, if you haven’t gone to a Game Night in the past, consider going this summer. If you have gone before, please go again!

People hanging out at Game Night at the 2019 Winter Meeting in Houston

We also hope that telling the story of Game Night’s origin will inspire other folks to start their own social events at AAPT Meetings that are fun, open, and inclusive—perhaps a knitting circle, trivia night, or crafting event. The more that these activities emerge from the shared interests of the AAPT community, the better they will be at bringing people together and making for an enjoyable conference experience.


Finally, we’d like to thank Tiffany and Cerena, not just for supporting Game Night, but also for all of the work they do to make Summer and Winter Meetings happen. There wouldn’t be an AAPT without them!

Tags: History  conference  social event  

Re: AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions -
Michael Wittmann
14 Posts

I love reading this. It's one of the many examples of a small group of people seeing a need of some sort, and then simply doing something about it. Sometimes I feel like small-scale leadership of this sort is what makes this community (really, any community) actually function. 

Two other moments come to mind when I think about that kind of leadership and activity. The first is that the karaoke night itself was organized (though never officially, in the way that Game Night is) for just the same reasons. There was a small group that saw a thing, then others that wanted to join in, and boom, there you go, karaoke night. I think everyone involved was surprised when it turned into a larger thing, but these things happen, right? The second is that the official game night feels (to me, who has been going to AAPT meetings since 1996) like the continuation of a longstanding PER tradition of.... game nights. The games were smaller (decks of cards are easier to travel with than larger games), but there was a long history of people getting together for gaming, back in the day. It's nice to see how things come back around, as needs arise. 

— Michael Wittmann, UMaine PER and RiSE Center

Re: AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions -
Alexis Knaub
19 Posts

If you have anything you'd like to specifically share about similar events from the 1990s (especially if there are photos), please do so in an entry! 

I've enjoyed the Game Night space, even though card and board games aren't my thing. We've played video games (mostly Mario Kart), made signage to cheer on a colleague who was winning an award. One of my friends last year even did a fortune telling card reading for me.

Re: AAPT Game Night: Reflections and Future Directions -
Michael Wittmann
14 Posts

Ha! In the age before digital cameras, people didn't take pictures that often, and if they did, I don't have them. Perhaps Leon, Kathy, Dave, or the other core members of that group would have them, but I certainly don't. The one night that I hosted a game night (Boise 2002 summer meeting), I had an apartment because my wife and daugther came along to the conference. We didn't take photos, since I didn't have a digital camera at the time, and cell phones with usable cameras were still a few years off at this point. It's amazing how technology changes our memory spaces. We have far more to share right now, but how many of our digital memories will be around in 1000 years?

— Michael Wittmann, UMaine PER and RiSE Center

Some personal stories about co-organizing PERC 2012

posted by Chandra Turpen, University of Maryland on

Curious on how an organizer got involved? Here's the origin story of how Chandra Turpen became a PERC 2012 co-organizer and the lasting impact the 2012's team work has had.

If you are interested in organizing PERC 2021, go to this post for all the details.

I would like to share my own personal experiences with co-organizing a PERC conference (back in 2012) as an example of what that process can look like, partially in hopes of demystifying the process a bit and encouraging others to take on such roles in the future.

When my colleagues and I proposed to organize PERC, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. As a PER graduate student, I only had experience organizing a couple of PERC parallel sessions, but never something of this scale. In putting a proposal for PERC together, I was ~1 year out from having finished my PhD, had relocated to the Washington D.C. area, but was not yet employed at Univ. of Maryland (UMD). I had started coming to UMD one day a week to informally collaborate with folks there and joined a small but vibrant scholarly community which we called, “Affect gang” (see photo below). As a group, we had been reading articles and analyzing pieces of data together about the role of emotions and identity within physics/science learning experiences. We found fascinating areas of scholarship and brilliant scholars from areas outside of PER that we felt could enhance our work. We felt a sense of urgency around bringing some of these important ideas to the forefront within our community. Through affect gang, I made a few friends that I enjoyed spending time with and that were willing to collaborate with me on such an endeavor. This was part of the collective momentum that launched me into co-organizing PERC 2012 on “Cultural perspectives on learners' performance & identity in physics” in Philadelphia. In the end, I would be 8-months pregnant with my first child when PERC actually happened. 

A subset of "Affect Gang" at PERC 2012 in Philadelphia, PA: Brian Danielak, Ayush Gupta, Jennifer Richards, Vashti Sawtelle, Jessica Watkins, Chandra Turpen, Lama Jaber, and Luke Conlin (left to right)

A subset of "Affect Gang" at PERC 2012 in Philadelphia, PA: Brian Danielak, Ayush Gupta, Jennifer Richards, Vashti Sawtelle, Jessica Watkins, Chandra Turpen, Lama Jaber, and Luke Conlin (left to right)

So, what did organizing PERC entail? 

