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The Light that Burns Brightest

Chris Meyer
President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Hybrid Teacher-Coach for Science, Toronto District School Board

I have a question for you to think about, which I have chosen for two reasons: first, it is about electric circuits, which are fun; second, answering this question well requires thinking carefully about how we describe circuits. If you work through it carefully, you should discover one important reason why many students and teachers get tripped up when thinking about electric circuits. Now, I don’t want you getting bogged down in the weeds on this, so let’s start by assuming the devices are ohmic, meaning they faithfully obeys Ohm’s law. My question is this:

Which bulb would be brighter: a 10 Ω bulb or a 20 Ω bulb?

Take a few minutes to think about this question. What assumptions are you making about the circuit in which this bulb is found? Can you think of an example where either answer is the correct one? Keep thinking! And when you are ready for the full discussion, read on! Read More...

A New Look at Newton’s Laws of Motion

Roberta Tevlin, OAPT Newsletter Editor, Teacher at Danforth CTI

One of the standard parts of an introductory physics course is a study of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. They are part of the Ontario curriculum for grade 11 physics and most teachers would agree that they are essential. Chris Meyer has presented an improved way to teach the three laws of motion that will deepen student understanding: Teaching Forces I and Teaching Forces II.

In this article, I hope to reinforce Chris’ approach with a look at how the history of these three laws is wrongly presented. Read More...

Quick Guide for Teaching Physics: Forces

Chris Meyer
President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Hybrid Teacher-Coach for Science, Toronto District School Board

Welcome to part three of my “Quick Guide” series! We have dealt with the introduction to our physics course and the motion unit, which means it is time to tackle the topic of forces. There are many tips and tricks I have come across in physics education research and from refining my own practice that I would like to share with you, so read on! My challenge for you is to choose at least one tip from the list below to try out this year during your unit on forces. Read More...

How Strong of a Vacuum Can You Make with Your Mouth?

Eric Haller, Occasional Secondary School Teacher, Peel District School Board

This summer I had the opportunity to teach the grade 12 college-level physics course for the first time.

Due to the nature of summer school in my board, I was not given access to any of the school’s science equipment or textbooks; thus, I had to come up with plenty of simple, wallet-friendly, hands-on activities for the students. While I came up with a few good experiments and demonstrations, my favourite activity was an experiment to see how much my students ‘suck’; or in more professional and appropriate terms, how strong of a vacuum they could create with only their mouths. To measure this, all you need is a long straw and some water. Keep reading to find out how! Read More...

Quick Guide for Teaching Physics: Motion

Chris Meyer
President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers
Hybrid Teacher-Coach for Science, Toronto District School Board

Once classes have settled down and our students are trained (see the Quick Guide for Introduction Lessons), we are now ready to focus on teaching some physics! The first unit often taught is motion, both in the grade 11 and 12 courses. Most teachers feel pretty confident with this unit, but I hope to share some tips that might help you out in a few tricky spots. Read on! Read More...

Canadian Young Physicists’ Tournament

Jim Chen

I would like to introduce to you a great opportunity for your students, the Canadian Young Physicists’ Tournament (CaYPT).

Unique Competition Style
Every year, the CaYPT Committee selects 10 open-ended physics problems for students to solve. Student form team of 3 to 5 and work for several month to conduct their own research. Unlike other physics competitions, the problems of CaYPT does not have a definite answer, it encourages students to develop their own theoretical model and conduct their own experiments to verify it.

CaYPT 2020 will be held in March at the University of Toronto. Students will present their solution in front of other teams in a thesis defense-like format. Their performance will be graded by professional physicists. The outstanding students will compete in the International Young Physicists Tournament (IYPT) representing Canada.

Great for Students and Teachers
The CaYPT is an exceptional opportunity for students since it allows them to apply physics concepts learned in class to real-life situations. It inspires students to explore concepts beyond the curriculum expectations. Many of the CaYPT problems can be easily converted to classroom demonstrations. This can help teachers attract more student into the school’s physics classes. Since the CaYPT is a team competition, it also makes for a great club activity.

For more information about CaYPT please visit http://stemfellowship.org/caypt/
For details about CaYPT 2020, please visit http://stemfellowship.org/caypt/caypt-2020/
The CaYPT 2020 Problems are available at http://stemfellowship.org/problems/

If you have any questions please contact caypt@stemfellowship.org

Equity Through Understanding: Electric Current & Potential Difference

Dave Doucette,OCT
Richmond Hill HS (retired)
STEAM Education Consultant, FAST Motion Studios, Toronto

A 2016 paper1 surveying Purdue University electrical engineering undergraduates discovered “…seniors were more confused than novices about physical concepts such as charge, current and electrical field.” The study did not reveal precise reasons but did caution that well-intentioned but incorrect analogies “usually transform into foggy concepts students carry towards graduation (p4).” This echoed a 2008 engineering-science paper2 investigating obstacles to concept attainment of direct current. One barrier was weak modeling of the phenomenon, “…and identified the cause of this deficiency as lack of direct experience which can be remediated by creative instructional design.”

