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Bringing the Wonder of Discovery Back into the Classroom

Christine Hudecki, Teacher Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School

The grade 11 and 12 physics curriculum, I find, is heavy with concepts and formulas. Every day or every other day a new idea is presented, different formulas introduced and a fresh set of problems need to be solved. One of the reasons I liked science and enjoy teaching science is that it is a ‘doing’ subject. It has the potential to get students out of textbooks and in front of equipment. They can learn skills and exercise their problem solving abilities.

In effort to put more ‘doing’ into the grade 12 Light unit, I looked at the polarization lessons. There are some strange things that happen with polarizing filters and most often I would have the students play with the filters after we learned the concept of polarization. It occurred to me that I should flip this order. Read More...

Introducing an Interdisciplinary Course (IDC) at Your School

Steve Fotheringham, OAPT Exhibit Hall Coordinator, Teacher Oakville Trafalgar High School

Have you ever looked at your schools’ course offerings and noticed that some need is not being met? Perhaps the course selection for your applied-level learner is uninspired or there are no elective courses that encourage students to apply their imagination or creativity. Perhaps, what you are looking for does not exist on the list of courses in Ontario.

I’ve had this thought many times and have since had the privilege of introducing two new courses to my school — “Engineering Design” and “Leadership”. Both made use of the incredibly flexible IDC course code.

The purpose of this article is to share with you a few of the lessons (in no particular order) that I have learned along the way which in turn may help you introduce a new course in your school. Read More...

Rockets: A Beginners Guide Part 3

John Berrigan, Teacher Oakville Trafalger H.S.

In the previous article we found the main factors that determine the thrust of a rocket engine. We rearranged the formula and determined the Impulse of the formula for rockets.EQN1 With Elon Musk discussing his Mars rocket last week, http://www.spacex.com/mars, now is a good time to discuss how Impulse can be used to eventually determine the efficiency of a rocket engine. Read More...

Call for Workshop Proposals for the 2017 OAPT Conference

This year’s conference is being held at York University from May 11 - 13 and is sponsored by the Lassonde School of Engineering. The theme this year is Affective Physics, Harnessing Passion to Power Physics.

We are now accepting proposals for workshops. If you are interested in presenting, please fill in a proposal at https://goo.gl/forms/D39iNoOEcON6TmEZ2 The deadline for submitting is Jan. 16, 2017.

Are you unsure of why the affective domain is important in physics education? You might want to read this short introduction.

Affective Physics

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
Edited by Tim Langford

The theme of the 2017 OAPT conference is Affective Physics. This theme signals our recognition that physics teachers need to pay more attention to the emotional domain of learning. There is a growing realization that feelings have a huge influence on student motivation, engagement, deep learning and choice of study. It may also be a key to influencing more women to choose STEM. Read More...

Gender in Ontario Physics Classrooms

John Caranci, Lecturer in Physics and Chemistry Teaching, C.T.L., Ontario Institute for Studies in Education University of Toronto

What does the gender balance in high school physics look like in Ontario? According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, 7,590 women earned a grade-12 physics credit in 2005/6 and nine years later there were 9,252. That is a 24% increase! At first glance it looks great. However, the increase for men was close to the same and from 2005 to 2015 the percentage of grade 12 credits in physics earned by women has remained steady at 31 ± 1 %. The good news is that while school population has decreased, the number of physics credits has risen from 23,542 to 25,589. The bad news is that the gender imbalance has not changed. Read More...

GIFs in the Classroom

Eric Haller, OCT

It’s autumn, and maybe you’re looking for a new way to impress your physics students this semester. I find it easy to amaze my class by using various forms of technology in my lessons. Often our students don’t realize how tech savvy physicists need to be, picturing us using chalkboards to give lectures and not using supercomputers at CERN or developing video games which use physics simulations. Ok maybe I’ve never been to CERN or made a video game, but I can make my own GIFs. In this article I’m going to show you some GIFs you can use in your lessons, and also teach you how to make your own GIFs. Read More...