We started by making a long list of potential plenary speakers. We read and discussed some of their notable papers, and decided on plenary speakers. We sent out invitations and coordinated some of their travel arrangements with them and AAPT. In collaboration with Lyle Barbato, we (a) solicited, reviewed, and selected proposals for parallel sessions, (b) reviewed PERC poster submissions and (c) developed a conference schedule and conference program.  We coordinated with Cerena Cantrell at AAPT regarding conference room arrangements, AV requirements, and internet needs. We mapped out creative solutions for accommodating the unexpected multitude of contributed posters (more than 200) that were submitted that year.

What went wrong along the way? 

Of course, organizing was quite a bit more work than I expected, but we had a strong team of organizers (Ayush Gupta, Eleanor Sayre, Jessica Watkins, and myself) all pitching in. We encountered unpredictable issues with one plenary speaker becoming ill, and weather preventing other plenary speaker from arriving when expected. This caused some panic at the time, but also created new opportunities for improvising and innovating new forms of community engagement within large plenary sessions.   

What makes it seem like a worthwhile thing to have done? 

It brought me great joy to be a part of the plenary sessions and some of the powerful community-generated parallel sessions that occurred at PERC 2012. Plenary speaker, Dr. Megan Bang, gave one of the first land acknowledgement statements recognizing indigenous communities at PERC. I experienced some community-generated parallel sessions with such deep emotional salience (such as the talk symposium organized by Apriel Hodari, “Finding a Home for All of Myself: Intersectionality in Identity Formation for Women of Color in Physics”) that I still remember them today.

Co-organizing PERC helped me to build stronger relationships and collaborations with my co-organizers (knowing that there are people in the PER community that I can rely on as partners in doing meaningful/authentic work). It was inspiring to see the great interest that this conference theme elicited within the PER community and adjacent science education/DBER communities (there were 345 registered attendees at PERC that year, whereas the 5 year average before that was about 218 per year). In the following years, I’ve gotten occasional positive feedback from PER community members -- some appreciating the interactive plenary session that we improvised the night before, and others sharing that this was one of the first PERCs they attended and that it made them want to make this their professional “home.” It has been rewarding for me to see the generativity of organizing such community events, and seeing traces of the plenary speakers’ scholarship get taken up in subsequent PER projects and publications. 


I look forward to learning with and from others in our community as they step forward to take on this important role in our community. Trust me, this is a thing that you too, can do.

Tags: PERC  conference  organizing  

Organizing a PERC: Comments from an Organizer Waist Deep in the Process

posted by Steve Maier, Northwestern Oklahoma State on
Curious on how an organizer got involved? Here's the origin story of how Steve Maier became a PERC 20/20 co-organizer. If you are interested in organizing PERC 2021, go to this post for all the details. Romanticizing a bit Steve Maier and Beth Cunningham looking at a concept map with colorful...

Tags: PERC  conference  organizing  

Call for PERC 2021 Proposals

posted by On behalf of PERLOC on
PERLOC (Physics Education Research Leadership and Organizing Council) is soliciting organizers for the 2021 PERC in Washington, D.C.  If you are interested in organizing and you have an idea for a theme that will be of interest to our community, we’d love to hear from you! If you have...

Re: Call for PERC 2021 Proposals -
Steve Maier
113 Posts

This was originally designed to be a separate blog post, but I did not want to take away priority or add too much to the length of the call for proposals.  So I'm adding it here as a reply.

Organizing a PERC: Comments from an Organizer Waist Deep in the Process

Romanticizing a bit

At the PERC 2018 evening poster session, I was visiting with presenters and weaving in and out of the traffic of thought provoking conversations, just like most everyone else.  Then at the end of the rows of posters, between the cash bar and the PERLOC “office hours,” I saw an otherwise blank wall divider with a few sheets of paper pinned to it. It was an open call for ideas for future PERCs!  Curiosity of others’ ideas drew me in...  

Reading the posted notes and remaining in the moment, there was something about that unassuming bulletin board that opened PER up to me in a new way.  Anyone could post an idea, as if to say that anyone engaged in PERC could serve as an organizer -- not just PER’s “heavy hitters.”  I shook my head at the thought, knowing my role in PER has been one of an onlooker and practitioner rather than a shaker and a mover.  Still, I added my own note about “pedagogical diffusion” because the notion of disciplines cross-pollinating and impacting one another resonates with me and I wondered if it did with others, too. 