The actual mechanism of potential difference and direct current involves surface charge distribution. The challenge to develop this conceptual foundation is its invisible nature. Students cannot directly observe charge and ‘creative instructional design’ is needed to carefully scaffold inferences from static to moving charge. This paper suggests a series of activities to create the experiential background necessary for robust modelling of surface charge distribution. This conceptual foundation will be applied to series and parallel circuits to reinforce Kirchhoff’s laws. Read More...

We Can Fix the Gender Imbalance in Physics

Chris Meyer, OAPT President

We Can Do Better
For many years I really didn’t know what to do about the obviously small proportion of female students in my school’s physics classes. At the time, I think I managed to convince myself that it wasn’t my problem or perhaps that it was beyond my ability to change. Fortunately, I was wrong on both counts. We can improve the gender balance in our physics classes using two strategies: encouraging grade 10 girls to take physics with presentations and an after-school activity; and encouraging grade 11 girls to continue with physics by directly addressing gender issues. Read More...

Relativistic Mass or Rest Mass?

Philip Freeman, teacher at Richmond Secondary School (Richmond BC), Executive member BCAPT

Most short introductions to special relativity include the idea that the relativistic mass of an object depends on its velocity (m = γm0). However, if you do much further reading in modern physics you will soon come across the idea that this is a bad concept. Why? What is wrong with the term ‘relativistic mass’? Some answers to this are physical, some ideological. Here is an overview of the case for and against relativistic mass. Read More...

A Ghostly Hologram

Saara Naudts, Physics Teacher (Peel District School Board)

When I was looking at a quick and fun activity to spark students’ interest in optics, I came across several "how to turn your smartphone into a 3D hologram" videos. It shows how when you place a small, clear pyramid on your phone's screen playing a specially created “hologram” video, the video appears floating above your phone within the pyramid.

Intrigued, I wondered if this was just another internet hoax as I couldn't understand how a hologram can be created using a smartphone, but a colleague overheard my questioning and affirmed she heard from a teacher's friend's friend that this works! Hmmm... I wasn't really oozing confidence after that answer, so I tried building one myself. Read More...

Demonstrating Diversity in Science

Sara Cormier, Michelle Lee, Sarah Naudts, Roberta Tevlin

The four of us, like many of you, are concerned about how slowly the world of physics is moving towards diversity. Over the summer we put together some resources to make it easier to demonstrate to our students that there is a place for everyone in physics. Read More...

Schrödinger's Class

John Donohue

Date & Time: November 22-24
Location: Institute for Quantum Computing, University of Waterloo, Ontario

Join us for three days at the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) for the fifth Schrödinger's Class teachers' workshop on quantum mechanics. You will have the opportunity to attend lectures and engage in hands-on activities focused on the integration of quantum technology into the current teaching curriculum. We will discuss quantum information science and technology to give you a deeper understanding of quantum mechanics. You will discover how harnessing remarkable quantum phenomena is not only transforming the way we compute and communicate today, but how it will change the technological landscape of tomorrow.

Application Deadline: October 4th 2019
The workshop will run November 22-24 2019

The workshop is open to any Canadian science and technology teacher, with a focus on physics and chemistry. There is no registration fee, and costs of transportation, accommodation, and meals are covered.

More details can be found at: www.uwaterloo.ca/iqc/programs/schrodingers-class

Quick Guide for Teaching Physics: The Introductory Lessons

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers; Hybrid Teacher-Coach for Science, Toronto District School Board

Hello everyone and welcome to the first installment of my quick guide for teaching physics! In this series, I will share with you my tips and strategies for teaching each major unit of the grade 11 and 12 physics courses. The ideas I share come from my 20+ years of teaching high school physics and mounds of physics education research. In addition to quick explanations of what to do and why, I will provide links to help you learn more or access resources. Read More...

Improv-PHYS-ation: Cultivating Physics Learning Communities

Carolyn Sealfon, PhD, teacher at University of Toronto Department of Physics and researcher at the Ronin Institute

Nancy Watt, President, Nancy Watt Communications

Improv-PHYS-ation Logo

We would all like to build classroom communities where our students flourish. We would like our students to develop their curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, persistence and resourcefulness. As science educators, what can we learn from the arts?

In improvisational theatre (“improv”), an “ensemble” is a group of people that work together cohesively and support each other to co-create a performance, recognizing and building upon each other’s individuality and contributions. For social learners, participation in an ensemble can foster our best learning. Can we create ensembles in our classrooms? Read More...