Doing a 180 on the issue of cell phones

Christine Hudecki , Teacher Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School

“Phones are a distraction”. “Teens don’t have the self-discipline to have a phone in class”. “It’s best to 100% ban the cell phones from the classroom”.

That was my attitude for many years. Ten years ago when I started teaching high school, there were only 1 or 2 students in each class with a mobile phone. Now it’s 1 or 2 students in each class that do not have a phone. Ten years ago cellular phones could make voice calls and send text messages. Now standard software and free apps enable students to do a wide range of useful activities: take pictures, record voices, capture short videos, set up a calendar, plan/manage their time, set up reminders and alarms, create to-do lists, do math calculations, check current events and of course, snapchat and Instagram their friends. I decided to start my new school year with the goal of frequently integrating the use of smart phones into my grade 10 science and grade 11 physics lessons in meaningful ways. Read More...

Rockets: A Beginners Guide Part 2

John Berrigan, Teacher Oakville Trafalger H.S.

In the previous article we learnt how to find the largest possible delta-V that a rocket can experience. In this article, we are going to find the thrust of a rocket by using the fundamentals of conservation of momentum. This will be similar to what we did in the last article, however this time we will use variables instead specific masses and velocities. Furthermore, the cart is now a rocket, as this is rocket science! Read More...

Cheap and Safe Solar Observing for Grade 9 Astronomy

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
Edited by Tim Langford

It is difficult to get students to make astronomical observations when you live in a large city with lots of light pollution. However, there is one object that all of your students have seen, but probably not observed carefully — the Sun! I start my grade 9 astronomy unit by having my students observe the shadows formed by Sun. Read More...

PER Corner: Fixing the Gender Imbalance in Physics

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP teaching and learning, Assistant Curriculum Leader York Mills C. I.

I have a problem in my physics classes: by grade 12, only one third of the class is female. I used to think of this as a fact of life, or something beyond my power to change, but now I am sure that is wrong. Too many girls are missing out on some of the best training in critical thinking available in high school. Research suggests why: girls experience physics education differently than boys do. By understanding these differences, I am modifying my classroom to create an environment that supports girls and encourages their future participation in physics. Read More...

A Browser-Based No-Fuss Gravitation Simulator

Michel Enns, Teacher Runnymede CI

I have been frustrated with gravitation simulators over the years because they stop working when the computers are updated. To avoid this, I have made one that is browser-based and will run on any device. You can find it at www3.sympatico.ca/michael.enns. One non-standard thing that it can do is simulate the formation of a solar system with a thousand random masses. Read More...

The NEW OAPT Newsletter and You

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI

In the spring of 2015, Robert Prior brought the newsletter into its new responsive and accessible format and in August Roberta Tevlin signed on as editor. In the last ten months, there have been 37 articles from 18 different authors as well as many timely announcements. Thank you to all our wonderful authors. There is no Newsletter without you!

You probably missed a lot of these articles during the busy teaching year. It is easy to catch up on these as part of your summer reading. Read More...

Rockets: A Beginners Guide Part 1

John Berrigan, Teacher Oakville Trafalger H.S.

Interest in rockets is skyrocketing due to the recent successes of SpaceX and Blue Origin, two private companies developing spaceflight. This is an ideal time to introduce students to the physics behind rockets which are an exciting illustration of the conservation of momentum and relative motion.   Read More...

Notes from the CAP Congress June 12-17, 2016

Richard Taylor, Merivale High School, Ottawa, CAP Representative

Physics is happening in Canada, and this year the place to see it all is Ottawa. I was at the annual Congress of the Canadian Association of Physicists. Recognizing the importance of inspiring young people, there was a special day for high school teachers on June 14. Next year the CAP Congress will be at Queen’s University in Kingston from May 29 to June 2. Don’t miss it! Read More...

Demonstrating Polarized Interference

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
Rolly Meisel, OAPT Photographer

The interference of light is a very important concept in senior high school physics and has been for a long time. The polarization of light used to be a minor topic but has become more and more important over the last couple of decades because of its use in LCD screens and 3-D movies and because it is possible to get a cheap class set of polarized filters. This article describes a demonstration that combines polarization and interference. Read More...

