Despite this being a relatively quiet summer in Europe for physics education conferences, the Physics Education Division (PED) has been very active in promoting physics education research. With the World Conference on Physics Education (WCPE) having occurred in Brazil this July and the next European Physics Education Conference (EPEC) run by the PED due to be held in Dublin in July 2017, the only two meetings of any note in Europe this year were the UK Physics Higher Education Conference (PHEC) and the GIREP seminar held in Krakow to celebrate the 50th anniversary of GIREP.
The UK PHEC has been steadily growing in importance as a national forum for UK HE-based physics educators in the UK. Up until 2012, PHEC was run as a conference in its own right by the UK Physical Sciences Centre of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). A similar conference was run for chemists, but since the restructuring of the HEA, which saw funding for the subject centres withdrawn, the two communities came together and PHEC has been run jointly with the chemistry education conference. Despite being different disciplines, the pedagogies of physics and chemistry have much in common and the two communities have enjoyed a fruitful exchange over the years. This year the physics contribution was led by prof Ian Bearden, from the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and a member of the PED Board. Ian’s keynote lecture addressed the topic of opening up the laboratory. He gave a fascinating and engaging talk on how simple investigative experiments can be incorporated into an introductory physics course as a way of not only consolidating concepts but also developing investigative skills. The key to Ian’s classes is to get students actively engaged in discussions prior to formulating and testing a hypothesis and his techniques for stimulating discussion were well demonstrated on the assembled audience of academics, who were soon conducting simple experiments in pairs on pendula.
The GIREP seminar in Krakow (August 30 to September 3) was an altogether different affair. GIREP is a member organisation made up of teachers and university educators interested in advancing physics education through research and was formed 50 years ago. The seminar was traditionally held every odd year between the conferences, which were held every even year, but since 2007 the GIREP seminar has combined with EPEC to make the GIREP-EPEC conference. With the WCPE in Brazil this summer, there has not been a separate GIREP conference in 2016 and the GIREP committee decided instead to hold a seminar to form research-based proposals for laboratory work. There were six working groups looking at different aspects of the laboratory and David Sands, Chair of the PED, co-led one of them with Federico Corni, from Italy, looking at Modern Physics and Advanced Labs. With Andreas Mueller and Mojca Čepič of the PED also making significant contributions, the PED was well represented at GIREP seminar. In due course a set of reports and recommendations will be produced for educators interested in developing scientific thinking and skills through laboratory classes. These will be shared with the PED and will be available to EPS members.