Rosalind Franklin, DNA and the Interference of Light

Roberta Tevlin, Editor OAPT Newsletter, Teacher at Danforth CTI

We need to incorporate more diverse examples of scientists in our courses. Sara Cormier (Physics Instructor at McMaster University) and I are trying to develop resources that will help teachers to do this. (If you would like to be a part of this — please send me an email!)

I started to compile a data base of good examples when I found myself completely distracted by the work of Rosalind Franklin. Her work on the X-ray crystallography of DNA fits perfectly into a lesson about the interference of light! As well as showcasing an important female scientist, an examination of her work can deepen students’ understanding of interference patterns and it highlights a very important connection between biology, chemistry and physics. I found a couple of short videos and a really simple, cheap demo that shows why the interference pattern formed by DNA provides clear evidence of its helical structure! Read More...

As, for, of… How to effectively assess collaborative learning

Vjera Miović, Teacher at Silverthorn CI, OAPT Newsletter Volunteer

Imagine a test (and yes, it’s for marks!) during which everyone gets to see everyone else’s work, students can change, correct and update their product for a better mark, they consult each other and talk freely, and they even google information they need to solve a problem. What would you think of this assessment method if it was a physics class, or a math class? Wouldn’t that be considered cheating? And yet, my grade 9 tech students get evaluated exclusively this way. Read More...

The Hole Truth: Why black holes aren’t what you’ve probably been told they are!

Philip Freeman, teacher at Richmond Secondary School (Richmond BC), Executive member BCAPT

Black holes are big news these days. Unfortunately a significant number of statements in the press are not only mistaken but wrong in ways that obscure the truly interesting and important things we know about black holes. This article hopes to clarify a number of points about what black holes are and are not. Read More...

The Story of Physics: Storytelling for High School Physics Teaching

Brian Lim, Teacher Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, Toronto

“In the beginning…”

So starts one of the most famous and influential stories in Western civilization. Neil Degrasse Tyson continues the narrative this way:

“...sometime between 12 and 16 billion years ago, all the space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the point of a pin. Conditions were so hot, the basic forces of nature that collectively describe the universe were unified. For reasons unknown, this sub-pin-pint-size cosmos began to expand…” [1] Read More...

Photos from the 2019 Conference

Courtesy of Rolly Meisel we have a small gallery of photographs from the 2019 OAPT Conference at IQC in Waterloo. Check it out and relive memories (or see what you missed)!

See the gallery…

Update on the May 22nd OAPT Grade 11 Physics Contest

Shawn Brooks, Manager of the OAPT Contest, teacher at UTS

Sandy Evans, Editor of the OAPT Contest, teacher at Northview Heights Secondary School

This is a reminder about the upcoming FREE OAPT Physics Contest on May 22nd. This year, for the first time, the contest will be open to BOTH Grade 11 AND Grade 12 students due to the generous support of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto. Read More...

Controlled Experiments with Three Factors in SPH4C Grade 12 College Physics

Tim McCarthy, Teacher, St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School

Controlled experiments with three factors are a great way for physics students to practice identifying and testing factors that may affect a situation. They provide an excellent opportunity to practice the Scientific Investigation Skills found in Strand A. The students are provided with a situation, brainstorm possible factors that may affect the situation, reduce the list of factors to three that can be tested in the physics lab, develop hypotheses, design procedures to test the factors, test the factors, analyze the data, perform experimental error analysis, and draw conclusions on the effects the three factors have had on the original situation.

My struggle has been to find situations that easily fit this format and that also match the curriculum specific expectations. I have created one three-factor controlled experiment for each of the six units in my 12C physics course. The three-factor experiment in the first unit is used as assessment for learning (formative) to teach the students how to do a controlled experiment. The remaining five experiments are used as assessment of learning (summative). Simulations are used for some experiments as I do not have the necessary equipment to perform all them in the lab. Read More...

Marking Tests Faster

Robert Prior, teacher at Agincourt CI

Many of us find marking tests a necessary chore. It has to be done, but it’s drudgery. This article describes how I use an app and the Ontario Achievement Charts to mark tests 2-3 times faster, as well as analyze the results. Read More...

Intersection Traffic Signals: Coding to Control Series and Parallel Circuits in Grade 12 College Physics and Grade 11 University Physics

Tim McCarthy, Teacher, St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School, Oakville, ON

Coding is an important skill for physics students to learn. Grade 12 College and Grade 11 University physics students must build series and parallel circuits, so why not use coding to control them and model an everyday, real-world situation? This can be done by first using TinkerCAD simulations, followed by construction of the simulation using real components; Arduino UNO R3 microcontroller boards, breadboards, LEDs, resistors and wires. Students have a high level of satisfaction as they complete a task that is brand new to most and learn skills that they are likely to need in their post-secondary education. Read More...