Diffraction and Resolution

Phillip Freeman, Teacher, Richmond Secondary School, Richmond, B.C., Executive Member at Large BCAPT

The diffraction of light limits the resolution of optical systems. This is relevant in a number of real world cases, from the reason you can’t actually zoom in infinitely to read the license plate of the get-away car on the crime drama, to the limit to how small an insect a bat can ‘see’ with echolocation to the current plans for the Event Horizon Telescope. It is possible to observe single slit diffraction and resolution directly with very simple equipment. Read More...

OAPT-OTF Physics Camp is back!!!

July 6 – 8, 2016
London, Ontario
Presented by James Ball, Saara Naudts, Roberta Tevlin
OAPT Physics Teachers

This summer’s physics camp will be three days packed full of physics, pedagogy and professional friendship. The good news is that the OTF will pay for your overnight accommodation, meals and travel expenses. Your only cost is a $50 registration fee, and this is refunded once you complete the course. Registration is only open until June 24 and we usually fill up well before the deadline, so register ASAP. Read More...

Building a Michelson Interferometer, Part II

Richard Taylor, Merivale High School, Ottawa
(see also

In the last episode, I had received the main parts of a Michelson Interferometer (the mirrors) and had roughly set them up using Lego stands. In the past couple of weeks I have been working on making a more stable and adjustable platform for this interferometer. Read More...

REVIEW: Three Short Videos of the Double Slit Experiment

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI

The double-slit experiment is one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the wave nature of light and it is also the best place to start to explore the key concepts of quantum physics. By this point, most teachers in Ontario are familiar with the great, free teaching resource from The Perimeter Institute of Theoretical called The Challenge of Quantum Reality. If you haven’t got yours yet, you should! Three short, on-line videos are now available as an addition to the resource. Read More...

OTF Webinar: Exploring the “E” in STEM

May 31, 2016, 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
Presented by: Lisa Lim Cole Dave Doucette
Ontario Association of Physics Teachers

This webinar examines how the “E” in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) aligns with the inquiry process in the Science, Science & Technology, and Mathematics curriculae. This session will connect both the engineering design process to hands-on, minds-on curricular activities and the engineering innovation mindset to serving individuals, society and our environment. Building structures is just a beginning. Inspired students will build a future.

Audience: K-12

Young Women in Engineering Symposium

Micah Stickel
Associate Professor, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto
cfy@ecf.utoronto.ca, m.stickel@utoronto.ca

We are planning a fall campus event designed to increase the number of young women entering STEM professions in Ontario, and we need your help! We are reaching out to Physics educators to identify top female Grade 11 Physics students to take part in our third annual Young Women in Engineering Symposium.

This free Symposium will feature:
• A keynote address from a leading female scientist or engineer
• Hands-on workshops
• An Engineering myth-busters panel
• A luncheon with current engineering female students

Please share the application link below with up to three of your top Grade 11 female students (note that students must be entering their Grade 12 year in September 2016 and be planning on taking Grade 12 Physics):


Students interested in participating in the Symposium are asked to complete their application by Wednesday, June 22. Due to limited space, we may not be able to accommodate all applicants, and so we will confirm their participation through email by the end of July.

Thank you very much for your help with this initiative. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or Kate Nguyen (kate.nguyen@ecf.utoronto.ca) if you have any questions.

Demystifying STEM

The next STEM Talk, “Demystifying STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math” will be held on Wednesday May 25, 2016 at 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the Durham District School Board! It’s FREE! It’s OPEN TO ALL!

Join us as Mark Abbott speaks about STEM Career Pathways!

Group Work Tests for Context-Rich Problems

Chris Meyer, OAPT VP Teaching and Learning, Assistant Curriculum Leader York Mills C. I.