Overcoming “obstacles”

That act, along with conversations with others, eventually led to becoming part of an organizing team and recruiting additional organizers to submit a PERC proposal draft.  The ins and outs of those interactions aren’t really fodder for a page turning newsstand novel, but here’s a quick rundown:  

  • Time was spent deliberating over whether or not the task was in my wheelhouse--so I hesitated  
  • Like everyone else, I have a lot of responsibilities that tax my time--so I had reservations
  • I’m more of a PER wallflower than recognized for publications/grants--so I had doubts
  • Deep down, I knew that committing to this effort would force me to engage in the community in a new ways--so I had motivation

In my case, motivation alone would likely not have been enough.  However, other PERC 20/20 organizers were (and remain) instrumental in helping me recognize there are meritable roles I can fill.  Encouraging me to pursue my own spaces to contribute to PERC 20/20, the organizing team has provided a form of validation that I suspect will always be a highlight for me.  I only hope I am returning the favor, because I am quite grateful.

And now, the realities of organizing...

Working on the main theme, brainstorming about our own spin on things, and working out the finer details with members of the organizing committee has required video conferences, email exchanges, and in-person conversations that would not have taken place otherwise.  While rewarding, these take time. And my advice would be that if you’re seriously considering organizing a PERC, be prepared to engage and set aside regular time in your schedule to do “PERC work.” It will not happen on its own.

Wrapping up with a pep talk

And, if permitted to be so bold, I would say this: If you’re a regular contributor, practitioner, or participant of PER, PERC needs you--consider becoming an organizer.  But there’s a less obvious and more salient point I’d like to draw from my perspective. So I’ll repackage the above statement in a way that helped motivate me to step forward: If you find yourself really looking forward to PERCs, its themes, and enjoy thinking critically about the sessions in the weeks/months following the return trip home, then PERC needs you.  This is especially the case if your voice is one that is not the most prominent in PER. Organizers interact in PER at a new level, making new connections and establishing new collaboratives. Your perspective could provide just the looking glass others may need to carry the discipline further.

Aligning my PER Identity to my institution and my institution’s culture

posted by Mel Sabella, Chicago State on
My identity in PER and my identity as a physics teacher have changed quite a bit during along my physics path.  I completed my bachelors degree at a teaching focused university then went to large research universities for my PhD and Postdoc, then began my position as a professor  at...

Tags: History  identity  institution type  

Mel Sabella,, Chicago State University - Professor of Physics

PER: Stepping back and looking back

posted by Bob Beichner, North Carolina State University on
As many of you know, I’ve experienced a relatively recent but substantial shift in my career orientation. (I’ve become a hospital chaplain. Interesting and fulfilling work, but that’s for a different blog or even a face-to-face conversation.) Anyway, the process of becoming a...

Tags: history  conference  APS  research  teaching  

I’m in PER because of lucky circumstances, should it be that way?

posted by Nicholas Young, Michigan State on
In late September, I took part in a science communication conference for physics and astronomy graduate students. It was the start of a breakout session, so naturally the moderator had each of us introduce ourselves and what we hoped to achieve through our science communication efforts. When it...

Tags: identity  PER  science communication  

Re: I’m in PER because of lucky circumstances, should it be that way? -
Alexis Knaub
19 Posts

This has me thinking about how much luck or chance has played a role in my life, along with systematic matters that play a role in the odds of x or y thing happening.

I'm also thinking about people I encounter who have few interactions with academics. There are a lot of great free resources out there, and yet people may not know because they're not in the PER network.

Helen Mae Cothrel: PER Identity as Its Constituent Parts, not Just P+E+R

posted by Helen Mae Cothrel, Kettering University on
My PER identity begins at my identity. I am a young, queer, disabled woman with mental illness working in a field in which I am far outnumbered. It continues through my educator identity (I knew I wanted to be some kind of teacher about a decade before I ever took a physics class) and my physics...

Tags: Identity  Solo PER  

PER Identity and Sense of Belonging

posted by Susan Rundell Singer, Rollins College on
I’m contributing to this blog as a biology education researcher (BER) and a higher education changemaker. Boundary crossing has enriched my career at all stages. In  the context of PER, the early leadership and methodologies of the research community have informed my own work and...

Tags: identity  biology education research  SOTL  

A mailing list and identity

posted by Michael Wittmann, University of Maine on
In some private conversations, recently, I’ve been unpacking some stories about the past of PER, told from the perspective of someone who was a grad student in the mid to late 90s. That was not quite the first wave of grad students getting their PhDs in physics departments while doing PER,...

