Share / Discuss

Physics Explorer

Science education inspires all she does

Fran Poodry ’92’s favorite subject is as powerful as it is fun.

“Physics is a way of discovering and exploring the rules of the universe,” she says. “Plus, you get to play with toys.”

Still, her journey to physic-al fitness wasn’t without a few bumps along the way.

“My first real experiences with failure came at Swarthmore: I dropped out of Physics 7 and almost quit the subject entirely over Quantum seminar,” she laughs. “But I kept on going and discovered the best way for me to learn material was to teach it.”

And she did—for more than 20 years. Today, she draws from that classroom experience as director of physics for the educational company Vernier Software & Technology and co-author of Vernier’s new experiment manual, Physics Explorations and Projects.

“I believe students should learn to use data collection and analysis tools without a recipe,” she says. “I taught my conceptual physics students to use software on their own, and to poke around at menus until they could configure what they needed. This book trusts students to be able to figure things out.”

In fact, Poodry is a longtime advocate of Modeling Instruction pedagogy and interactive engagement methods in science education, serving a term as president of the American Modeling Teachers’ Association. And though she’s no longer in the classroom herself, she stays connected with other educators, particularly through Twitter.

“I follow a number of teachers, and every day they’re asking questions, helping, and supporting each other,” she says. “I love seeing and participating in that, and have met some wonderful people.”

After all, they’re each fighting the same good fight: ensuring that every student receives the highest quality science education possible. Even for future nonscientists, Poodry believes these skills are crucial.

“Science is a problem-solving method that uses data to discover answers,” she says. “Scientific data analysis is the tool that provided evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson and the progression of global warming, but just as importantly, it’s a tool everybody can use. Everyone should be able to think about what their information is and where it comes from—and then evaluate it.”

And, of course, once you realize science is part of everything we do, it creates many opportunities to use it for fun. For the Oregon-based Poodry, she found a new hobby in that intersection that couldn’t be … cooler.

“I love the sport of curling and how it’s very physics-based: friction, angular and linear momentum, energy,” she laughs. “In some ways curling is like golf or dancing: easy to learn to do adequately, but you spend years getting really good.”