The group work test is an assessment strategy that promotes higher-order thinking skills for solving context-rich problems. With this format, teachers are able to pose challenging, nuanced questions on a test, while providing the support weaker students need to get started and show their understanding. The test begins with a group discussion phase, when students are given a “number-free” version of the problem. This phase allows students to digest the story-like problem, explore solution ideas and alleviate some test anxiety. After ten to fifteen minutes of discussion, students inform the instructor of their readiness for the individual part of the test. What follows next is a pedagogical phase change from lively group discussion to quiet individual work1. The group work test is a natural continuation of the group work in our daily physics classes and helps reinforce the importance of collaboration. This method has met with success at York Mills Collegiate Institute, in Toronto, Ontario, where it has been used consistently for unit tests and the final exam of the grade 12 university preparation physics course. Read More...

Building a Michelson Interferometer

Richard Taylor, Merivale High School, Ottawa
(see also

My school has had a Michelson Interferometer for many years, and I always show it to my grade 12 students to help explain the Michelson-Morley experiment - the one that showed that the speed of light does not depend on the motion of the observer. I showed this interferometer to some other Physics teachers on the February 2016 PD day in Ottawa. They were very interested and wanted to show their students. So I thought I would find out if I could build a similar and very inexpensive interferometer. Read More...

REVIEW: Why This is Science not Fiction

Tom Eagan, Teacher St. Thomas Aquinas HS

I have found a channel called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and it is excellent in so many areas. Generally, I am biased towards talks on physics but this show is entertaining, informative and practical on multiple science levels.  

There are two main parts of the show I use in my classroom and they are Forgotten Superheroes of Science and the Science or Fiction challenge. I would like to share how my use of Science or Fiction has helped me develop authentic scientific inquiry versus memorizing facts for a test. Read More...

Assessment: The Silent Killer of Learning

John Caranci, teacher Faculty of Education University of Toronto

Eric Mazur runs the undergraduate physics program at Harvard University. He began on a road to learn how his students learn. He first removed lecture as a teaching option in his undergraduate courses. He developed Peer Instruction as well as a plan to reform education. He uses PBL (problem-based learning), and Peer Instruction, and other engagement pedagogies in his class instead of lecturing. Read More...

Great Annual Opportunity at the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon

Saara Naudts, OAPT Contest Editor, Physics Teacher North Park SS
Each December, teachers from across Canada have an opportunity to experience what goes on at one of Canada’s biggest research facilities. After an easy application process, including a generous amount of available funding and very helpful communication with Tracy Walker the CLS outreach coordinator; I and several other teachers flew out to Saskatoon to visit the synchrotron December 5-7, 2015. Read More...

Lasers: A Solution looking for a Problem

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI
Edited by Margaret Scora

Lasers are quantum light sources and they are everywhere. But what is quantum about them? The PhET simulation is a great tool to give students a feel for the quantum process called stimulated emission. Read More...

Let Your Grade 12 Students Leave High School Thinking Modern Physics is Fun…

Sandy Evans, Northview Heights Secondary School

I used to have our Grade 12 Physics students write a research paper on a Modern Physics topic; however this year I decided to let them do something more creative. They ended up really having fun with the assignment and it was A LOT more fun to mark than 50 essays. They were told about this assignment and their Rube Goldberg Build assignment at the beginning of the semester but the Modern Physics Creative Piece was not due until one week before exams. Read More...

From Marks to Habits: What is a “90’s” Student?

Chris Meyer, York Mills C. I., VP Teaching and Learning, OAPT

Have you had a conversation with a student that went something like this?

Student: “I need a 90% in physics in order to get into engineering at ...”
Teacher (outer voice): “Well, I’ve noticed that your homework is often incomplete.”
Teacher (inner voice): “!!?!?”
Student: “I know. I’m going to work really hard now.”
Teacher (outer voice): “You need to catch up with all the material you had difficulty with back in grade 11, especially forces and motion.”
Teacher (inner voice): “Buddy, you slacked off all through grade 11. You have no idea how tough this will be .... In two months there’s going to be tears.”
Student: “OK. Thanks, bye!”