Tags: History  identity  

— Michael Wittmann, UMaine PER and RiSE Center

Re: A mailing list and identity -
Steve Maier
113 Posts

I really enjoyed reading and re-reading this post!  There's reminiscing, historical content, and one can get a sense of the bustle of the fomenting of PER, all leading full circle to due attention to noticing changes that have occurred in the PER community over time.  I recall being actively engaged in PhysLrnr (more as a reader, soaking up the conversations--of which there were many!), while also trying to find my place in the PER landscape. 

Your last paragraph really spoke to me, and I believe it is on-point with the PERC 20/20 theme.  In one sense, there's a subdued sense of loss as to an atmosphere or how things may have been some time ago.  But the fact that what's "old" today still seems as fresh as yesterday is refreshing.  What are the venues are out there today that can facilitate the sense of wonder and excitement that helped so many identify with PER?  How do we keep them (young PER & the venues) going; how do we identify new venues and embrace growth/change?  

More Computational Physics Education Research Please

posted by Todd Zimmerman, University of Wisconsin-Stout on
Before you read any further, stop and answer the following question for yourself: Where does computation fall in the experimental physics/theoretical physics paradigm? As an undergrad I know I viewed the computer as a fancy calculator that fell firmly in the theoretical physics side of...

Tags: computation physics education  research areas  

Laura McCullough: Physics(?) Education(?) Research(!)

posted by Laura McCullough, University of Wisconsin-Stout on
Identity is always a strange beast. In various classes and workshops, when people ask me to define myself in one word, the best I can come up with is “Laura”. My husband says when he met me, when I was 16 years old, I already wanted to be a college physics professor. That goal guided...

Tags: PER  identity  APS  AAPT  research  teaching  

The First PERC?

posted by Steve Maier, Northwestern Oklahoma State on
Photo of people at the first PERC in 1997 Did you know PERC 1997 was the first PERC paired with AAPT?  It was framed as a workshop that ran 2 days prior to the 1997 summer AAPT meeting. There were 65 registrants (a set limit) and the schedule can be found here:...

Tags: PERC  conference  history  

Attached File: perc1997b.jpg

Re: The First PERC? -
Michael Wittmann
14 Posts

To add to some historical context, the 1997 meeting was inspired in large part by the "gap day" that was organized between the International Conference on Undergraduate Physics Education (ICUPE 1996) and the AAPT meeting held in College Park, MD at the University of Maryland. The ICUPE itself was fabulous success, with a large 2 volume conference proceedings with some fabulous papers - but people also recognized that there were problems with the conference-based publishing model (see below). I should say that the 1996 ICUPE (and this mindset of PER-focused conferences) was preceded by the 1991 Bremen conference (again, really influential conference proceedings in the 90s) and the 1992 or 1993 conference on the use of computers in physics. 

Among other things, the first ad hoc organization of grad students in physics education research was put together during the ICUPE/AAPT "interval day." You can see that history at in a hilariously 90s web page.

The interval day was also a place for a very important discussion about journals for PER, which planted the seeds for the Physics Education Research Supplement in AJP, which then started up soon after and was seen as a bridge to something, nobody knew what, but eventually became with Phys Rev PER. 

Given the success of the 1996 interval day, a PERC seemed possible (and the cut-off of 65 people was so ambitious! were there even 65 who could attend?!). I am sure I have notes and stories from all the early PERCs, being lucky enough to have been in Joe Redish's research group at the time. If you want more of the historical context of the PERCs, he's definitely one to ask about the precursor meetings. It was a fun time to be in PER. There's more on this broader picture at for those who want to know more.

It's also crazy fun to go to and click on the conference websites for each of the early PERCs. I was struck by the content of the 1999 meeting, but the others are just as good...

Tags: PERC  conference  history  

— Michael Wittmann, UMaine PER and RiSE Center

Re: The First PERC? -
Laura McCullough
3 Posts

At the grad student session, I remember Andy Johnson (then at San Diego State U) saying he was thinking that his dissertation topic would be "how do people learn?". We, his fellow grad students, suggested he work on focusing that down a little. It still makes me smile to think of this.

PERC 20/20 Organizers on PER Identity

posted by Beth Cunningham, AAPT; Lin Ding, The Ohio State University; Alexis V. Knaub, Michigan State; and Steve Maier, Northwestern Oklahoma State on
Intro You may ask what this Blog is for? Well, we—the 2020 PERC Organizing Committee—have been working hard to prepare our community for the incoming conference next year. As you may already know, the theme of the 2020 PERC is about the history, current and future of physics education...

Tags: PERC 20/20 Organizers  PER Identity  

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