Dobson Professor of Physics Paul Stanley began coaching the U.S. Physics Team in 2003 when he lived in California, having a colleague who was involved.
“I became aware of it and thought, ‘this looks like fun,’” he says.
This month, he will be awarded the Homer L. Dodge Citation for Distinguished Service from the American Association of Physics Teachers for his involvement with the team. Throughout his role as academic director since 2009, the team has earned 22 gold, 16 silver, 2 bronze medals and two special achievement awards at the International Physics Olympiad.
As a student who did well on tests without having to study, Paul found the idea of helping others succeed on tests appealing. He prepares two tests that are given nationwide each year in order to determine potential teammates--one multiple choice and one short answer.
“The multiple choice exam is taken by six to 10,000 of the top high school physics students in the U.S., he says, with the students given a limited amount of time to dissect the difficult problems presented.
“The high school physics students who like this sort of thing will call it lots of fun,” he says of the short answer exam. He selects 20 to 24 students based on their test results to go with him to the University of Maryland each May, where they train for two weeks in the university’s physics department.
“At the end of that time I choose five kids. Those five kids get to go overseas with me [for the International Physics Olympiad],” he says, citing India, Spain, and Kazakhstan as a few of the many countries he’s taken students to in his 14 years of coaching.
This year he will take the students to Indonesia, a 35-hour trip. Students can compete a second year, but they have to retake the tests again and aren’t a guaranteed spot. Though countries are divided into teams, students compete on an individual level.
“Right now the United States has been solidly in fourth place for a decade,” Paul says with China, Taiwan, and South Korea taking the lead in the competition of around 80 countries.
This is the second of two awards Paul received this year. He was honored with the Phee Boon Kang’73 Prize for Innovation in Teaching with Technology in the spring of 2017 for his use of 3-D digital hardware in his classes.
“I look at ways to help students visualize data,” he says.
Recently, he began to use Google Cardboard in order to help do just that.
“I’m looking at ways to take some of the problems that happen in physics that are inherently three-dimensional problems that people have a hard time visualizing, and come up with a way that you can visualize them by standing in the middle of the physics problem.” He likes how the technology isn’t restricted to just physics and can be used in a myriad of classes.
“It’s nice to get support to do the things I love to do,” Paul says on receiving the two awards. But his favorite part of coaching the U.S. Physics Team and teaching at Beloit remains the students.