Helping Teacher Candidates

John Caranci, teacher Faculty of Education University of Toronto

Usually I brief teacher candidates on what to expect when they go out to practicum. During the discussion I found that the candidates have a different perspective than experienced teachers like us. This year’s candidates have already completed a four-month practicum in November. Their experiences very widely but there were a few threads that I will mention. Read More...

Review: Eureka Talks: University of Ottawa

Richard Taylor, CAP Councillor for Affiliates, Teacher Merivale High School, Ottawa

The University of Ottawa’s Physics Department has initiated a lecture series they call “Eureka Talks”. The first of these talks was given Saturday January 30, 2016 by Sir John Pendry of Imperial College, London, on the topic of metamaterials and invisibility.

Sadly, I must inform you that Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak is still not available. Even worse, if Harry was invisible, he wouldn't be able to see anything — he’d be in total darkness, with all the light rays bent around him and none going into his eyes! Read More...

Relative Motion Demo: The River Question

Ryan Thompson, OAPT Treasurer, Physics Teacher, Newmarket HS

I purchased this little magnetic moon rover at Masterminds for $6 a few years ago because I thought it was cool. I didn’t have any specific ideas on how to utilize it until a few years later when I was teaching the famous river question to students. You know how it goes: Alice is crossing a river that has a velocity with respect to the shore of 4 m/s [East] and Alice swims with a velocity of 3 m/s [South] with respect to the water. If the river is 60 m wide, how long does it take Alice to get to the other side? The concept that is hard for students to reconcile is that even though Alice is being pushed to the right from the shores frame of reference, the amount of time to get to the other side is independent of the river’s velocity. This is when I had a Eureka moment. I grabbed the moon rover and put it on our whiteboard. I then wound it up and let it go south, just like Alice would. Read More...

Gravity Waves: The Fast Track to the Best Resources

Margaret Scora, Mhona Russell, James Ball and Roberta Tevlin

The announcement that LIGO has detected gravity waves may have you scrambling to answer your student’s questions. This news connects to many topics in high school physics including waves and vibrations, interference of light, changing models of science and the analysis of data - especially the problem of signal to noise ratios. Many teaching resources have been suggested (listed at the bottom) and these have been examined to select which are the most useful for high school physics teachers. The selected videos are well-scaffolded and paced. They make good use of animations, physical models and analogies and showed a wide diversity in the people interviewed. Demos and activities were selected which require minimal prep time and cost for the teacher and which provide active-learning experiences for the student. Read More...

Classrooms Driven by Questions: A 21st Century Approach to Learning

Glen Wagner, Teacher-in-Residence Perimeter Institute

“How are black holes created and do they die? What proof is there for the Big Bang? Will the Big Bang ever stop? Is ‘absolute nothing’ possible?” These are just a few of the many questions my students have asked and attempted to answer during their unit on modern physics. As teachers, I think we all like the idea that our students should be curious, to ask questions about things that interest them, things they really wonder about. Yet, most of our teaching practices rarely embed curiosity-driven questions formed by our students as a part of a strategic process toward learning. Read More...

Gravitational Wave Resources from Perimeter Institute

Greg Dick, Educational Outreach Manager, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

No longer a rumour, scientists at Caltech, MIT, VIRGO and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration have confirmed that gravitational waves have been detected! The discovery of these ripples in the fabric of spacetime could revolutionize our ability to understand the workings of the universe.

Perimeter Institute is offering you several ways to share this pivotal moment in scientific history with your students:

  • Share the excitement through classroom lessons plans and supplementary information specifically developed to help your students understand gravitational waves and the impact this discovery will have on their scientific future.

Today, a new window has been opened on our universe. We look forward to celebrating with you.

2016 OAPT Conference: Capturing Diverse Perspectives in STEM

The OAPT annual conference will be held at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario on May 12-14, 2016.

Registration is NOW OPEN!

The Ontario Association of Physics Teachers works to support science teaching and learning. Physics is a large component of K-12 Science Curriculum. Professional dialogue, tools and opportunities for networking from a wide variety of perspectives is critical in developing strong partnerships that will enhance learning in the classroom. A wide variety of exhibitors will also be present at the conference.

