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OCC Instructor Rob Mason Attends PICUP Computational Physics Workshop

Rob Mason PhotoOlney Central College Physics Instructor Rob Mason recently attended the Greater Chicagoland PICUP Computational Physics Workshop at Lewis University in Romeoville.

The event introduced high school and college physics faculty to PICUP resources and guided participants in formulating a plan for incorporating computational educational materials into their courses.

Computational physics incorporates the use of computer software in research and problem solving. PICUP, an informal group of physics faculty from around the country, is committed to building a community of STEM educators dedicated to integrating computations into the physics curriculum.

Over the next decade, Mason said the ability to program areas of physics and engineering will be as important to students as their expertise in the subject. He noted both the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society are encouraging educators to prepare students for this shift by including more computational activities along with analytic theory and experiment.

During the workshop, faculty participated in several guided computational activities.

“We practiced a few examples, things that are easy to apply numerical problem solving to in the physics problem,” Mason said.

The first guided experiment involved determining how fast three spheres were falling under wind resistance.

“It’s a problem that cannot be solved analytically with the direct use of formulas,” he added.

The workshop also focused on basic software programs faculty can use for computations in the classroom including Microsoft Excel and free software like Python, C++ and Java programing languages as well as commercial programs like Mathematica, Mabel or Mac Lab.

“Students gain skills and experience working with computational tools and learn techniques for approaching more challenging and realistic problems,” Mason added.

Mason will utilize what he learned to build on the computational activities he already uses in the classroom.

“Based on the workshop experience, I plan to introduce my physics, engineering and programming classes to these different methods of problem solving that are more computational in nature,” Mason said. “I gained a lot of ideas and contacts who participated. I also learned about resources, I wasn’t aware of before, that I can utilize in the classroom.”

The additions will benefit students as they prepare to transfer.

“At the University of Illinois, their Physics Department is using a lot of this in their classes. Including it here will allow our students to have a matching experience,” Mason said.

Mason also plans to attend an upcoming weeklong conference on computational physics in Wisconsin, which is being funded through the National Science Foundation.

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