Light ’Em Up!!! – Electric Greeting Cards for the Grade 9 Electricity unit

Andrew Moffat, Teacher Bishop Strachan School

Students often struggle with the “Physics” unit in grade 9 Science — electricity. This can lead to a negative association with Physics and fewer students taking grade 11 and 12 Physics. At our school we have tried to make the electricity unit (and specifically the idea of circuits) more fun and engaging by having students create an electric greeting card consisting of LEDs and a battery. This can be done for around $2 per student. Read More...

Event Horizon Telescope Captures First-ever Image of a Black Hole

Damian Pope, PhD, Senior Manager Scientific Outreach, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

What is the Event Horizon Telescope?
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is a network of radio telescopes spread across the globe. By pooling data from each instrument, it achieves the same effective resolution as a dish the size of the entire planet!

What did it discover?
The EHT collaboration has just released the first event-horizon-scale images of M87*, a supermassive black hole at the centre of galaxy M87. The image shows an asymmetric ring of light surrounding a circular shadow. The ring of light is not the accretion disk, it is the footprint of the relativistic jet created by M87*. The asymmetry is evidence for the direction of the black hole’s spin. The size of the shadow reveals the mass of M87* which can then be used to calculate the radius of the event horizon. Note, the shadow is not the event horizon. Read More...

Making Waves — a resource for exploring interference concepts

Philip Freeman, teacher at Richmond Secondary School (Richmond BC), Executive member BCAPT

Waves are the source of many of the most beautiful and fascinating phenomena in physics, and a key idea underlying our deepest models of reality. The signature feature of waves is interference, and we frequently refer to interference effects to justify our claims about the wave nature of light (and electrons, and buckyballs, and…). This resource provides a new way to model waves that allows a more direct and intuition-building experience of interference. Read More...

2019 OAPT Physics Contest is Open for Enrollment!

Sandy Evans, Editor OAPT Physics Contest, Teacher Northview Secondary School

The OAPT Contest is a FREE physics contest and will run on May 22nd, 2019. It is free due to the generous support of the Department of Engineering at the University of Toronto.
It is open to all students in currently attending school in Ontario who had not completed 11U Physics in September 2018. There is even a strong possibility that it will be open in a separate division for Grade 12 students this year — more news about this to come! Read More...

Building Confidence and Motivation with Short Building Projects

Margaret Scora, OAPT Past President,

Roberta Tevlin, Editor OAPT Newsletter, teacher Danforth CTI

Mari-Ann Goettsch, teacher at Georgetown DHS

Over the past couple of decades there has been a dramatic decline in students’ abilities to build and solve hands-on challenges. They are well versed in virtual reality but they don’t have much experience in how to work with materials. This is a shame. They are at a disadvantage when learning physics concepts and they will have huge problems with large projects like trebuchets or Rube-Goldberg machines. In this article we will describe a number of very short hands-on projects that provide opportunities to build stuff using cheap materials. Read More...

Quizlet Live!

Steve Fotheringham, OAPT Treasurer

Are you looking for a quick way to assess your class’ understanding of a topic, a way to easily integrate technology into your lessons or a way to break up the routine of your class? If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, let me introduce you to Quizlet. Read More...

Why Don’t Students Improve? Part II

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers; Hybrid Teacher-Coach, TDSB

So you put all that time and effort into carefully marking the test, including helpful descriptive feedback, and what happens? The student grabs the test, looks at the mark, and tosses it away. Us teachers understand that a test is an important learning experience, but this common student behaviour shows students think otherwise: a test is just a chance for us to deny them marks or sort out the strong students from the weak (a ranking they already know). From that viewpoint, why should a student do anything more than look at the mark and/or complain? And why bother to look at the feedback and make any effort to improve? Read More...

Why Don’t Students Improve? Part I

Chris Meyer, President, Ontario Association of Physics Teachers; Hybrid Teacher-Coach, TDSB

For years it drove me crazy. I would remind students again and again about common mistakes and important details; I would make a grand production of it. But, they would make the same errors again and again. Why? A big part of the answer is this: my students never practiced assessing the quality of their own work and making improvements. This is the idea behind metacognition: the ability to monitor the process and quality of one’s own thinking and work. If we don’t train our students and give them opportunities to practice metacognition, they won’t develop this important skill. And they won’t improve. Read More...


Adam Mills, OAPT Workshop Coordinator, Teacher - Assumption College Catholic High School

One tool that has really helped change the look of my Physics classroom is Edpuzzle. https://edpuzzle.com/ Edpuzzle is a website that allows teachers to embed questions within videos already created from YouTube or other sources. I find this tool particularly useful to help minimize the amount of direct instruction that I am giving my students in class. This allows my students more time to participate in richer educational strategies such as peer instruction, cooperative group problem solving and inquiry based learning. Read More...
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