A Northern Teacher Subsidy is also available for the following School Board Districts: Algoma, Cochrane, Kenora, Manitoulin, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and Timiskaming.

Any teachers from the above school boards can apply for funding to cover the cost of travel, accommodation and conference registration at: http://goo.gl/forms/wxesejxdVy. An OAPT Executive Member will be in touch with you once you have applied to confirm your financial support.

Physics On Ice: A Field Trip on Force and Motion

Margaret Scora, Teacher at M. Paul Dwyer CHS, Oshawa ON

Taking a class to Wonderland™ to investigate force and motion can be an expensive and frustrating adventure. The local ice rink is probably only 15 minutes away for most of us, a lot cheaper, and you can be there and back in less than three hours with a whole lot of new experiences for your students to ponder and discuss. Read More...

BBC Reith Lecture: Stephen Hawking on Black Holes

Professor Hawking takes us through the history of scientific thinking about black holes, and explains how they have posed tough challenges to conventional understanding of the laws which govern the universe. He also poses (and more importantly, explains) the question: Do black holes have no hair?

Listen to the lectures on the BBC.

An Experiment Involving Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

James Ball, OAPT Membership Chair, Physics Teacher, John F. Ross C.V.I.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is a very abstract concept for most high school students and teachers. This lab activity is a simple variation of a single slit diffraction experiment. It clearly shows that defining the location of a photon (by passing it through a slit) increases our uncertainty about its momentum. Read More...

Review: Teaching Quantum Technology Workshop at IQC

Shawn Brooks, Contest Manager, Teacher at University of Toronto Schools

I attended the Teaching Quantum Technology (TQT) workshop on Dec. 5th and 6th and left with 12 activities that I could use right away in my classes. Now, the challenge for me is: how can I fit these activities into my grade 11 or grade 12 physics courses? Read More...

My Physics-Teaching Adventure in China

Eric Haller, Bond Schools International

My name is Eric Haller, and I’ve been teaching students the Ontario physics curriculum in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China for two and a half years now. If you asked me when I was in teacher’s college, “where will you be teaching next year”, I would never have answered it with “China”, yet here I am. The lack of jobs in Ontario (even for us physics teachers) is a major deterrent for staying in Canada. The offer of full-time work abroad, my own classes of students, and a lower cost of living were all enough to convince me to come here. If any of you are interested in going abroad like me, especially new teachers, then I’d like to take this chance to tell you a little bit about some of my own experiences that I’ve had during my time here. Read More...

EUREKA Talk: Metamaterials & the Science of Invisibility

Saturday January 30, 2016; 10:30 AM
Room 2005, Faculty of Social Sciences Building, University of Ottawa
Presented by Professor Sir John Pendry

The University of Ottawa Department of Physics is excited to launch a new series of public events to bring cutting edge physics to the Ottawa community. These events are targeted at high school students and their families.

The inaugural Eureka Talk will be on Saturday January 30 at 10:30am in the Faculty of Social Sciences Building (room 2005) at uOttawa. Professor Sir John Pendry will speak on the science of invisibility cloaks, which he described for the first time. We will then have a moderated discussion with Sir John about what it is like to be a practicing physicist, including such topics as decisions he made that went well and perhaps ones that he regrets. Read More...

What’s up? The International Space Station!

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher Danforth CTI

Teaching astronomy in the middle of a big city can be very frustrating. Your students can observe the Sun, the Moon, a few stars and sometimes a couple of planets and that’s about it. Not quite! It turns out that you can also see the International Space Station! Read More...

Watch your Language

Tim Langford, Teacher

The problems I mention in this article are not always major, but they seem to have an asymmetrical effect: it is mainly the weaker physics students, in my experience, who are thrown off by confusing or vague terminology or the teacher misspeaking. This anecdotal finding is corroborated by Hammer’s (1989) research with undergraduate physics students. There is also another issue: careless language leads to careless thinking, a type of thinking that will not get the student very far in the study of physics. Read More...

Particle Physics Crossword Solution

The solution to last week’s physics-themed crossword puzzle. How well did you do? Read More...
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